SEBRING — Four years after Sebring police arrested a man at what was then Shooters Sports Bar, a jury decided last week that while the arrest was lawful, a police officer also used excessive force.
A Highlands County Civil Court jury awarded Esteban Roberto Barrera $144,658.25 for medical expenses, lost earnings and future effects on his life from the incident.
Barrera had filed a lawsuit against the City of Sebring after an officer brought him to the ground using a leg maneuver. He suffered a broken tooth and a knee injury.
After a trial that lasted most of last week, the jury determined that police had “probable cause” to arrest Barrera and charge him with resisting arrest without violence. Ultimately, the State Attorney’s Office decided not to prosecute Barrera after he complied with the terms of a deferred prosecution program, according to a Highlands County Circuit Court document.
In deciding that police used excessive force, the jury awarded Barrera $100,198.25 for past medical expenses, $2,500 for future medical expenses, $16,960 for past lost earnings and $25,000 for future damages stemming from pain and suffering, disability and physical impairment, disfigurement, mental anguish, inconvenience and loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life.
Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund indicated that while he wasn’t happy with the verdict, he accepted it.
“I would like to thank the members of the jury for their careful consideration of this case,” he said. “Though I am undoubtedly disappointed with the verdict and the award, I have to respect their position. Unfortunately, jurors are sometimes asked to make incredibly difficult judgments with limited information.”
According to an offense report and supplement reports written by other officers, the situation leading to Barrera’s arrest began with problems involving another man who was refusing to comply with orders from an officer.
As the officer tried to escort the man from the bar, the report said, it appeared the man pushed the officer.
Then Barrera left the bar, saying, “That’s my brother, that’s my brother,” referring to the man, the report said.
Barrera, who was apparently trying to intervene, pushed an officer and continued to resist, authorities said. Then another officer did a “leg sweep” and Barrera fell to the ground on his stomach, the offense report said.
Ultimately, authorities decided not to charge Barrera with battery on a law enforcement officer as the officer involved did not feel like he did it with “ill intentions,” the report said.
Barrera contended in his civil lawsuit that he was asking the officer a question when, for no reason, the other officer used the leg maneuver, causing him to end up on the ground injured.