HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Two French Canadian snowbirds claim in a lawsuit that Hollywood police wrongly arrested them, broke one's rib and punched the other in the face while the men were handcuffed in an episode fueled by prejudice and nepotism.
The suit was filed against the city and four police officers by Dennis LeFrancois, 52, and Yves Pontbriand, 60, both retired high-ranking Montreal police officers. It detailed an incident on Dec. 21, 2007, at the Orangebrook Mobile Home Park.
According to the suit filed Dec. 6 , police arrived at the 55 and older retirement park soon after LeFrancois and Pontbriand took the bicycles of two trespassing teenage boys who repeatedly had been asked to leave. One of the first officers on the scene, Lauran Reingardt, was the mother of one of the boys.
The suit alleges that LeFrancois suffered a broken rib after an unidentified "heavy-set" male officer kneed him in the back while he was handcuffed face down on the ground and Pontbriand was punched in the face while handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser by another unidentified male officer, who said: "You f---ing French Canadians."
The men were each charged with one count of felony false imprisonment and one count of misdemeanor battery and spent a night in jail. State prosecutors eventually dropped the charges against both men.
"There's still a certain amount of prejudice against French Canadians," said Louis St. Laurent, attorney for LeFrancois and Pontbriand. "I think it's a minority of police officers, but I think this is an incident that shows a department, at that stage, out of control."
Hollywood officials could not immediately be reached to comment.
The lawsuit, which asks for damages in excess of $15,000 for false arrest, assault and battery and perjury, names the city of Hollywood, Officers James Gibbons and Reingardt and the two unidentified officers.
The lawsuit contends that because of Reingardt's relationship to one of the boys, police relied on the words of the teens, refused to take statements from several eyewitnesses and arrested LeFrancois and Pontbriand "in a shameful and humiliating fashion" and acted "in bad faith with malicious purpose or in a manner exhibiting wanton and willful disregard of human rights."
According to a police report written by Gibbons, the boys claimed that Pontbriand grabbed one by his shirt and struck him twice in the face while LeFrancois threw the other boy to the ground two times.
Because Reingardt's son initially lied under oath in his deposition about his mother's presence and Hollywood police failed to provide the names of all officers at the scene, state prosecutors dropped the felony charges in early 2008 and the misdemeanor charges in February 2010, according to documents from the Broward State Attorney's Office.
LeFrancois, a retired police director of Rosemere in Quebec, now winters in Clearwater. Pontbriand, a retired captain of surveillance for the Regie de Police de la Riviere du-Nord in Quebec, continues to spend his winters at Orangebrook.
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