By now, you've surely seen Police Women of Broward County, the Cops-style TV show authorized by past Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti. The show had its share of problems when defendants claimed that they'd been unfairly arrested for pure entertainment value.
The public defender's office handled 11 such cases; most were dismissed or charges were reduced; two are still pending.
Now, one of those arrested during filming, 26-year-old Devin Matthews, is taking it up a notch and suing in federal court.
In an episode that was filmed in February 2011 and aired later that spring, officer Andrea Penoyer and a partner drive during broad daylight to back up officers who are beside a parked car in a residential neighborhood in Pompano Beach, arresting a man on marijuana charges. Suddenly, another man -- Matthews -- comes out of a neighboring house, shouting.
The video cuts to Penoyer in a studio interview later explaining what happened. "As we're attempting to complete this drug investigation, some loudmouth guy comes from one of the houses. He's yelling; he's making a scene," she says. The video cuts back to the incident, in which Penoyer walks up toward the sidewalk, where two male officers are speaking with Matthews.
The video shows the back of Penoyer's head and, beyond her, one of the male officers moving his left arm upward toward Matthews. Then it cuts to back to Penoyer in the studio, who boasts, "All of a sudden, he starts taking a swing. This is a mistake. This is a 50,000-volt mistake."
Next, the clip shows the male officer pressing Matthews down toward the ground. Matthews backs away up the lawn. The male cop swings and tries to punch him, but Matthews ducks, then flails/punches his arms in the air. Then the cop grabs Matthews, and the second male cop tases him repeatedly as Penoyer shouts, "Get on the ground!"
In the incident report filed by the male officer -- Sgt. Ronen Barerez -- he wrote that he had been "in fear that [Matthews] was going to interfere with the arrest" and that Matthews had said, "I am in front of my house, you can't tell me shit."
Wrote Barerez, "I ordered him three times to back up. He refused to obey these commands and continued to yell in what I felt was an attempt to distract [the other officers from arresting his cousin]. After Matthews disobeyed my orders, I attempted to take him into custody by grabbing him and attempting to direct him to the ground. Devin Matthews was able to pull out of my grip, back up, clinch his fist, and swing his arms toward me in an attempt to strike me." Then Matthews was tased. Barerez's report noted that Matthews suffered a grand mal seizure and was taken away by ambulance.
Matthews was arrested for both resisting an officer without violence (a first-degree misdemeanor) and resisting with violence. "That's equivalent to battery on a law enforcement officer, which is a third-degree felony, punishable up to five years," says Matthews' attorney, Bruce Prober.
But both charges were eventually dropped.
Prober filed a federal lawsuit on November 30 against current Sheriff Scott Israel, Relativity Media, Long Pond Media, and all three officers -- Penoyer, Barerez, and Andrew Weiman, who did the tasing. The lawsuit alleges negligent hiring/supervision/retainment of officers by the Broward Sheriff's Office, malicious prosecution, false arrest, excessive force, and conspiracy to commit malicious prosecution.
Prober described his client as "a black guy from neighborhood with long dreads. His criminal record is not stellar" --- Broward court records show multiple felony charges against him, including battery, sexual battery, and possession of cannabis -- but "He's a nice guy. He loves his family, and he was concerned. This is his family home. Devin didn't do anything wrong. He was dehumanized to make the public want to watch a show and make advertisers want to book the time slots." Wanting to make good TV, Prober says, cops "created confrontations and sensational situations."
Prober says an officer also told Matthews "to 'shut the fuck up' -- of course, you're not gonna see that on the episode. We are trying to get the unedited version and you can see the true sequence."
Though he's now in private practice, Prober says he worked as public defender in Broward County for six years. "I've dealt with thousands of defendants, and they have anxiety because there is real possibility of ending up in jail. Resisting without violence -- it's a bullshit charge." Clients who are probation and then get hit with resisting arrest, Prober says, are "looking at like 20 years prison. In my experience... [cops] beat you up, and then they charge you with an allegation of you attacking them to justify unreasonable use of force -- that has been my experience as a public defender."
Prober says his client suffered mental and physical anguish, humiliation, and violations of his civil rights. He is suing for compensatory and punitive damages but has not specified a dollar amount. Prober expects Matthews' case to come to trial by the end of this year.
BSO spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright said the agency does not usually comment on pending litigation. She said that "there are no current plans" for reality shows to be filmed under current sheriff Israel. She said Israel "understands there is a lot of work to be done, and he wants employees focused on public safety and serving the residents and visitors of Broward County."
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