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Arrest may bring plaintiff thousands

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 14, 2000


TAMPA -- The plundering began about 5:30 p.m. on June 1, 1995. The driver of a Cargill Foods refrigerated truck pulled into Ponce De Leon Courts, got out and left the doors wide open with crates of frozen chicken undefended.

Before long, as many as 200 or 300 people converged on the truck. When police arrived, people scattered with all the chicken they could carry.

One man was arrested -- Gary Arrington. Tampa police Officer James E. Bowers claimed he saw Arrington passing out boxes of frozen goods to looters. Arrington was charged with burglary and grand theft.

Arrington was unable to make bail and spent six months in jail before a judge ruled the evidence too flimsy to send to a jury.

Arrington finally got to go home. He also got a lawyer and filed a federal suit alleging he was falsely arrested, maliciously prosecuted and deprived of his constitutional rights.

Now the city is about to settle for $18,500.

"They arrested just our guy," said Arrington's lawyer, Francis R. Lakel, on Monday. "He was standing there, and he didn't run."

The suit said Arrington, who lived nearby, watched as "a disinterested observer" from a neighbor's doorstep. Arrington had witnesses to back him up.

While police had Arrington in custody, the suit said, Officer Bowers slammed his head into a table.

The City Council will decide Thursday whether to approve the deal.

City Attorney Jim Palermo declined to comment on the proposed settlement.

"I look at it as not a whole lot of money," said Lakel, Arrington's lawyer, but he noted that the 41-year-old day laborer makes only $12,000 to $18,000 a year.

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