Federal lawsuit filed against Marco police claiming excessive force during arrest

Marco Police Arrest Video

Reaction to Police Video

Stephen Mariani

File photo

Stephen Mariani

— A 22-year-old former East Naples man punched and pepper-sprayed by a Marco Police officer in 2008 has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing him of excessive force and the city of failing to train its officers.

Adrian Polanco, 22, of Texas, is suing the city of Marco Island and Officer Stephen Mariani, 52, who was exonerated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement after being charged with battery and excessive force in the Feb. 18, 2008, incident.

“During the entire time that Mariani was striking him, spraying the pepper spray and sealing the vehicle with the pepper spray inside, Polanco and the other two arrestees were handcuffed and in an otherwise defenseless situation,” the lawsuit alleges, noting none posed a threat and calling the use of force and pepper spray unreasonable and excessive.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers, alleges officers had a custom, policy or practice of using excessive force, the city was negligent in supervising, overseeing and training them, and the city breached its duty to ensure officers performed their duties responsibly and didn’t harm the public.

The lawsuit alleges Polanco suffered physical and emotional distress and abuse, physical and emotional injuries, had to pay medical and psychological expenses, experienced shame, humiliation, mental pain and suffering, a loss of a capacity to enjoy life, and other damages.

Chief Thom Carr declined comment. It couldn’t be determined if the city or Mariani had attorneys. Rafael Katz of Hollywood, who represents Polanco with Adam Balkan of Boca Raton, called Mariani’s actions unnecessary.

“One of the effects is a feeling of asphyxiation,” Katz said of pepper spray. “Essentially, he put them in a gas chamber.”

“I take police cases with a heavy heart,” he said. “I typically am on the side of law enforcement, but I hold them to a higher standard and if they cross that line, they deserve everything that’s coming to them. The few civil rights cases that I’ve taken usually are something very excessive, over the top.”

Polanco now lives with his grandmother and plans to go to University of Texas, Katz said, adding that he’s trying to turn his life around after hanging out with the wrong crowd. “But this incident has caused a significant fear of all police interaction,” Katz said.

Police reports from 2008 say that by 11:15 p.m., Polanco, Christopher Caprari, 21, of East Naples, and Anthony Blanco, 18, of Marco Island, had been kicked out of a club with 20 friends who were at a birthday celebration.

The three began a brawl with Mariani and an off-duty officer, prompting a civilian to jump in and help police, reports say. Mariani’s supervisor, Cpl. Jason Nachtrab, told him to drive them to the county jail, to turn on the car’s video camera and direct it at the backseat, where the three sat. The video shows them jostling as they harassed and shouted at Mariani, challenging him to fight.

“Instead of driving directly to the booking facility, within just minutes of leaving the MIPD, Mariani pulled his car off the side of a road, opened the back door to the passenger compartment, where Polanco was sitting handcuffed, and proceeded to punch and strike Polanco several times without justification,” the lawsuit alleges.

Mariani radioed for help, claiming they were combative, trying to escape and kick out windows, according to the lawsuit, which says he then pepper-sprayed them.

“Mariani then shut all doors to the police cruiser and left Polanco and the other prisoners ... sitting in the sealed vehicle, gasping for breath, coughing, with severe eye irritation and crying for help, leaving Polanco fearful that he would not survive,” the lawsuit says.

In the video, Polanco says the Lord’s Prayer, ending: “Amen, Lord. Help us please in this situation, Lord. Please help,” and another officer asks for County Emergency Medical Services’ assistance, treatment for pepper spray.

Mariani later opened the door next to Caprari, who was crying, and Polanco yelled to open his, prompting another officer to open it, tell them to relax and take small breaths. Then they closed the doors.

Six minutes later, an ambulance and sheriff’s deputies arrived and by 1:15 a.m., they were treated by EMS.

Two days later, Mariani told then-Police Chief Roger Reinke he’d messed up. He was later suspended without pay for two weeks, assigned to desk duty for 5½ months and put on six months’ probation, which ended Feb. 22, 2009. He returned to active duty Aug. 22, 2009.

In June 2008, the State Attorney’s Office charged him with misdemeanor battery. He later entered a pretrial diversion program and was ordered to take six months of anger management classes. As a result, he wasn’t convicted.

That December, an FDLE disciplinary panel exonerated him, saying he was placed in an “impossible situation.” It issued a letter of guidance, a directive similar to probation. It meant Mariani, who joined the force in 2006 after 20 years as a New York City cop, would have a clean record. He’d faced loss of his police certification.

“They gave this guy a complete free pass,” Katz said.

For a deferred prosecution, he had to admit his actions. In his sworn statement, he said the three resisted arrest, tried to escape, spit, kicked and slammed their heads into the windows and partition and he needed to use physical restraint to regain control, prevent injury and escape.

“I struck two of the prisoners with my hand and was then able to close the rear door,” Mariani wrote, adding that he sprayed them to stop them from “violently resisting.”

Katz said the sworn statement wasn’t true, adding, “If you look at it and you look at the video, there’s no way the two match.”

In June 2008, Polanco pleaded to misdemeanor disorderly intoxication and was sentenced to time served since his arrest; the others served probation. Last week, Polanco, who had a record for drug possession, was charged with driving with a suspended license, and drug possession after deputies found four ecstasy pills in his pocket at the jail; Katz said he denies having drugs.

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Comments » 29

Yankee writes:

What a surprise, a panel of jerks letting one of their own s---heads off the hook after demonstrating hideous, inhumane behavior. When is Marco going to get a decent police force. Can't we go back to having the County Sheriffs? Not much better but it's a start.

waverunner writes:

Hmmm, Yanker and Blabbermouth, why don't you look at ALL the facts? These poor misguided youths did nothing wrong, is that why a civilian had to assist police because they were outnumbered?

It's funny how this kid is now deciding to "turn his life around", guess it looks good for his lawsuit. Geez, he was also found with Ecstasy pills, but they weren't his either. Sounds like Yanker and Blabbermouth missed their calling, they should be defense lawyers.

JohninMarco writes:

in response to waverunner:

Hmmm, Yanker and Blabbermouth, why don't you look at ALL the facts? These poor misguided youths did nothing wrong, is that why a civilian had to assist police because they were outnumbered?

It's funny how this kid is now deciding to "turn his life around", guess it looks good for his lawsuit. Geez, he was also found with Ecstasy pills, but they weren't his either. Sounds like Yanker and Blabbermouth missed their calling, they should be defense lawyers.

No one said that he is a misguided youth. Even you should know that this was NOT the police depts. finest hour. One further questioned the intelligence of this officer knowing he is being taped. His actions reflect on all members of your dept.

August8 writes:

"Part of doing police work" !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The police chief in this case was a hero,he stood up for the officer and the right thing, no hideing under the desk for this guy, as the situation was handled previously. This officer should have never been exposed to arrest, should have had council prior to his remarks, and was justified based on what he was required to do and the actions of these terds.The Marco Councilor, Recker should recieve credit as well.
If your going to have your own police force, the situations will occur over time.
The cops and citizens are fortunate to have a chief with guts and should go bye this as if it were nothing at all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

waverunner writes:

in response to JohninMarco:

No one said that he is a misguided youth. Even you should know that this was NOT the police depts. finest hour. One further questioned the intelligence of this officer knowing he is being taped. His actions reflect on all members of your dept.

I do agree that this was not the department's finest hour, but it is amazing how Yanker and Blabbermouth did not say one negative thing about the catalyst in this incident, the 3 hoodlums who could not control themselves while visiting this island.

I have to wonder is these miscreants happened to wander into Yanker's or Blabbermouth's yard and started a problem, would they want their local police there in a jiffy, or would they still argue that they would be patient enough for the sheriff's dept. to respond?

waverunner writes:

in response to Klabautermann:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I have to wonder why someone is so "anti-police" on an island like Marco. Then it occurred to me, perhaps Blabbermouth and Yanker did not have what it takes to join the force! It is all coming together, the secret has been exposed!

I pity people like you that continually spew negative comments without utilizing common sense, you two are just miserable beings.

JohninMarco writes:

in response to waverunner:

I do agree that this was not the department's finest hour, but it is amazing how Yanker and Blabbermouth did not say one negative thing about the catalyst in this incident, the 3 hoodlums who could not control themselves while visiting this island.

I have to wonder is these miscreants happened to wander into Yanker's or Blabbermouth's yard and started a problem, would they want their local police there in a jiffy, or would they still argue that they would be patient enough for the sheriff's dept. to respond?

Again, no one as stated that the police do not respond promptly or professionally. It was what happened after. A 52 year old officer NOW has anger management classes? A supervisor has the arresting officer turn a video camera on to the prisoners for their transportation to jail? This incident was a like bring gasoline to a fire. It seems that nothing good was going to happen here. Further this will cost the city a small fortune in money let alone in bad economic times it is not the best ad to the tourist business.

GFonda writes:

Stef is my neighbor and one could not be a better one. I do think that because we apparently do not have facilities on the island to hold and process individuals involved in these types of incidents, that it is risky to have one police officer transport multiple actively belligerent individuals to Naples without backup; or at least put them in a "paddy wagon" where they are caged in a separate compartment. Perhaps such a vehicle is available from the Sheriff's department in which case the Sheriff should be called in to do the transport to the Sheriff's facility in Naples. From what I remember of the incident from the original press reports, Stef handled the situation as best as could be expected under the circumstances. I am a big supporteer of our local police officers who do a fine job. I am curious if the young men were in fact convicted of something - maybe underage drinking, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest, etc.

slowsky writes:

I hope the plaintiff prevails in this lawsuit. Thom Carr is costing this city plenty. He needs to go. How many lawsuits under Thom Carr. Wake up City Manager.

Kristieclarify writes:

Naples Daily News, I'm Kristie Raccuglia, the one that pepper sprayed a cop during a false arrest, and unlawful arrest. I was chased, shot by a tazer gun, and grabbed while I used pepper spray. Where's my federal law suit, where's my story, and I'm innocent with pending felony charges for defending myself against a false arrest. Never been to jail before. The problem with your story is that a Marco Officer with name Stephen Mariani came to my house one time and was very nice and even offered to help with a guy that was stalking me, like the rest of the police and FBI wouldn't. I think it's obvious that the Collier County Sheriff's office is trying to take over the Marco Police. If you look closer at Marco Island Police corruption, you just might see the Collier County Sheriff's Office. You're newspaper wouldn't do a story on my case, either would the news stations, because they're too busy protecting criminals and the rights of criminals.

Kristieclarify writes:

in response to Yankee:

What a surprise, a panel of jerks letting one of their own s---heads off the hook after demonstrating hideous, inhumane behavior. When is Marco going to get a decent police force. Can't we go back to having the County Sheriffs? Not much better but it's a start.

The Collier County Sheriff's Office is trying to take over the Marco Island Police. The Collier County Sheriff's Office is like a human trash can with badges. What ever is left of a good Marco Police force appears to be getting entrapped by the Collier County corrupt men and women with badges.

cmonmanreally writes:

in response to GFonda:

Stef is my neighbor and one could not be a better one. I do think that because we apparently do not have facilities on the island to hold and process individuals involved in these types of incidents, that it is risky to have one police officer transport multiple actively belligerent individuals to Naples without backup; or at least put them in a "paddy wagon" where they are caged in a separate compartment. Perhaps such a vehicle is available from the Sheriff's department in which case the Sheriff should be called in to do the transport to the Sheriff's facility in Naples. From what I remember of the incident from the original press reports, Stef handled the situation as best as could be expected under the circumstances. I am a big supporteer of our local police officers who do a fine job. I am curious if the young men were in fact convicted of something - maybe underage drinking, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest, etc.

...my thoughts exactly! You don't have to be a neighbor of Stef's to realize this either. After all, what part of exonerated do the anti-City/anti-MIPD don't understand!?! The d-bag plaintiff that has filed with the Feds is clearly looking for a pay out. Good luck with that... because, FDLE has EXONERATED this police officer who has more police experience than most know. Thank you GFONDA for your thoughts and support of Stef. Stef is the victim here.

RayPray writes:

"Then it occurred to me, perhaps Blabbermouth and Yanker did not have what it takes to join the force!"

Does this mean they did not have:

1. Zero prospects of getting hired by any serious city?

2. Negative IQ?

??

happyhorowitz34145 writes:

I may not be a big fan of the Marco Island Police Depaertment, but I will say that there are quite a few of good policemen on this force. This trio of trash got exactly what they deserved.Remember something my fellow bloggers, this trio of trash started trouble before the police were called, they started fighting with another person and the first officer on the scene, after they were arrested they they were not model citizens in the back of the cruiser, (spitting, banging their heads,also in the original story slurs towards the officer and his wife).
The officer involved may have been wrong (in the eyes of todays society) in his approach to handling the situation, but under the circustances he did what we all would have done,and to tell the truth, this trio of trash deserved what they got.
And the truth of the matter is, this trio of trash is just another example of what their generation is, spoiled, disrespectfull,condecending, little brats that need to have their butts whopped!

JohninMarco writes:

in response to happyhorowitz34145:

I may not be a big fan of the Marco Island Police Depaertment, but I will say that there are quite a few of good policemen on this force. This trio of trash got exactly what they deserved.Remember something my fellow bloggers, this trio of trash started trouble before the police were called, they started fighting with another person and the first officer on the scene, after they were arrested they they were not model citizens in the back of the cruiser, (spitting, banging their heads,also in the original story slurs towards the officer and his wife).
The officer involved may have been wrong (in the eyes of todays society) in his approach to handling the situation, but under the circustances he did what we all would have done,and to tell the truth, this trio of trash deserved what they got.
And the truth of the matter is, this trio of trash is just another example of what their generation is, spoiled, disrespectfull,condecending, little brats that need to have their butts whopped!

Please read what you said. We pay for a PROFESSIONAL police dept. In law enforcement this is an everyday happening. The vast majority of the time, we do not have street justice occurring This incident, whether we win the court case or not, will cost us a fortune. This is the second federal court case in the last few months. You don't think that we are not on the federal prosecutors radar by now?

waverunner writes:

in response to Klabautermann:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

What is it with you? You seem confused, unfocused, and appear to be speaking in code. Bottom line, the cop may not have made the best decision at that time, but he was ALONE with 3 unruly spoiled punks, a true recipe for disaster, and here YOU are playing Monday morning quarterback. How would you have handled the situation? Perhaps you could have lectured them on the cost of maintaining a police force.

You and others like slowsky and yanker are obviously frustrated with your own shortcomings, this is obvious due to the fact that you 3 have yet to condemn the 3 hooligans for their actions.

Get a life and spot being a miserable being!

waverunner writes:

in response to RayPray:

"Then it occurred to me, perhaps Blabbermouth and Yanker did not have what it takes to join the force!"

Does this mean they did not have:

1. Zero prospects of getting hired by any serious city?

2. Negative IQ?

??

So what you are saying is that EVERY member of the Marco Island Police Dept. had no other job prospects AND they ALL have a negative IQ? You must be mensa material to state that! I guess you have been granted the almighty power to judge not one officer, but all!

Hope it makes you feel good when you (god forbid) need the police someday and they respond to help regardless of what type of person you are.

mymommd writes:

Officer Mariani made a mistake and got caught, bottom line. It is obvious that the characters involved are not stand-up citizens, but no one should be abused. If a person puts up a fight while being arrested, the officer should use the force necessary to control the individual. I don't think there is too much threat handcuffed in the back of a police car. The city needs to pay for the officer's error.

waverunner writes:

(For Blabbermouth, Yanker, and Slowsky)

I pondered your negative comments about the Marco Island Police Dept., especially the comments about the Collier Sheriff's Dept. being professional and costing less money. What is odd is that I recall within the last year not one, but TWO deputies being arrested. One for defrauding the state out of child support money. The second was for a deputy who was stalking his ex, and even plotted to have her home invaded, have her tied up, then enter as the HERO to save her so he could win her back!

Now, fair is fair. Did any of you 3 EVER make a negative comment about that? What, you didn't? Why not? You are not biased against the Marco Island Police, are you?

You 3 should be ashamed of yourself, your stench just gave you away.

RayPray writes:

"So what you are saying is that EVERY member of the Marco Island Police Dept. had no other job prospects...."

Yese, Those I have encountered I felt embarrased for. It was clear they never would make it in a city with real problems.

"...have a negative IQ?"

Really, it's quite Nixonian for this lunkhead to blatantly violate someone's civil rights and be sure to catch his own crime clearly on camera.

These were not master criminals he had, just similar barroom blowhards.

waverunner writes:

in response to RayPray:

"So what you are saying is that EVERY member of the Marco Island Police Dept. had no other job prospects...."

Yese, Those I have encountered I felt embarrased for. It was clear they never would make it in a city with real problems.

"...have a negative IQ?"

Really, it's quite Nixonian for this lunkhead to blatantly violate someone's civil rights and be sure to catch his own crime clearly on camera.

These were not master criminals he had, just similar barroom blowhards.

Pretty broad brush you are painting with. Why were you embarassed? Did you ever cross the line or lose your temper? Yes, wrong is wrong and it is undisputed that the officer made a bad choice, but it did cost him time, money, and embarassment. Let him move on and continue his career. By the way, you say the officers wouldn't "make it in a city with real problems", didn't this officer work in NYC for 20 years? I doubt most of us would have lasted that long in that hellhole.

Regarding the negative IQ, regardless of how you phrase it, to state that the entire police force has a negative IQ based on one officer's actions during one incident is wrong. Again, another poster on this forum not admitting the hooligans were out of control.

I guess certain individuals don't have a problem with lowlife's like them hanging out Marco.

August8 writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

RayPray writes:

"didn't this officer work in NYC for 20 years? I doubt most of us would have lasted that long in that hellhole."

Hellhole?

Hardly.

Today one of the safest large cities. In fact most of NY Finest complete their careers without ever having to fire their weapons.

I know there must be some bad apples in the NYPD. But in my long experience there, I never met any. Even had some relatives on the job there.

What I'm curious of is what were the details behind lunkhead Mariani separation from the NYPD???

"Let him move on and continue his career."

Absolutely not!

The city council will already be shelling out a tidy fortune of my tax $$$ to account for this moron.

Islandguyalso writes:

slowski did you not notice that this incident Happened under a different police chief. Do you not know the difference between when something happens and when the lawsuit is filed

waverunner writes:

in response to RayPray:

"didn't this officer work in NYC for 20 years? I doubt most of us would have lasted that long in that hellhole."

Hellhole?

Hardly.

Today one of the safest large cities. In fact most of NY Finest complete their careers without ever having to fire their weapons.

I know there must be some bad apples in the NYPD. But in my long experience there, I never met any. Even had some relatives on the job there.

What I'm curious of is what were the details behind lunkhead Mariani separation from the NYPD???

"Let him move on and continue his career."

Absolutely not!

The city council will already be shelling out a tidy fortune of my tax $$$ to account for this moron.

Sorry, have to disagree with you about New York. Was there last summer, go into the subway at night and let me know if you feel safe.

Regarding your comment about Mariani's separation, like most cops working in a city they can retire at a reduced pension after 20 years, look it up.

Again, I have to wonder why the negative feelings about Marco cops, maybe you got a ticket and are unhappy? Maybe you couldn't get on the force? You can't blame anyone for wondering because you and the other "nay-sayers" still have yet to condemn the 3 miscreants.

blogsmog writes:

Marco cops do a great job on this island. i know a few of them and they are down to earth good guys. These dirt bags had it coming to them, good ole fashion police work, you disrespect the badge and you get a billy club to the gut or nowadays a face full of pepper spray. Good for Mariani! keep up the good work.

Islandguyalso writes:

got what they deserved? no they deserved to be driven to the sheriffs jail booked charged and found guilty not beaten and pepper sprayed because a cop got mad

CrackerJack2 writes:

Emotional Distress?? A loss of capacity to enjoy life? Really? Is there even a hint of merit? I'd love to see a jury convinced of these claims.

Please…why on earth should these animals be protected or compensated? Wake up and smell the coffee. Watch the video. Read the article. This kid has a record of drugs charges. No respect for society or the law. How does this formula logically equate, explain please...[disturbing public peace +brawling+ a record of drug charges + possession of ecstasy + not conceding to peace after being arrested & continuing to engage in animal-like conduct in the back of a police car=====Being entitled to judicial compensation]… Folks, I’m no mathematician but something might be out of balance here??

A few minutes of being subjected to pepper spray…so whatttt. So tired of hearing the public complain and sympathize with individuals like these who contribute to the pollution of society. I just wish a real rain would come and wash all this scum off the streets.

Islandguyalso writes:

cracker jack its pretty simple they are criminals and society is not. So when our representitives repond like criminals and take the law into their own hands we pay even as bad as those scum are thats the way it works. The Constitution is a funny thing

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