The city of Key West is prepared to settle a lawsuit by paying $100,000 to a man who accused a police officer of brutality during the 2013 Fantasy Fest.
Raymond Berthiaume, of Fort Lauderdale, said Lt. David T. Smith knocked him to the ground and arrested him on a domestic battery charge without enough evidence. The charge didn’t make it to court.
The incident happened during Fantasy Fest 2013, which Berthiaume attended with friends.
According to police, Berthiaume was downtown and frustrated as his friends argued over whether to go home, when Smith arrested him for a domestic battery that Berthiaume denies.
Berthiaume sued in federal court in January 2015, accusing Smith of trying to frame him for the battery by forcing one of his friends to lie about what happened. He also said he had to have surgeries on his jaw and wrist due to the injuries caused by Smith.
But after a three-day trial in May 2016 at U.S. District Court in Key West before Judge James Lawrence King, a jury ruled Smith didn’t violate any of Berthiaume’s rights Oct. 27, 2013, nor did he make a false arrest.
After the city won at trial in 2016, an appellate court ordered a new trial, finding that prospective jurors weren’t asked whether they have a bias against gays.
“The district court here asked the jurors multiple questions about any biases or prejudices they might have against law enforcement,” reads the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. “But the district court refused to ask any questions at all about prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation. Therefore, we have no way to discern whether the jury was biased against [the plaintiff] for that reason.”
Although the city has already won once at trial in this case, nothing guarantees a second favorable jury verdict, city attorneys say.
The city’s private attorney, Michael Burke, estimated a loss at trial could result in a jury award of up to $250,000. Insurance will cover the payment, Burke said. Even if the city won at trial, the cost of attorney’s fees and bringing Smith down from Tallahassee, where he now lives, would be significant.
The settlement — which Berthiaume has already signed — will be on the agenda when the City Commission meets on Nov. 7 at 6 p.m. Berthiaume will be required to spend the $100,000 on medical expenses, Burke said.
City Attorney Shawn Smith said he believes the now-retired Lt. Smith did nothing wrong but reasoned the settlement is in the best interest of the city.
“This is purely a financial decision driven by our insurer, and the entire sum will be paid by the city’s excess insurer,” he wrote.
Also on the agenda is another recommendation by city attorneys to settle for $100,000 a couple’s lawsuit over a woman having broken her ankle due to a cracked sidewalk in 2015. Sandra and Giacomo Avanzato have signed the settlement.