Wracked with grief when he arrived at his daughter’s apartment to find her dead of a cocaine overdose, a Delray Beach surgeon claims Boynton Beach police threw him on the floor and handcuffed him when he tried to see his 26-year-old child one last time before her body was taken to the morgue.
In the lawsuit filed this month in U.S. District Court, Dr. Harvey Garber is seeking an unspecified amount in damages from the city and four police officers for violating his civil rights.
“While standing approximately 10 feet from his daughter’s body, Dr. Garber was attacked physically, shoved and pushed away from the scene by (the) officers,” attorney Richard Schuler wrote in the lawsuit he filed on behalf of the physician who specializes in colon and rectal surgery. “The officers then violently slammed Dr. Garber to the floor, using the weight of their own bodies on top of them.”
Nearly a year after the June 2017 incident, the 67-year-old doctor has yet to recover either emotionally or physically, Schuler said. Garber sustained injuries to his head, legs and hands that hamper his ability to continue to work as a surgeon, Schuler wrote.
While Boynton Beach officials weren’t immediately available for comment, in a report written immediately following the incident, the officers acknowledged they used force to subdue Garber.
Officer Janelle Jumelles claimed Garber became belligerent when she and other officers told the doctor he couldn’t go into the bathroom where his daughter’s body was found because it was a crime scene. While the officers allowed him to stay outside, when crime scene investigators arrived, they told Garber he would have to go to a nearby sitting area, Jumelles wrote.
When Garber refused, Jumelles said she and Officer Evan Esteves and Detective Peter Zampini grabbed the physician. Esteves used a leg sweep to bring Garber to the floor. While Garber continued to struggle, Jumelles said she was eventually able to put Garber in handcuffs.
Garber, who told officers the handcuffs inflamed a previous injury, was taken to Bethesda Hospital East for treatment. As he was discharged, police gave him a notice to appear in court on two charges of resisting arrest without violence, Jumelles wrote. Prosecutors declined to file the charges.
While Officer John Dunlop isn’t mentioned in Jumelles’ account of Garber’s arrest, Schuler said he helped the other officers hold Garber down while Esteves kicked the doctor.
Schuler said he wants to see the video of Garber’s arrest that Jumelles said was captured by her body camera. Boynton Beach officials have declined to release it, he said.
In addition to suing the four officers, Schuler accuses the agency of repeatedly violating the constitutional rights of suspects — a potentially multi-million-dollar claim. To shore up his allegations, he points to Officer Michael Brown, who was recently convicted and sentenced to house arrest on a charge of deprivation of rights under color of law in connection with the 2014 beating of an unarmed passenger in a car that fled from police.
Schuler also mentioned the 2014 arrest of Officer Stephen Maiorino on a charge of rape. While Maiorino was acquitted by a jury, the city paid a Wellington woman $875,000 to settle a civil lawsuit she filed against the city.
Such incidents indicate the agency tolerates the use of excessive force by officers, Schuler wrote. The “need for specialized training and supervision is so obvious,” he wrote, that the city’s failure to provide it shows it is “deliberately indifferent” to protecting citizens’ constitutional rights.
Federal judges have repeatedly thrown out such claims in similar lawsuits filed against the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. Because of the nature of their jobs, laws give police and law enforcement agencies broad discretion. To prove the agency itself violated Garber’s constitutional rights, Schuler would have to prove that the agency had a defacto policy that allows officers to use excessive force.