Jurors find OPD officer liable, Award $880K, in Excessive-force Case

By Amy Pavuk | Orlando Sentinel. Mark Schlueb of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
Posted August 17, 2012

A federal jury Friday found that an Orlando police officer used excessive force when he took down an 84-year-old in a parking lot almost two years ago, breaking the elderly man's neck.

After deliberating for roughly three hours, the panel determined Officer Travis Lamont violated Daniel Daley's civil rights and awarded the World War II veteran $880,000 in damages.

Daley had little to say about the verdict he as left the Orlando federal courthouse.

"I think they're right," he said, adding that he doesn't care about the money.

When asked what the lesson is to be learned, Daley replied: "Behave."

Daley's lawsuit against Lamont stems from an encounter he had with the officer in a parking lot off North Orange Avenue on Sept. 18, 2010.

Daley, who was upset his car was going to be towed, admitted he repeatedly tapped Lamont on his arm while asking the officer for assistance in the dispute.

Daley, now 86, said the tapping was only intended as a friendly gesture. The tow-truck driver also testified Daley repeatedly tapped him as he inquired why his car was being towed.

But Lamont told jurors the encounter with Daley escalated when the elderly man threatened to knock him out while simultaneously cocking his fist up to his chest.

The city claims Daley was drunk and belligerent - his blood alcohol level was 0.162 - and Lamont performed the armed-bar takedown on Daley because he was in fear.

Lamont, now 28, and city attorneys left the courthouse Friday without commenting to reporters.

"Every day police officers face difficult circumstances and make on-the-spot decisions in order to ensure the safety of our community. In this particular case, Mr. Daley admitted to lunging at and touching the officer at a time he had an elevated blood alcohol level," Orlando Police Department spokesman Sgt. Vince Ogburn said in a statement released Friday afternoon. "In this situation, the officer had to make the split-second decision of how much force to use in order to de-escalate the situation without harming the person involved."

Jurors heard testimony from witnesses and use-of-force experts throughout the week.

Witnesses who had been with Daley at The Caboose bar in the moments leading up to the controversial takedown testified they never saw Daley make a fist or make any threats toward Lamont. Those witnesses said they saw Lamont flip Daley and saw the elderly man's head strike the ground with his legs straight in the air.

Lamont's backup officer, Natasha Endrina, told the jury she saw Daley lunge at Lamont's neck. But she didn't see the takedown maneuver because she was in the process of getting out of her car.

Experts brought in by Daley's legal team said Lamont's actions were excessive and improper.

Criminologist George Kirkham called Lamont's armed-bar takedown "very extreme and unwarranted." Lamont never threatened to arrest Daley if he didn't stop touching him. He also did not try other tactics such as threatening him with chemical spray, a Taser or other measures, Kirkham said.

Daley initially filed suit against the city of Orlando and Lamont, but the charges against the city were dismissed this week - making Lamont the only defendant and focus of jury's decision.

"The federal court judge completely validated the City's training, policies and actions in this case by dismissing the City from all claims," Ogburn said via email. "As for Officer Lamont, we respect the jury's decision and are pleased that Mr. Daley has made a complete recovery."

During his closing argument Friday morning, Jason Recksiedler, one of Daley's attorneys, told the jury the case was about excessive force. He described Lamont as having "sudden and uncontrolled rage."

Daley, Recksiedler said, wasn't angry with Lamont. But Lamont was irritated that Daley kept patting him on the arm. Recksiedler said Daley was no gang member or street thug. He asked the jury what a reasonable officer would be afraid of.

Daley, the attorney said, was "just an old man upset about his car being towed."

Meanwhile, Lamont's attorney, Dennis O'Connor, told the jury the officer was cordial and he didn't intend to injure Daley.

"At worst, ladies and gentlemen, this was a mistake," O'Connor said.

Daley's attorneys asked the jury for more than $750,000 in damages, which includes past and future medical expenses.

It wasn't immediately clear how the $880,000 will be funded.

Heather Fagan, the mayor's deputy chief of staff, said city officials are evaluating their options related to the case. The city is self-insured up to a certain limit and carries private insurance for anything over that amount.

Fagan said officials have not determined how the insurance in this case will be applied.

Source: Orlando Sentinel