Paul Gozaloff says he was only trying to check on a pal he thought had been stopped by police. Yet within minutes, he was brutally beaten and falsely arrested by five Hollywood cops, he claims in a federal lawsuit.
“They tackled me, smashing my head to the ground,” said Gozaloff, of Plantation. “I felt like Rodney King. They were kicking me from all directions. All five cops.”
After the Hollywood Police Department declined to investigate his allegations of excessive force, Gozaloff filed a lawsuit claiming police brutality and false arrest stemming from the January 2008 incident.
In their reports, the officers alleged Gozaloff, now 54, became irate, ground his own face into the pavement and kicked at them. They arrested him on charges of drug possession and obstructing a traffic stop.
But after hearing the officers testify in the criminal case, Broward Circuit Judge Dale Cohen said he believed Gozaloff and dismissed the criminal charges against him in December 2009, court records show. “The court found Mr. Gozaloff very credible,” Cohen said. “The court believed his entire story.”
This month, Hollywood agreed to pay Gozaloff $240,000 to settle the lawsuit, city documents show.
City commissioners signed off on the deal privately in early March and are expected to give formal approval April 15 during a public meeting at City Hall.
Hollywood Police Chief Frank Fernandez and other city officials declined to comment on the case.
The federal lawsuit, filed in January 2012, accuses five officers of attacking Gozaloff in a “shark-like feeding frenzy.” The officers named as defendants are 12-year veteran Joseph Siple, 36; 10-year veteran Alexander Chang, 34; nine-year veteran Matthew Petty, 41; 18-year veteran Travis Schuller, 45; and 19-year veteran William Cash, 50.
The lawsuit accuses all five of filing false and misleading police reports and claims Siple planted a bag of Xanax pills on Gozaloff.
Gozaloff was posting campaign signs for presidential hopeful Rudy Giulianiaround 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 27, 2008, two days before the Florida primary, when he encountered a cluster of Hollywood cops ticketing a driver near Johnson Street and State Road 7.
Worried the driver might be a homeless friend, Gozaloff pulled over to inquire. Gozaloff, who suffers from bipolar disorder, says the officers grew annoyed with his questions.
Thinking Gozaloff, admittedly unkempt, was homeless, the cops beat him, kicked him, ground his face into the pavement and stood on his knee and ankle, the lawsuit alleges.
His ribs were bruised and he had cuts on his head, knees and feet, he said.
Despite his injuries, the arresting officer took him straight to jail, bypassing the hospital, the lawsuit says.
Gozaloff said he spent a week in jail until his wife came up with $1,700 to post bond.
In police reports, officers gave contradicting accounts of what transpired that night, Judge Cohen ruled.
According to Siple, the arresting officer, Gozaloff screamed, “Why won’t you talk to me?”
Siple says Gozaloff refused to take his hands out of his pockets despite repeated orders. According to Siple, officers yanked Gozaloff’s hands from his pockets and found rolling papers and three burnt marijuana cigarettes. Siple’s report says he later found a baggie of 11 Xanax pills in Gozaloff’s shorts pocket.
Police also claimed Gozaloff slammed his own head into the pavement repeatedly and attempted to punch officers before he was “escorted” to the ground.
Gozaloff called the officers’ versions of events fiction.
He said he never raised his voice or swung at anyone and he was not carrying a bag of Xanax. He said Siple waved a baggie at him while he was in the holding cell and said, “Have a good night, a——.”
A police department call log shows Gozaloff called Internal Affairs four times between April 13, 2009, and Dec. 22, 2009, but the department never launched an investigation.
Prior to the Hollywood incident, Gozaloff had been arrested three times — by Plantation police in 1998, by Davie police in January 2006 and two months later in Waldo, a town near Gainesville. The arrests were related to his mental illness and the charges — including battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting an officer with violence and drug possession — were all dismissed, records show.