The City of Hallandale Beach wants one of its own police officers and his union to pay attorney's fees for the person who successfully sued him in a civil rights case involving excessive force.
The incident happened in 2009, when Kenneth Salazar made a left turn on Hallandale Beach Boulevard and his car allegedly nearly hit officer Josue Hernandez's cruiser. Hernandez proceeded to pull Salazar over and ordered him out of the car. As Salazar questioned why he was pulled over, Hernandez frisked him and kicked his legs apart. But he kicked too hard, and when Salazar lost his balance, he tried to straighten his legs. Feeling the resistance, Hernandez threw Salazar on the ground and pepper-sprayed him before placing him under arrest for resisting arrest, according to Salazar's attorney, Gary Kollin.
Salazar eventually filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city, and one week before Christmas, on December 18, 2003, a jury found Hernandez guilty of false arrest, battery, and excessive force – the jury awarded Salazar $82,000 for his pain and suffering.
The city paid the $82,000. But it's now arguing that Hernandez and the Broward Police Benevolent Association should cover Salazar's $42,000 in attorney fees.
A Special Magistrate court already says that Hernandez and the BPA needs to open up his checkbook for the services of Kollin, who represented Salazar in the original lawsuit. Shortly after, the Broward Police Benevolent Association filed a “motion to reconsider.” But the court affirmed that the cop is on the hook. And now the city has filed a complaint for declaratory judgment — a typical action before a lawsuit is filed — in Broward County court to make that happen.
To date, the complaint says, the City of Hallandale Beach has already paid $106,000 for Hernandez's assault of Salazar, which includes the $82,000 judgment award and about $24,000 for its own attorneys' fees during the case.
That amount exceeds the $100,000 the city has agreed to pay up to in its collective bargaining agreement with the PBA when its officers engage in reckless behavior such as beating and falsely arresting a guy in a bout of road rage, otherwise known as “false arrest insurance,” according to the suit.
Also, the city claims that, when it comes to paying for when public employees break the law, state law “specifically excludes payment of attorneys' fees where an officer has been determined to have caused intentional harm.”
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Since the court found that Hernandez's actions were intentional, it looks like he and the union might have to pay up. But almost 18 months after the verdict, that hasn't happened. Hernandez, meanwhile, is still employed by the department and earns $139,000 per year, including retirement and benefits.
Neither the city attorney, Lynne Whitfield, nor the Broward PBA returned request for comment.
Kollin says the city and the police union need to figure out who will take up the rest of Hernandez's road rage bill.
“If they have some internal dispute between the two of them, they need to settle that among themselves,” he says.