VIDEO: Man punched, pepper sprayed in Marco patrol car settles lawsuit for $50,000

Marco Police Arrest Video

Reaction to Police Video

Stephen Mariani

File photo

Stephen Mariani

— A 23-year-old former East Naples man punched and pepper sprayed by a Marco Island Police officer in the back of a patrol car in 2008 has settled his civil rights lawsuit for $50,000.

Attorneys for Adrian Polanco filed a stipulation to dismiss last week, settling a federal lawsuit against the city and Officer Stephen Mariani that alleged excessive force. The settlement came five months after mediation resulted in an impasse.

The settlement brings to an end a Feb. 18, 2008, incident dramatically captured on squad car video, which showed Polanco and two friends gasping for breath, coughing and crying after being pepper sprayed. Polanco is heard reciting the Lord’s Prayer, pleading for help.

“Certainly, putting three people in the back of a vehicle who are all combative is not a good idea,” said Chief Don Hunter, who took over this summer. “You don’t strike persons who are handcuffed or who aren’t representing a danger to you, another person or property.”

Hunter said Polanco’s attorneys had sought $200,000. The $50,000 settlement will be paid by the department’s liability insurer.

Polanco was the only one of three involved to sue.

Hunter said the incident prompted Capt. Dave Baer to review department policy and make changes involving transportation of prisoners.

“If emotions were running high with the arresting officer, that officer should not transport them … unless there are no other provisions,” Hunter said.

If prisoners are combative, the new guidelines recommend not transporting more than one prisoner in one car, Hunter said.

Baer, however, said weather, the availability of officers or a jail transport vehicle and the safety of officers and prisoners also are factors.

The lawsuit stems from a brawl shortly after 11:15 p.m. Feb. 18, 2008, when Polanco, Christopher Caprari, 21, of East Naples, and Anthony Blanco, 18, of Marco Island, were kicked out of a club where they’d been at a birthday party with 20 friends.

Police reports say the three began a brawl with Mariani and an off-duty officer. Officers placed the three in a squad car and headed to the station, where Mariani’s supervisor told him to turn on the car’s video camera, direct it at the three and drive to the county jail.

The video, which begins at 12:44 a.m., shows them harassing and yelling at Mariani, challenging him to fight. Mariani stops and opens the back door, punching Polanco’s face at least three times before climbing over him and punching Blanco’s face, saying “Shut the (expletive) up.”

He closes the door as they yell, then opens it and pepper sprays them. Twenty seconds later, he sprays again, telling them to take deep breaths. For eight minutes, they thrash, scream and plead for help as Mariani drives back to the station, opens the door and hoses them with water. Polanco then prayed for help.

Seven minutes later, another officer calls for treatment for pepper spray. After they’re taken from the car at 1:15 a.m., they’re treated.

That June, Polanco pleaded to misdemeanor disorderly intoxication and was sentenced to time served since his arrest, while the others served probation.

Mariani, who joined the force in 2006 after 20 years as a New York City cop, told his bosses two days later he’d messed up.

He was suspended without pay for two weeks, assigned to 5½ months of desk duty and put on six months’ probation. In June 2008, the State Attorney’s Office charged him with misdemeanor battery, but he entered a pretrial diversion program and wasn’t convicted after completing six months of anger-management classes.

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement panel exonerated him, issuing a letter of guidance similar to probation. The panel said he was placed in an “impossible situation.”

In July, U.S. District Judge John Steele denied Mariani’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, ruling a jury could find his actions excessive.

“The amount and type of force utilized … would clearly support a finding that the force was unreasonable,” Steele wrote.

But he dismissed a negligent supervision claim against the city.

Polanco won’t be using his settlement money to celebrate any time soon. This month, he was sentenced to six months in the Collier County jail for violating probation in a 2010 drug possession case by going to Mexico to visit relatives.

Polanco’s attorney declined comment this week, saying he was awaiting Polanco’s permission to discuss the case. Attempts were unsuccessful to reach attorneys representing Mariani and the city.

© 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 20

Buckeyetourist writes:

How many stories about out of control Marco Island cops do I have to read? Thankfully I've never had an encounter with them. As a law abiding citizen it makes me wonder about vacationing again in Marco.

26yearsonmarco writes:


Joined the force after 20 years as a NYC Cop.

I guess that makes him a Double Dipper making at least $150K per year.

But I guess its only fair considering he must try to survive in a crime ridden place like Marco Island, where people continue to come to "Rolling Stops" at Stop Signs.

August8 writes:

26yearsonmarco- To bad these boy's could not just hang out in your living room??

RayPray writes:

in response to August8:

26yearsonmarco- To bad these boy's could not just hang out in your living room??

Sociologists long ago discovered there is only a fine line between cops & criminals.

captnjimbo writes:

I give the cop a break...could have been handled differently perhaps...but in the heat of the moment...

MarcoCitizen writes:

So this is the type of cop the MIPD chooses to retain. Any rational citizen would have fired him but not our police department who protect the guilty when they are their own.

mahiman writes:

Show that video to all the criminals out there...come to Marco and disrupt prepared for a beatdown. Stop coddling the criminals. I have no sympathy for Scumballs.

MarcoCitizen writes:

in response to mahiman:

Show that video to all the criminals out there...come to Marco and disrupt prepared for a beatdown. Stop coddling the criminals. I have no sympathy for Scumballs.

Beating and pepper spraying helpless handcuffed people already locked in a patrol car is totally wrong and not within police discretion. Beating people up is wrong and criminal anywhere is the civilized world. Where do you come from, Mahiman, that would find this acceptable?

RayPray writes:

in response to mahiman:

Show that video to all the criminals out there...come to Marco and disrupt prepared for a beatdown. Stop coddling the criminals. I have no sympathy for Scumballs.

"Stop coddling the criminals. I have no sympathy for Scumballs."

>>> But it is our MI Keystone Kops that coddles these low brow ~criminals by stuffing them in uniform and then thrusting them out to plague our peaceful island with their cupidity & stupidity....

Throat_Yogurt writes:

Cmon Don, fire a third one! Keep it going, you're winning the hearts of the islanders!

mahiman writes:

I don't disagree Mariani needs to go (and other payroll hogs)and what he did was wrong, I'm just saying listen to those dirtbags in the back seat. Send a message to the criminals and scum of East Naples, Ft Myers, and Cape Coral. We're tired of you! We're not taking s***! Come to our island and try to pollute our safe and low crime environment, you might have an unfortunate accident or incident. Maybe I just like Dirty Harry movies. But don't fault me for wanting to keep our island one of the last few places where you're safe.

kevdiaz69 writes:

I have a plan this weekend... have a cop beat me up and pepper sray me..... I could use a new BMW.

Marconian writes:

I agree it could have been handled better, But c,mon guys how can you side with a criminal an obvious gang member,who started a brawl at a bar in your community then this guy gets awarded 50k a year after he is convicted of a drug charge and a violation of probation. who else are you going to side with point being he is a criminal who thinks he is hard . He deserved what he got should have been more. the funny thing is he got what he ask for and then cried for gods help if this would have been a white guy he would have been laughed out of court.

Marconian writes:

ok, I just watched the video it was a little extreme not a good way to handle the situation but i still cant side with criminal but after seeing the video now im sure i cant side with the officer. this was a deliberate before and after comment i never saw the video till now. just to show you cant comment properly unless you know the facts in this second comment i do what a shame.

Marco5 writes:

Adrian DID NOT deserve what happened to him nor did the other boys!
The "MIPD" harasses everyone on this island no matter what you do. I've been followed home before and told I was lost and also got pulled over for robbing a liquor store, yet they didnt even look inside my vehicle. haha what a joke!
Don Hunter needs to fix what these crooked retired cops are doing to this island, its just going to turn away the tourists and snowbirds and we kind of need them to survive!
I say they fire all the police officers and hire brand new ones!
I'm glad Adrian is finally getting something for fighting so hard for justice!
That video makes me sick to my stomach!

marconed writes:

The majority of these comments are against M I P D Whats it gonna take to disban them?

Marconian writes:

Just so there is no confusion: I Dont think Adrian deserved what he got. read my follow up. and yes it also makes me a little sick to watch it.
It was a shame the officer retaliated the way he did you know sticks and stones...blah blah.
an officer of the law is suppose to maintain composure. what this officer did was so wrong he should have been the one driven to jail, also in the video you see at least two other officers walking around the back of the car and such just hanging around. what where they doing while these guys where being victimized...and while we are on the topic why is there like 30 police officers working in this tiny town any way? the way i see it we could deal with about half that considering most towns this size have about 8 of them! and almost all of them double dippers from the east cost from Miami to Boston. I respect the law and have friends that are officers in another state even one who is a Federal Marshal. when I directed them to this sight and they watched they where appalled. One even said that this kind of action sets police back 40 years you are here to serve and protect not harass and collect!

captnjimbo writes:

Cops are people too...perhaps these big shots will think twice about disrespecting a cop.

Does our policemen have a long record of abuse or was a case where these punks just got to him?

Marco5 writes:

They have a long record of harassment to anyone and everyone on this island and will use any excuse to pull you over, ticket you or arrest you!

RayPray writes:

in response to captnjimbo:

Cops are people too...perhaps these big shots will think twice about disrespecting a cop.

Does our policemen have a long record of abuse or was a case where these punks just got to him?


From Wiki:

>>> "The an extinct member of the Homo genus known from Pleistocene specimens...."

>>> "Neanderthals are a subspecies of Homo sapiens...."

Membership of the MI Keystone Kops amply proves that while the 2nd statement is correct, the 1st is obviously not true....

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