Woman Says BSO Deputies Put Her in Chokehold After She Called for Help

On November 2, 2014, Jennifer Harper called 911 about a domestic dispute with her husband. But when Broward Sheriff's deputies arrived at the couple's Weston home that night, they decided to take her, not her husband, into custody.

After seeing the 41-year-old woman "crying hysterical" and finding out she hadn't been eating or sleeping, Dep. Christopher Bradley later wrote in an arrest report, he and Dep. Chad Bailey decided she needed to be committed under the Baker Act. While trying to handcuff her, Harper says, Bailey put her in a chokehold, violating BSO policy.

Feeling she might pass out, she bit Bailey's bicep — and was arrested for aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer.

Harper was eventually cleared by a jury. But now, almost four years after her arrest, she's suing the deputies and Sheriff Scott Israel over the ordeal. In a complaint filed this week in federal court, she argues the deputies used excessive force and falsely arrested her.

"It got to a point where she's not going to call 911 again because this happened to her," says Harper's attorney, Rick Yabor, who also represented her in the criminal trial. "She called 911; she ended up in jail six weeks, ended up having to go to trial for battery on a law enforcement officer."

So far, none of the defendants — the sheriff and Deputies Bradley and Bailey — has formally responded to the lawsuit. BSO does not comment on pending litigation. 

In the arrest report, the deputies wrote that Harper struggled with them when told she was being Baker Acted. They said she bit Bailey while trying to resist being taken into custody, a claim they repeated in court. She said, "I hope I made him bleed cause I have hepatitis C," according to the arrest report.

But Yabor argues it would be physically impossible for Harper to have bitten Bailey the way the deputies described: that one of them was holding her arm against her back and the other was holding her forearm against the table.

"Even Linda Blair from The Exorcist couldn't do that," he says.

He also disputes the comment attributed to Harper, saying she told the deputies of her ailment as a courtesy, to let the deputy know to get checked out.

In the summer of 2016, a jury acquitted Harper. She has since moved out of state but remains shaken by the ordeal, her attorney says.

"It is not a good position to be in when you fear the police," Yabor says. "That's not the purpose of the police. It's to protect and serve, not for you to be afraid of them." 
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Brittany Shammas is a former staff writer at Miami New Times. She covered education in Naples before taking a job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. She joined New Times in 2016.
Contact: Brittany Shammas