A federal jury in Florida ordered two Marion County, FL, Sheriff's deputies to pay $2.3 million for using excessive force in the killing of an unarmed victim, Joshua Salvato, 21, who was shot, tasered and killed by Deputies Lauren Miley and Norman Brown.
The verdict was issued on May 29, 2014, after an eight-day trial before US District Court Judge William Terrell Hodges, of the Middle District of Florida, Ocala Division.
The jury found that Deputy Miley used excessive force and Deputy Brown willfully and wantonly inflicted conscious pain and suffering on Joshua Salvato before he died. The jury further found that the Sheriff Chris Blair failed to investigate the shooting as required by department protocol, thus endorsing Deputy Miley’s actions.
The victim’s father, Vincent Salvato, said, “Through this verdict, our community stood up and spoke on behalf of my son Josh. They sent a message that the Sheriff is not above the law and his position does not grant him immunity for wrongdoing nor does it protect him from being held accountable.”
“The jury verdict sends a strong and clear message across the country that our citizens will not tolerate police misconduct, they will reject any unreasonable excessive force and, most importantly, have zero tolerance for the police code of silence where misconduct is rewarded with a wink and a nod," said an attorney representing the victim’s family, lead counsel Antonio Romanucci of Romanucci & Blandin, LLC.
"The jury found the Sheriff ratified the deeds of the shooting police officer by failing to do anything about it after the shooting. The message now is that if you commit an act of police misconduct you will be investigated and disciplined if it requires it,” he said.
Also representing Vincent Salvato in the civil case were co-lead counsel Angela Kurtz of Romanucci & Blandin LLC, co-lead counsel Theodore Leopold, of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, and co-counsel Janet Varnell of Varnell & Warwick, P.A.
The federal lawsuit alleged that Salvato was deprived of his constitutional rights under the 14th and Fourth Amendments.
Deputy Miley responded to a 911 call for a disturbance along a local highway on July 6, 2012, at about 10:45 p.m. Joshua Salvato was walking along the road at the time when Deputy Miley approached and questioned him. Miley asked Salvato whether he was carrying a weapon. She confirmed that Salvato only had a piece of bread in his pockets.
Despite having no cause to arrest or take Salvato into custody, she called for backup. Deputy Brown then arrived on scene and drove Joshua’s face in the ground. Then, without any justification of a crime being committed, the two Deputies attempted to handcuff Salvato. In fear for his life, Salvato escaped the deputies grasp and while moving away from them, he was shot, tasered and killed.
The entire scene culminating in Salvato’s tragic death was captured by the patrol car’s dashboard camera, and the recording became a key piece of evidence in trial. The footage proved that Miley had pulled out her service pistol shooting Salvato in the abdomen as he was retreating away from her. After being shot, Deputy Miley handcuffed Salvato as he lay face down bleeding to death in the middle of the road. After being shot and handcuffed by Deputy Miley, Deputy Brown tasered Salvato 12 consecutive times over 6 minutes, prior to Salvato’s death.
“While the defendants were not truthful during the grand jury investigation, the outcome of this case shows that the civil justice system does work. If not for our justice system, the complete evidence would never have been heard and justice would not have been served,” attorney Leopold said.
The lawsuit is civil action No. 5:12-CV-635-OC-10.