A Bonita Springs man is suing the Collier County sheriff and a deputy, alleging his civil rights were violated when he was arrested after questioning why his 5-year-old son couldn't bring a lime green toy gun into the county fair.
Maytham Mahmoud, 47, contends sheriff's Sgt. Gaines Myers, who was then the fair's security director, used excessive force and violated his rights by throwing him to the ground and kneeing him on Feb. 8, 2009, after he asked why the toy gun wasn't allowed.
"Myers knocked Mr. Mahmoud to the ground and pinned him face down by placing his knee with his full body weight into Mr. Mahmoud's back, causing unnecessary pain and injury," states the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers last week by Mahmoud's lawyers, Ray Taseff of Coral Gables and Robert Ross of Bonita Springs.
The lawsuit was filed Jan. 30, just before the four-year statute of limitations ended and was delayed because a criminal case was pending.
The lawsuit seeks damages for battery, wrongful arrest, malicious prosecution, retaliation, and violations of the federal Civil Rights Act and the Constitution's First and Fourth Amendments, the right to free speech and to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. In addition to Myers and Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, county government and Collier County Agricultural Fair and Exposition Inc. are defendants.
We will defend the case appropriately and ultimately, the outcome will be decided by the court system."
Capt. Michael Hedberg, legal counsel for the Sheriff's Office
"We will defend the case appropriately and ultimately, the outcome will be decided by the court system," said Capt. Michael Hedberg, legal counsel for the Sheriff's Office.
County Attorney Jeffrey Klatzkow said he hadn't been served with the lawsuit and couldn't comment.
Mahmoud initially pleaded no contest to resisting arrest, but a judge granted his motion to vacate his plea, held a trial and then acquitted him of misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and trespass in December 2010.
In July 2009, Mahmoud filed a complaint with the sheriff's Professional Responsibility Bureau, alleging he was choked, harassed and discriminated against because he was Middle Eastern, and had to undergo wrist surgery and psychological therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder.
But the sheriff's internal affairs records show Myers was cleared after five witnesses, including a chaperone from Mahmoud's mosque, disputed Mahmoud's account. They portrayed him as agitated, saying he was yelling, smashed the toy gun and that deputies repeatedly tried to calm him, but no one choked, hit or abused him.
Mahmoud, who once owned the Bonita Springs Islamic Center, was professor of computer technology at Hodges University when arrested and now owns a Middle Eastern restaurant in Fort Myers, Tasty Pitas. The lawsuit says he has a doctoral degree in engineering, has taught at several universities nationwide, is certified by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as an authorized trainer in engineering and computer technology and he works as a private consultant.
The lawsuit provides this account:
Mahmoud was taking a group of children from his son's Sunday school class on their annual cultural outing to the county fair. They got there early and stopped at a flea market, where his son bought the 3-inch-long toy gun for 50 cents.
"Mr. Mahmoud used the purchase of the toy gun as a teaching moment for (his son) to learn how to make a basic commercial transaction," the lawsuit says, noting that the boy has developmental disabilities and difficulty communicating.
While standing in line for the fair with the children and another chaperone, Mahmoud saw Myers talk to his son in a "gruff tone."
"Mr. Mahmoud expressed his concern about the manner in which the deputy approached and spoke to his 5-year old son," the lawsuit says.
(The deputy) knocked Mr. Mahmoud to the ground and pinned him face down by placing his knee with his full body weight into Mr. Mahmoud's back, causing unnecessary pain and injury."
Maytham Mahmoud's lawsuit
When he questioned why Myers was talking to the boy, he was told guns weren't allowed at the fair. Mahmoud said it was a toy and wouldn't harm anyone.
"Sgt. Myers persisted and emphatically told Mr. Mahmoud that the toy pistol would not be allowed into the fair because the item posed a risk of harm to the public," the lawsuit says.
Gaines then relented, saying he could carry it in his pocket, which confused Mahmoud.
"In his mind, the toy was either prohibited or it was not," the lawsuit says, noting he worried his son would want to play with it. "He was further concerned that if ... he or his son was found in possession of it, the police could be called and they could get into trouble."
Mahmoud walked away, saying he didn't feel welcome, and Myers escorted him out. But Mahmoud said he wouldn't leave without his son, who was inside the fair gates with a chaperone.
Myers signaled to an off-duty deputy for assistance. He told Mahmoud he was under arrest on a charge of disorderly conduct and grabbed his arms to handcuff him as a "shocked and startled" Mahmoud asked why. The lawsuit contends Myers jerked his wrist, tightened the handcuffs excessively and unnecessarily, causing pain and injury, and continued to knee his back after subduing him.
Mahmoud was booked into the county jail on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest and the State Attorney's Office added the trespass charge before his trial.