Sunday, December 14, 2008

Family Suing Collier County Sheriff Officers


Two brothers and their wives are suing Collier County Sheriff Don Hunter and two deputies in federal court after they say they were illegally arrested in 2004 during a traffic stop by one of the deputies who was acting erratically, shaking, and repeatedly told them to “shut up.”

But in his arrest report, Cpl. Shaun M. George said the four occupants of the GMC truck he pulled over for failing to dim its high beams yelled at him and obstructed his investigation.

Around 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 16, 2004, George was traveling east on Randall Boulevard in Golden Gate Estates when he saw an oncoming vehicle with its high beams on.

The driver of the 2003 GMC Yukon, James T. DeRosa, was out with his wife, Kathleen DeRosa, brother, Louis DeRosa, and sister-in-law, Mary Elizabeth DeRosa, looking at properties for sale in the area.

According to a lawsuit filed recently in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers, James DeRosa flipped on his brights after he thought he saw a pedestrian in the road. He turned off his high beams when he saw an approaching vehicle, the lawsuit states.

George wrote in his report that the GMC did not dim its lights.

“I flashed my lights toward the vehicle several times in an attempt to get the driver to dim the lights,” George wrote. “The vehicle did not dim the lights and passed my vehicle.”

George turned around and stopped the GMC truck.

The lawsuit, filed by Naples attorney Colleen J. MacAlister, states that George approached the truck and asked James DeRosa for his license, registration and proof of insurance. He asked his wife, Kathleen DeRosa, who was in the back seat, if she had his wallet in her purse.

When she attempted to respond, George told her to “shut up,” the lawsuit says.

James DeRosa also asked his wife where she kept the insurance and registration information in the GMC, and when she attempted to respond she was repeatedly told by George to “shut up.” The lawsuit states that Kathleen DeRosa told George that he “needed to work on his community service skills,” and then made no other comments during the stop.

George “was physically shaking, and kept putting his hand on his gun,” according to the lawsuit.

In his report, George wrote that James DeRosa only rolled down his window about three inches. Kathleen DeRosa began talking in a loud manner, George wrote, saying “I hope you feel good about yourself” and “Is this what you pull people over for in this town?”

George said he told Kathleen DeRosa that she could be arrested if she continued obstructing his investigation.

“Go ahead and see what happens,” she said, according to George.

The lawsuit states that when George returned and handed James DeRosa a ticket for failure to dim his headlights, he started to hand James a pen, but then withdrew it and clipped it to his lapel. James DeRosa signed the ticket with a pencil because he couldn’t find a pen.

When George handed him his copy of the ticket, registration and insurance information, James DeRosa pulled away from the shoulder.

“Normally, when the officer gives you your documents and your copy of the ticket, you’re done,” MacAlister said.

George wrote in his arrest report that when he approached the GMC with the ticket, James DeRosa again only opened the window about three inches. James DeRosa said “Give me the ticket,” and then aggressively pulled it from George’s hands, George said.

Kathleen DeRosa again made loud statements, George wrote, and he began calling for backup to place her under arrest.

“As I called for backup, James dropped the ticket out the window,” George wrote.

After James DeRosa pulled away, George began another pursuit and “began to weave back and forth in an attempt to run James off the road,” the lawsuit states.

Concerned about why George was attempting to pull them over, and afraid to stop again on a dark road, Kathleen DeRosa called 911 and told the dispatcher they would stop at the gas station two miles down the road at the intersection with Immokalee Road. At the same time George was on the radio with dispatch supervisor Sgt. Andrew Orcutt advising him about the pursuit.

When the GMC truck stopped at the gas station around 7:45 p.m., “several deputies, including off-duty deputies, were waiting to arrest them,” the lawsuit states.

With his Taser drawn George ordered James DeRosa out of the truck. He was “thrown against the patrol car, cuffed and placed in a police vehicle with the windows up, the air conditioning off, and the engine running,” the lawsuit states.

Kathleen DeRosa was “dragged from the vehicle by her shirt, shoved against the police car hood with her bra exposed to the public ... and then placed in a separate patrol vehicle,” according to the lawsuit.

Mary DeRosa was arrested after George said she tried to prevent deputies from having the vehicle towed. Louis DeRosa refused to give George the keys to the vehicle, but was not arrested after he began complaining of chest pains and had to be transported to the hospital, reports said.

“I think this is a case of police misconduct,” MacAlister said. “There is absolutely no justification for a simple traffic stop escalating the way it did if an officer is acting professionally and is in control of the traffic stop.”

James DeRosa was charged with fleeing and eluding a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest without violence and failing to sign a citation. Kathleen DeRosa was charged with resisting arrest without violence. Mary DeRosa was charged with obstructing an investigation.

However, the charges against all three were eventually dismissed in Collier County court.

The lawsuit claims several counts of civil rights violations, false arrest, negligence and malicious prosecution against Hunter, George and Orcutt.

Attempts to reach the DeRosas for comment were unsuccessful. The Sheriff’s Office declined comment.

MacAlister said her clients deny “great portions” of George’s report. She said they have not specified yet how much they are seeking in the lawsuit.

MacAlister said she expects the case to go to trial in late spring of 2010.

“I’m very selective about the cases I choose to file,” she said. “I generally only take cases that I feel have a great deal of merit. I don’t sue the Collier County Sheriff’s Office lightly.”

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