During a Monday closed-door settlement conference in U.S. District Court in Little Rock, the City of Monticello and an Ashley County man reached a settlement in the man’s 2009 lawsuit against the city and several Monticello police officers.
The city, through its attorneys, negotiated a $70,000 settlement. Pursuant to that agreement, 90 percent of the $70,000 will be paid through the Arkansas Municipal League Legal Defense Program. The city will be responsible for the remaining 10 percent, according to a written statement from the City of Monticello.
The Ashley County man, LaFrance Colbert, claimed police officers bloodied his nose and tasered him during his June 17, 2009 Drew County District Court hearing on several traffic citations.
Colbert, then 60, said while waiting for former District Judge Ken Harper’s ruling on one of his traffic citations, a police officer told him he could leave. Before leaving, however, Colbert got into an altercation in the courtroom with several officers. During the altercation, Colbert said he was thrown against wall, sustained a bloody nose, was tasered, and arrested, according to his lawsuit.
The altercation, according to Colbert, began when he looked in the direction of the officers and one officer said, “Don’t be eyeballing my officers.”
Colbert said he wasn’t “eyeballing” the officers.
By this time, he said, he was surrounded by officers, one of which grabbed him and told him to shut up. As the officer grabbed him, he said he asked the officer, “what are you doing, turn my arm a loose.”
At this point, he said, other police officers placed a handcuff on his left arm and threw him against the wall. After the right arm was cuffed, he said, they continued to throw him against the wall, according to his lawsuit.
He said he was then thrown to the floor, tasered, “hog-tied”, dragged out of the courtroom, and taken to jail.
According to U.S. District Court documents, the officers denied that Colbert was unlawfully seized.
One officer said Colbert appeared to be agitated while awaiting Harper’s ruling so he motioned for Colbert to go to where the officers were standing in the courtroom. There, he was told it was “not the time or place to cause a scene” and Colbert threw up his hands and began cursing, according to pretrial disclosures filed in U.S. District Court.
When Colbert threw up his hands, he brushed the shoulder of one of the officers. Another officer took Colbert by the right arm and told him to listen to what the officer had to say. Colbert then jerked his arm away and began yelling for the judge, trying to get his attention, according to the pretrial disclosures.
At that point, Colbert was informed that he was under arrest.
When the officer attempted to restrain Colbert, he threw the officer against the wall. Because Colbert was resisting and yelling for the judge, several other officers began to assist the officer. Another officer serving as court bailiff ordered another officer to taser Colbert because the situation was getting out of hand. Colbert was tasered for approximately two seconds, according to pretrial disclosure documents.
During the struggle, Colbert and the officers fell to the ground, after which Colbert was handcuffed and escorted from the courtroom.
Colbert was charged with assaulting an officer, disorderly conduct, obstructing government operations, resisting arrest, and using profane and abusive language.
He was found not guilty of obstructing government operations but was convicted of disorderly conduct and refusal to submit to arrest, a lesser included offense of resisting arrest.
The disorderly conduct and refusal to submit to arrest charges were taken under advisement by the court and the judge placed Colbert on probation for a year, with the understanding that if he committed no further violations of the law and complied with other court orders, the disorderly conduct and refusal to submit to arrest charges would be dismissed and there would be no fines or court costs.
Last year, in May 2012, the Drew County District Court dismissed the charges.
Regarding Colbert’s lawsuit against the city, Colbert made a settlement demand of $150,000. As of July 19, the city had not responded to the demand. On Friday, three days before the settlement hearing, a U.S. District Judge granted the city’s motion for a closed-door settlement conference. The public and press were not permitted to attend the conference.