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BBPD wants ‘blown-kiss’ case in U.S. court

By Lisa Neff, Islander Reporter

The Bradenton Beach Police Department and Chief Sam Speciale filed notice Jan. 4 seeking to move a complaint against the department from local court to U.S. district court.

The suit, filed by a Tampa attorney over an incident at Coquina Beach in April 2008, alleges that a then-BBPD officer violated the constitutional rights of two siblings when he arrested them.

The case, filed at the Manatee County Judicial Center in Bradenton, named former Officer Tim Matthews, Speciale and BBPD as defendants. Matthews, a 13-year police veteran at the time of the incident, resigned shortly after and went to work for the Palmetto Police Department.

The BBPD received formal notice of the suit Dec. 30, 2010.

The department’s first response, filed by attorney Greg Hootman, was a motion to remove, an action that, if approved by the court, would take the case from local jurisdiction to federal jurisdiction.

Generally, the right to remove actions from local to federal court is governed by Section 1441 of Title 28 of the U.S. Code, which permits removal when the federal court would have had original jurisdiction had the plaintiff filed the case at the federal level. Cases raising federal questions, especially constitutional issues may be — and often are — moved to federal court.

The lawsuit, filed by Tampa attorney Alex V. Hajaistron, claims that Matthews violated the Fourth Amendment rights of siblings Lance and Veronica Lewis when he arrested them on charges of battery on a law enforcement officer.

The incident, according to court documents and police reports, escalated after Lance Lewis, then 14, blew a kiss toward Matthews, who was in his patrol car.

After seeing the blown kiss, Matthews stopped and approached the Lewis siblings.

The Lewis complaint alleged, “Without probable cause or reasonable suspicion of criminal activity for an investigation or arrest, Officer Matthews jumped on Lance Lewis, thereby taking him by force, injuring the juvenile and cuffing him. Lance Lewis had a cast on his arm when Officer Matthews affected the arrest.”

The complaint continued, “Without probable cause or reasonable suspicion of criminal activity for an investigation or arrest, Officer Matthews further pushed Veronica Lewis to the ground, cuffed, arrested and charged her with battery on a law enforcement officer as she attempted to ascertain why Officer Matthews was battering and arresting her brother.”

A police affidavit filed by Matthews provided a different account of the incident.

The officer wrote that he asked Lance Lewis if he “had a problem” after he saw the youth blow him kiss.

Lance Lewis allegedly replied, “I don’t have a problem” and then used a racial slur. He also allegedly told the officer, “(expletive deleted) you,” in the presence of a number of children, according to the police report.

The report said when Matthews attempted to arrest Lance Lewis, Veronica Lewis pushed the officer and Lance Lewis kicked him.

In a September 2008 hearing for Veronica Lewis, Circuit Court Judge Diana Mooreland dismissed a charge of battery on a law enforcement officer.

That same month, Lance Lewis appeared before Judge Marc Gilner on charges of disorderly conduct and battery against an officer and was acquitted.

The Lewis complaint stated that Matthews violated the siblings’ Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure and asked for unspecified monetary damages.

In his motion, Hootman, repeatedly referring to BBPD and Speciale as “erroneously-named defendants” said the Lewis’ Fourth Amendment complaint puts the case in federal jurisdiction.

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