ORLANDO, Fla. - A federal jury Thursday found Orlando police liable for using excessive force during the unlawful arrest of a woman after they illegally entered her home and pepper-sprayed her in 2007.
Ana Maria Hazleton was awarded $88,615 in damages, including money she spent on medical bills, lost wages and lawyers who persuaded prosecutors to drop the misdemeanor criminal charge filed against her.
The bulk of the damages, $65,000, compensated her for pain and suffering, mental anguish and loss of reputation, among other torts.
In a stinging rebuke to Orlando police, the jury also found one officer, Frank Sikos, must pay $8,000 in punitive damages to Hazleton, because his use of pepper spray against her showed "specific intent to harm" her. To award punitive damages, the jury had to find Sikos recklessly and intentionally violated her civil rights.
The arrest and excessive force were illegal because, the court ruled, police violated Hazleton's civil rights by illegally entering her home to forcibly remove her during investigation of a routine misdemeanor, acting without any exigent circumstances or while conducting a "hot pursuit."
Police had already seized her son in her garage and many minutes later decided to arrest Hazleton for resisting arrest without violence because she tried to hold on to her son when they seized him in the garage.
The court had already found police violated Hazleton's civil rights, so the only questions for the jury involved damages. The city will have to pay her legal costs and fees in addition to the damages, said one of her attorneys, Michael LaFay, of the Nejame Law firm. She was also represented by Frank T. Allan of the Allan Firm.
Orlando police and their lawyers declined comment after the verdict was announced.
Two of the officers involved in Hazelton's May 13, 2007 illegal arrest have gained notoriety for other misdeeds while employed as Orlando police officers.
Fernando Trinidad was found in a 2011 federal civil rights jury trial to have battered a woman when he pushed her down steps at a nightclub, then charged her with attacking him – charges that were dropped once his victim obtained videotape of the battery.
And former Officer Brandon Loverde surrendered his law enforcement certification when he pled no contest to disorderly conduct in 2010. He allegedly ordered a woman to follow him into a nightclub parking lot and then reached inside her bra to squeeze her breast until milk squirted into a latex glove he had just put on.
Trinidad remains an Orlando police officer.
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