10 Investigates alleged beating in Sarasota Jail

Sarasota, Florida -- Sometimes, police have to use physical force to restrain a suspect, but as 10 Investigates an incident in the Sarasota County Jail involving a man who has never been convicted of any crime, our expert says it appears deputies crossed the line by using excessive force.

Much of the incident was caught on video. It started last September when Richard Zimmerman was pulled over in Sarasota for running a red light. Zimmerman says that was the beginning of what he calls his real-life nightmare.

Zimmerman was arrested for DUI and claims he was antagonized by the arresting officer. Once at the jail, Zimmerman says he and the deputy got into a verbal altercation.

Zimmerman admits, "I could have maybe acted better, but what they were saying to me did get me very upset."

Levels of Resistant Reports by Sgt. Dana Dawley, Deputy John Robertson, and Deputy Daniel Rodriguez document Zimmerman was cursing and refusing to follow orders. Within seconds, Sgt. Dawley reported he grabbed Zimmerman "in a bent wrist lock and placed his arm under Zimmerman's chin," escorting him to the holding cell area.

Zimmerman says he was upset because they were mocking him.

On the sheriff's office surveillance tape, there are two deputies escorting Zimmerman as he is led back to a holding cell. His hands were handcuffed behind his back when Deputy Daniel Rodriguez admitted "he punched him in the abdomen."

Zimmerman says, "He took a stance and he kneed me with his knee ten separate times, back to back as hard as he could."

Rodriguez reports, "I knee spiked him several times and told him to stop tensing up."

Mike Pheneger, the president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, says, "It seemed to me inappropriate."

Pheneger is extremely familiar with the use of force. He is a retired colonel who spent 30 years as an intelligence officer.

According to Pheneger, there were more than enough people without resorting to hitting or kneeing the suspect. He adds, "They had the guy under total physical control so there was no excuse for hitting him."

Deputies do admit that while Zimmerman was in a restraint chair he was tasered twice. And while he was still in the chair, Deputy Robertson "closed fist struck him on the left side of his ribs three times." Rodriguez also "struck him several more times in the abdomen to gain compliance."

Last week, the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office said it would review the incident, but late Monday they sent 10 News an email saying "there is no formal review, we found nothing to initiate an investigation of excessive force."

Zimmerman says when people don't hold them accountable for what they do, they turn into the bad guy. "They have the power and believe 'I can do what I want and get away with it.'"

On the issue of excessive force, the Sarasota Sheriff's Office says, "Any action, whether the person is restrained or not, including physical force and/or the use of a Taser, should not exceed what is necessary to stop the threat and obtain compliance from the inmate."

Meanwhile, Zimmerman's DUI trial resulted in a hung jury.

Zimmerman is considering filing a suit against the sheriff's office.

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