In the police report, it looked like an open-and-shut case: A Fort Lauderdale police officer responded to a complaint of a man blasting loud music in his back yard, the homeowner refused to turn it off and walked away when the officer tried to arrest him.
Winston Dudley was arrested on misdemeanor charges of disorderly intoxication and resisting arrest without violence shortly before 9 p.m. Sept.18, 2010. He was released on bond the next day.
But prosecutors refused to file formal criminal charges and Dudley won a $30,000 settlement from the city of Fort Lauderdale after he produced a home security video that contradicted the officer's official report.
Officer Daniel R. Gowans wrote in his police report that he could hear Dudley's music from seven houses away and had been called to the house on the 1300 block of Northwest 12 t h Street before for complaints of loud music. He said he asked Dudley, who was 50 at the time, to show him identification and told him to turn off the music.
"Dudley laughed and stated 'I don't have to, get lost,'" Gowans wrote, adding that he asked Dudley again to shut off the music and give him his ID.
"Dudley laughed again and started to drink his beer. I took Dudley by his left arm and advised him to place his hands behind his back. Dudley pulled away and started to walk into his residence … Dudley attempted to pull away and stated 'Get out of here, it's my house.'"
Dudley, who declined to be interviewed by the Sun Sentinel, immediately told his lawyer on the criminal case that he had videotape from a home security system he had installed on his property.
The video showed that, within seconds of the officers walking into his backyard, Dudley immediately stood up from his lounger, went into his house and turned the music down or off.
He came outside again and sat down on the end of the lounger while an officer shone a flashlight in his face and spoke to him. The video shows that, although he had some kind of container in his hand, he did not drink from it and did not walk away or pull away from the officer.
He was arrested about two minutes after officers first walked into his yard.
"To be hauled off in handcuffs in these circumstances, it's blatantly appalling, shocking and wrong," said Hugh Koerner, the attorney who filed the federal civil lawsuit on behalf of Dudley and negotiated the settlement.
"Mr. Dudley is very fortunate that he had a videotape that supported his account of what happened. In a lot of these cases, it's one person's word against the police officer's, and most jurors in a criminal or civil trial are going to assume that law enforcement officers who are well-paid and well-trained are going to testify honestly," Koerner said.
He said he settled the case for $30,000 because Dudley wanted to put it behind him and get on with his life.
The Fort Lauderdale City Commission voted 5-0 to approve the settlement last month, as recommended by city staff.
"The city settled for $30,000 to avoid further litigation costs. We have no additional comments on the matter," said Matt Little, a city spokesman.
Fort Lauderdale police said only that the department did not receive a complaint from Dudley and there has been no internal affairs investigation of the matter.
Tim Donnelly, head of the Broward State Attorney's Office special prosecutions unit, said the case had not been sent to his unit. "Now that it's been brought to our attention, we're going to review it," Donnelly said.
He said his office is reviewing another case where the Broward Public Defender's Office alleged that Gowans and another officer gave a misleading account of a drug-related arrest. That case is still being investigated by prosecutors, Donnelly said.
Efforts to contact Gowans were unsuccessful. His attorney, Mike Dutko, said he was not aware of the Dudley case but said Gowans has a "credible explanation" for the drug arrest case. "I've not had previous experience with Officer Gowans, but he seeems to be a young, conscientious worker and productive police officer," Dutko said.
Dudley's lawyer on the criminal case, Kristina Duhaney, said she was so appalled by the officer's actions on video that she asked Koerner to file the civil lawsuit on Dudley's behalf.
"If [Dudley] didn't have the video, nobody would have believed him," Duhaney said.
Though several police officers have been criminally charged recently in Broward County after video or audio recordings contradicted their sworn testimony, Duhaney said suspects in criminal cases are rarely lucky enough to have videotaped evidence to support them.
Even if the alleged crime occurred in a public place like a mall, restaurant or gas station and was videotaped, the video is often no longer available or has been taped over, Duhaney said.
Often, she said, it takes 30 days or so for prosecutors to file criminal charges and by the time a defense lawyer has been hired, the video evidence is gone.
Staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.