A picture is worth a thousand words, and a Florida judge decided it’s worth a whole lot more than that.
After being arrested, Joe Florence looked like he’d been run over.
By a Mack truck.
The Florida man suffered a broken nose, broken jaw, a bruised face, and underwent three surgeries to re-set his shattered bones.
Joe Florence was pummeled by two Lakeland officers, after they accused him of trespassing.
Florence thought he’d done a good deed, when he mowed his neighbors lawn.
Now he’s $275,000 richer from the lawsuit that stemmed from being assaulted by the two cops.
Drama began to unfold when Heather Benthal and Nicholas Ivancevich received a call from dispatch about Florence’s neighbors saying that he was mowing and watering their lawn, so they showed up to investigate allegations that he was trespassing.
Allegedly, Florence wasn’t happy about the way his neighbors kept their yard.
According to the police’s version of events, Florence told the cops the grass in Roth’s yard was ‘overgrown’ and ‘dying’, so he was there mowing and watering.
After the officers investigated, they issued Florence a criminal trespass warning when he grew tired of speaking to the them and walked inside his home.
That’s when Florence said the two officers became upset, then attacked him and subsequently lied in police reports they wrote after arresting him.
“The officer got in my face very quick . . . he was aggressive.”
“And I put my hand on the door knob and that’s when the officer, the male officer, I don’t know who he is, went off on me,” Florence told the Orlando Sentinel.
Florence then recalled that during the beating the officers tased him several times and smashed his face into the sidewalk.
Florence believed officer Ivancevic didn’t like it when he walked back into his house after receiving the warning.
“He said, ‘you come here‘,” said Florence.
To make matters worse after the beating, in an effort to cover up their brutal assault against Florence, officer Ivancevich distorted events in his police reports to make it appear like Florence assaulted them and not the other way around.
Officer Ivancevich falsely charged him with two counts of battery to a law enforcement officer and resisting an officer with violence – as well as assault on a law enforcement officer, depriving an officer of communication – and resisting an officer without violence, according to The Ledger.
Ivancevich would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for Florence’s wife’s quick thinking to use her camera to photograph the incident.
After reviewing the case evidence, prosecutors dropped all charges against Florence.
“They had no right to arrest me [since he had yet to violate the criminal trespass warning] and therefore they had no right to use any force. Obviously any force would be excess force,” said Florence during an interview after his criminal charges were dropped.
However, a Lakeland Police Spokeswoman Sgt. Terri Smith stated, “A no-bill decision is not necessarily a finding of innocence. It is an indication that the prosecutor did not find that there was sufficient evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.”
Florence contended police should have been charged for assaulting him.
He responded by filing a civil rights suit in 2013 that claimed the Lakeland police department violated his rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth amendments to the Constitution and that he suffered, and continues to suffer, great physical, mental, and emotional pain and distress as a result of these Taserings and beatings.
In it, he also named five defendants that included Lakeland Police Department, Police Chief Lisa Womack, former chief Roger Boatner as well as Heather Freeman and Nicholas Ivancevich.
It additionally alleged that Lakeland police failed to promulgate policy to train, supervise and control its officers and asked for ‘no less than $100,000 in damages.
Unbeknownst to Florence, Lakeland is a place where law enforcement prides itself on prosecuting every perceivable instance of trespassing, no matter how crazy the cops might look.
It’s better known to the rest of the world as the headquarters of Publix Supermarkets.
And while Lakeland Police don’t have much in the way of policy to safeguard citizens, they did promulgate the ‘secret police training manual’ discovered by PINAC contributor Michael Burns and reported late last year.
As is seemingly always the case, an internal affairs investigation into misconduct their own officer – by Lakeland Police – found neither of the officers was disciplined and they no violations of law or department policy.
Instead, they were rewarded for their crimes.
Police still haven’t apologized for the beating, although Florence said he’d like one.
So, Florida Middle District Court Judge Mary S. Scriven wrote her reasoning in justifying damages in the amount of $275,000 paid to Florence.
Judge Scriven cited a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision decided by former Chief Justice William Renquist,
“While some degree of force was needed to handcuff Plaintiff if his arrest can be justified, a jury could conclude on Plaintiff’s facts that the amount of force used was disproportionate under the circumstances. The Court is mindful that the Officers were facing a situation that was tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.”
Since their criminal assault against Florence, both Benthal and Ivancevich were promoted within their department.
Ivancevich was hurt at work and now serves as a “background investigator.”
Benthal was promoted to detective.
Our readers should note that the department promoted both officers after they committed crimes, even when visual evidence of those crimes was captured on camera.
Police Chief Larry Giddens said he stands by the internal investigation’s findings [sic].
“I wish him the best,” said Gidens, “We want to recognize what has occurred in the past and move forward in a professional manner.”
“I hope we’re able to put this behind us.”
In the end, we have a story that simply doesn’t add up. Lakeland Internal Affairs found their officer did nothing wrong and its chief steadfastly supports that finding.
However, the courts saw enough merit in Florence’s claim to award him $275,000 in damages.
And only one of them can be right.
We think the photographs clearly show the real perpetrator of a crime in Lakeland.
It’s been said that “no good deed goes unpunished,” and here is the photographic proof of it.