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Federal judge upholds judgment against sheriff in 2012 case

Florida's law enforcement personnel have an important job to do in keeping communities safe from crime and criminals who harm everyday citizens. The authority of police officers and sheriff's deputies, however, is granted by state law and prohibits any improper actions, reckless behavior or negligence that could harm or kill an innocent person.

A 2012 altercation that took the life of a 21-year-old man in Summerfield, about 75 miles north of Tampa, resulted in a wrongful death lawsuit that was decided in the plaintiffs' favor in May, but then was appealed by the defendants in June. In early July, a federal judge upheld the jury's original verdict and award, meaning the law enforcement agency involved will have to pay the man's family a multimillion-dollar award.

According to court testimony, the family of the man who died filed a civil lawsuit against the Marion County Sheriff's Department and two deputies for their part in the July 6, 2012, incident. A female officer shot and killed the victim after a male officer had repeatedly used a stun gun on the male. The federal judge maintained the jury's decision that the officer who used the stun gun acted in bad faith in using excessive force against the victim. That officer was found personally liable for $18,250 in compensation to be given to the victim's estate. The female officer was found not personally liable for any damages because she acted in good faith and without malice. The Marion County Sheriff's Office now must pay $2.26 million in damages to the plaintiffs.

This wrongful death case illustrates that even law enforcement personnel can be held responsible when they are negligent or act in bad faith when dealing with citizens or suspects. Failure to do so can mean that the family of someone killed can seek compensation through a wrongful death claim.

Source: Ocala Star Banner, "Judge to sheriff: pay $2.26M for wrongful death," April Warren, July 3, 2014

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