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Monday, April 15, 2013
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One-arm arrest trial reset for July 1

The federal lawsuit pending against a Key West police officer over a one-armed woman's arrest has been rescheduled for 9 a.m. July 1 at the federal courthouse at 301 Simonton St. with a jury to be selected from a pool of Monroe County residents.

Suzann Hollis of Wilton Manor, Fla. sued the city of Key West and Police Officer Eric Biskup this year, claiming excessive force was used against her when she was arrested in February 2008 at Pearl's Bed and Breakfast after a noisy argument with her girlfriend.

At issue is whether Biskup violated Hollis' civil rights when he arrested her after responding to a domestic violence report. Biskup says Hollis kicked repeatedly at his groin and fought when he went to handcuff her, while Hollis accuses him of slamming her into a patrol car for asking him a question.

Hollis lost an arm in a 1996 work accident and witness statements depict Biskup having a difficult time handcuffing this suspect as she reportedly resisted with violence.

Judge K. Michael Moore cut the city of Key West loose from the lawsuit, dismissing Hollis' claim that the city failed to train its police force properly.

But Hollis' ex-girlfriend, Anna Ricciotti, changed her original story and now backs up Hollis, meaning the allegations against Biskup are in dispute and the judge can't rule without a full trial.

Ricciotti is also on the witness list.

A former clerk at Pearl's describes the fracas in a way that aligns with Biskup's version: Hollis was drunk, belligerent and attacking the officer.

Trial had been set for April 8, but on Friday, Moore granted Hollis more time, after she said she can't proceed to trial because an expert witness from Raleigh, N.C. has recently had a health scare.

The expert, Melvin Tucker, had a physical exam on Thursday and was found under a "serious medical threat," that requires further testing and rules out airplane travel by doctors' orders, Hollis told the court.

The trial is expected to last three days, according to the federal docket.

"The issue is not readiness for trial but rather the intervening fact of the current ability of plaintiff's sole expert to make the trip from Raleigh, N.C. to Key West in the time frame of the trial," wrote attorney James Cook, of Tallahassee, who is representing Hollis.

Hollis also asked again for the judge to allow Tucker to testify via video conferencing, a request that had already been denied.

In an earlier motion, attorney Cook said that, "Ricciotti is unavailable by any other means."

Moore on Friday denied it as moot.

Tucker, a retired Tallahassee police chief who also ran police departments in Asheville and Hickory, N.C., is a criminal justice and security consultant who has testified as an expert witness in about 65 trials, including as an expert on "less than lethal and lethal force," according to his resume.

Tucker has been retained as an expert in some 500 law enforcement and security cases.

In addition to the extra time before trial, Hollis also submitted a request for the judge to allow her legal team to have electronic tablets, laptop computers and cellphones in Courtroom No. 1.

Moore denied her request Friday, but allowed her lawyers to bring it up again before the July trial.

Some judges are stricter than others when it comes to the presence of cellphones and portable computers during trials.

Hollis said her lawyers have an almost "paperless" office and many of their notes are stored digitally. Cellphones can help lawyers coordinate their witnesses, she added.

"Because it tends to assist in litigation, provides additional presentation tools, and facilitates the coordination of witnesses, federal courts have increasingly permitted the use of such devices in trial, at least by the attorneys," her lawyers wrote.

Hollis filed the lawsuit Feb. 2, 2012, the day before the legal filing deadline of such a claim.

As a result of her 2008 arrest, Hollis was charged with domestic battery and battery on a police officer. She participated in a pretrial intervention program that allowed the charges to later be dropped.

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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