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Fort Myers approve $150K settlement in wrongful arrest suit

Posted at 7:50 PM, Feb 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-18 20:02:04-05

Fort Myers city council approved a $150,000 settlement after two women sued the City and Fort Myers Police Department, claiming they were wrongfully arrested at a Waffle House in 2017.

The attorney representing the plaintiffs said they were at the Waffle House on Cleveland Ave. with family and friends when officers stormed in and arrested them. But a councilman said maybe the officer wasn’t wrong.

Surveillance footage shows about 20 people inside the restaurant around 2:00 a.m. on January 28, 2017, and then officers forcing Dorothy Harris and Luz Ramos out in handcuffs.

Before that happened, officers were called there for reports of a disturbance. Attorney David Mishael representing Harris and Ramos explains what happened.

“Dorothy Harris had calmed the gentleman down. Knew the gentleman, and in fact helped the police department in calming him down outside,” said Mishael.

Video shows Harris and a gentleman in a grey shirt walking out and then coming back into the Waffle House. Mishael said officers told people inside to leave if they did not order food or were eating. He said his clients were eating and paying for their food before their arrests.

According to the civil suit against FMPD, Fort Myers and Sgt. Joshua Steinman, things went awry when Steinman showed up.

“Eyewitness testimony established Officer Steinman came in with an attitude,” said Mishael.

The complaint said Steinman screamed at Harris when he arrived, making her daughters fear that he would hurt their mom. When another customer Luz Ramos told Steinman he had arrested the wrong person, she too was arrested for disturbing the peace.

“He did not consult with any of the officers who were there previously, who had calmed a small situation down, which I wouldn’t even equate to a disturbance. A gentleman was just somewhat loud inside,” said Mishael.

But Councilman Kevin Anderson who worked as a Fort Myers Police Officer said Steinman may not be completely wrong here.

“Just because charges are dropped, does not mean that officers failed to do their job properly,” he said.

Anderson said he is standing up for the officers, but if Steinman was wrong, he should face consequences.

“There are times when unfortunately things don’t always go right. While we have to defend our officers, we also have to hold them accountable,” he said.

FMPD said Sgt. Steinman was exonerated on the false arrest charge and received counseling for using profanity.