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Law officers take stand in battery trial

Published:   |   Updated: March 7, 2013 at 04:23 PM

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The second day of Florida v. Michael Bratt focused on the testimonies of law enforcement officers who responded to the defendant's rural Snow Hill Road in the hours following Christmas night 2009.

Bratt is on trial for multiple charges of battery on a law enforcement officer. The state said Bratt broke Deputy Steven George's nose when he responded to a noise complaint coming from Bratt's residence that night.

The first witness the Assistant State Attorney Donald Lewis called Wednesday morning was Jessica Hart, the 911 operator who fielded George's distressed call for help.

Jurors listened to about nine minutes of 911 recording, during which George said "I need help now" multiple times, with Hart reassuring him help was on the way, as well as asking to repeat some of his calls, which were garbled and frantic.

When the 911 operator was cross examined, defense attorney Stephen Romine questioned Hart on proper procedure for deputies communicating with dispatch, attempting to show that George did not follow protocol when he went to Bratt's property without first letting her know his location.

Kenneth Van Tassle, the first back-up deputy on scene, testified that he wasn't dispatched to Bratt's house but went out after he heard George "screaming for assistance." Van Tassel said the 10-minute trip from Brooksville "felt like an eternity."

Van Tassle testified that he did respond to Bratt's neighbors' home first, gun drawn, ordering the occupants down on the ground and clearing the residence. Van Tassel, then believing the neighbors' claims the disturbance was at Bratt's house, tactically entered the residence from the back entrance and found both Bratt and George on the floor, injured, with Bratt's wife, Marjorie Youmans, sitting nearby on the couch.

Lewis asked Van Tassel if George seemed triumphant.

"No, devastated," Van Tassel said, adding he had "just the sheer look of terror on his face."

Van Tassel said George later told him that he "thought he was going to die in that house."

During cross examination, Romine questioned the law enforcement witnesses about the force they used on Bratt to restrain him and take him into custody. While witnesses acknowledged they shoved Bratt against a wall, or took him down with a front leg sweep, none could explain how Bratt received the bruises on his face, or the orbital fracture that caused his eyeball to drop down into his cheek. 

"Do you consider an orbital fracture minor?" Romine asked Van Tassel, referencing the now-retired deputy's report completed back in 2009 that listened Bratt's injuries as "minor."

Romine inquired about the "pain compliance" used on Bratt, the deliverance of pain to pressure points behind Bratt's right and left ears. Van Tassel said the blows ultimately put the defendant in a "compliant state," but Romine said the persistent application of pain shocked Bratt and left him too exhausted to continue to struggle.

Other witnesses who testified Wednesday included Lt. William Power — a sheriff's sergeant in December 2009 — who asked his captain to send a forensics team to Bratt's house to examine the blood left from the physical fight. The request was denied, according to Power.

Power also testified that he responded to the Bratt residence after hearing over the radio an officer was shot, and that Bratt had refused medical attention on scene.

Deputy Steven George is expected to sit in the witness box Thursday morning to give his account of the 2009 incident.

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