Florida's Pinellas County has agreed to pay $100,000 to two men mistakenly arrested and roughed up by deputies from the sheriff's department's narcotics division. Fortunately for the men, Desmond Small, 26, and Christopher Lobban, 20, the incident was caught on videotape from a camera in a car rental office where the bad bust went down.
The August 17 incident occurred when deputies following a vehicle thought to be carrying drugs lost track of it. Minutes later, another pair of deputies spotted what they thought was the same vehicle and followed it to the car rental agency. When the vehicle's occupants got out and entered the car rental office, the deputies burst in with guns drawn and forced Small and Lobban to the floor. One deputy put his foot on the back of Small's head and and repeatedly pushed his face into the floor. Small suffered abrasions to his face and a cut to his mouth that required stitches. Rental agency employees said the carpet he was lying on was so bloodstained they had to throw it out. The video also showed two officers exchanging high-fives over their big bust, and one of them apparently stomping on Small's leg as he lay cuffed on the carpet.
Although rental agency employees who witnessed the arrest said Small and Lobban did not resist, the deputies accused Small of not cooperating. "I don't think they were resisting other than just being kind of shocked," rental employee Brad Bess told the St. Petersburg Times.
"I was like, 'What the hell is going on?'" Small said in an interview with sheriff's investigators released Wednesday. "I said, 'Sir, I didn't do anything.'"
The $100,000 pay-out to the two men was approved by County Attorney Susan Churuti. She said that given the results of the sheriff's department's investigation, the pair could have sued the county for civil rights violations, wrongful arrest and personal injury.
The two narcotics deputies, whose status as undercover agents apparently protects them from having their identities revealed, are now serving 12-day suspensions without pay and are on workplace suspension for a year.
But at least one county commissioner doesn't think that's enough. "If I were sheriff, I think I would send a stronger message that that kind of conduct is unacceptable," Commissioner Kenny Welch said. "And I'm not sure I want to see those two particular officers working narcotics in South County. I plan to raise that issue with the sheriff."