Lawsuit dropped by firefighter who claimed police brutalized him; lawyer says judge ‘protecting cops’
photo by: Mike Yoder
The firefighter who accused Lawrence police of breaking his arm and smashing another man’s head into a car has dropped his lawsuit against the city.
The firefighter, Miguel Armenta, claims that he voiced disapproval over Lawrence Police Officer Frank McClelland allegedly beating another man’s head against a car door and was then arrested himself, ultimately leaving the scene with a broken arm.
Armenta and his attorney, Jerry Levy, filed the civil lawsuit against the city and several police officers in October 2014, claiming police used excessive and negligent force and that they had no cause to arrest him in the first place.
The entire incident took place outside Lawrence’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall, 1801 Massachusetts St., in April 2014.
Levy said Armenta decided to dismiss the lawsuit after the case was “gutted” by a Sept. 2 ruling made by Douglas County District Court Judge Paula Martin.
Essentially, Martin’s ruling limited testimony during the trial to focus solely on Armenta’s arrest. Testimony and evidence regarding police arriving on the scene and McClelland’s alleged police brutality toward the other man would not be allowed, she said.
Attorneys representing the city argued during the Sept. 2 hearing that evidence regarding the day’s earlier events would skew jurors’ opinions. The additional evidence, they said, was irrelevant.
Levy, however, argued during the hearing that jurors would need to hear what happened before Armenta was arrested to provide valuable context into the situation. Without knowing what happened before Armenta’s arrest the jury would be lost, he said.
Martin agreed with the city’s attorneys and ruled that the evidence would not be allowed.
Martin did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on her ruling.
“This is basically the judge protecting the cops,” Levy said.
Thursday, Levy filed to dismiss the case.
“The jury wasn’t even going to be allowed to know why the cops showed up,” he said. “They weren’t going to be allowed to hear about what happened before the officers stormed the patio. They weren’t going to be allowed to hear about McClelland slamming the guy’s head into the car and being witnessed by everybody.”
He said the issue would not be brought up again and that Armenta simply wants to move forward with his life.
Armenta previously declined to comment on the case. In a criminal trial, held in February 2015, he was found guilty of interfering with his own arrest, though he was also acquitted of two other misdemeanor charges of interfering with law enforcement.
The lawsuit — which was seeking $225,000 in compensation for Armenta’s injuries — was scheduled to go to trial Monday.
Lawrence City Attorney Toni Wheeler declined to comment on the lawsuit, but in court filings denied Armenta’s claims. The officers acted “within the scope of their employment,” she said.
McClelland is no longer employed by the Lawrence Police Department. His last day with the department was Aug. 30, which coincided with the publication of a Journal-World story detailing the claims in Armenta’s lawsuit.
The other officers mentioned in the lawsuit are still with the department.