Thursday, Nov 27, 2014
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Brooksville man sues Hernando deputies for $10 million

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TAMPA - A Brooksville man, acquitted of felony battery charges against a law enforcement officer in 2013, is now seeking $10 million in damages from Hernando County Sheriff's deputies.

Michael Bratt and his wife, Marjorie Youmans, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Tampa on Dec. 23, claiming their constitutional rights were violated by four current and former Hernando sheriff's deputies who used excessive force, as well as unlawful search, false arrest and covering up the use of excessive force, when investigating a noise complaint at the Bratt residence.

The suit asks for $10 million compensation for physical and emotional damages Bratt and his wife claim were inflicted after a Dec. 26, 2009 incident with four Hernando County Sheriff's deputies: Louis Genovese, Steven George, Kenneth Van Tassel and John Gore.

Law enforcement officers claimed Bratt became combative after a deputy investigating a noise complaint knocked on his front door in early hours following Christmas night. The defendant claims the deputy trespassed on his property, and he was beaten by numerous responding personnel.

Bratt, 49, faced criminal charges of felony battery and two counts of battery on a law enforcement officer for the struggle that ensued after Deputy Steven George responded to Bratt's Snow Hill Road home. After a five-day trial in February, a panel of six jurors acquitted Bratt of the charges.

During the trial, prosecutor Rob Lewis said Bratt wasn't "terribly thrilled" when George bypassed a call box and stepped over a 4-foot fence to knock on the defendant's front door around 2 a.m., and told the deputy he was trespassing

George, then 24, said he saw Bratt push his wife. Bratt then pulled the deputy into his home and slammed his face into a coffee table, breaking his nose, George said. Bratt managed to grab hold of George's taser, according to the State, and administered a "dry stun," then struggled for the deputy's gun.

Responding officers found Bratt and George on the ground "gasping for air," and Lewis explained Bratt continued to fight off law enforcement, attempting to bite and spit at a deputy and kick out a windshield.

Bratt's defense attorney Stephen Romine showed jurors a Christmas dinner photo, taken a few hours before the deputies responded to the home, then photos of Bratt after the incident, lying in the grass with blood all over his face, and one of his eyeballs sunken in his cheek.

Romine contended George forced his way into Bratt's home, and his client was roughed up after other deputies arrived to find George with a broken nose. The deputy received medical treatment on scene, Romine said, but Bratt, who suffered an orbital fracture, was transported in the back of a police cruiser, and had a sweaty gym towel thrown over his face on the way to the hospital.

Romine said during the trial that sheriff's officers gave inconsistent statements, implicating a cover up.

A 911 dispatcher testified that George radioed for help during the struggle, saying "I need help now." On the stand, George said he "had trouble breathing" after Bratt attacked him, blood gushing down his throat. Responding deputies believed George was in trouble, or had been shot, according to testimony.

Testifying in his own defense, Bratt said about eight or nine officers beat him up, and taunted him by asking if he "like(d) to hit cops."

The lawsuit filed in December states Bratt and his wife, Marjorie Youmans' "lives were forever changed" by the actions of the deputies.

The lawsuit accuses Genovese of driving his knee into Bratt's eye, causing the orbital fracture, and later repeatedly punching Bratt's head and body while he was cuffed in the back of his patrol car. The lawsuit also states Van Tassel used excessive force when he punched, kicked and applied pressure points when Bratt was handcuffed on the ground, and says George used his taser when Bratt was "not violent" and not resisting arrest.

The suit alleges Youmans suffers from sciatic pain from when Gore "roughly" pushed her while placing her under arrest.

According to the lawsuit, the deputies unlawfully entered the Bratt home, placed the couple under false arrest, and later covered up their use of excessive force.

George's taser was not turned over until five days after the incident, according to the lawsuit.

Both George and Genovese are still employed at the sheriff's office. George is a patrol deputy making $41,396.16 annually, according to records. Genovese's assignment is exempt from disclosure, according sheriff's office spokeswoman Denise Moloney.

Van Tassel voluntarily resigned in February 2011, according to records. Gore, a K-9 deputy, retired on May 1 after an internal investigation found he abused his position, and Col. Mike Maurer recommended he be fired.

wbiddlecombe@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5283

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