PBSO pays Glades woman $122,000 for beating by deputy

When a judge threw out a $75,000 verdict against a former Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy because jurors went online and discovered the deputy had been fired for bragging on Facebook about beating up suspects, it looked like the agency had dodged an expensive legal bullet.

Instead, on the eve of this week’s scheduled retrial, the sheriff’s office opted to pay Maria Paul $121,675 rather than again trying to dispute her claims that former Deputy Michael Woodside body-slammed her and punched her after stopping her while she was driving home from a 2008 Christmas Eve party in Belle Glade.

Sheriff’s officials declined comment. But attorney Kenneth Swartz, who represents Paul, said the settlement was good for both sides.

It spares Paul, 32, the need to rehash the violent encounter, he said. It also ensures the sheriff’s office won’t have to pay even more.

“If they went to trial and lost they would be on the hook for court costs and attorney’s fees,” said Swartz, who was seeking $250,000. “Their exposure was high.”

And, as the previous panel proved, no one knows what jurors will do.

After the five day trial ended in January, one of the jurors called U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez to complain of jury misconduct. She said other jurors had gone online and discovered that Woodside, another deputy and a supervisor, who patrolled Belle Glade in a cap emblazoned with the word “Punishment,” had bragged on Facebook about mistreating suspects and made racially tinged comments, according to a sheriff’s investigation. Woodside was fired in 2009.

When the jurors were questioned, one admitted he had done the research even though the jury had been warned not to, Martinez said. The juror who first reported the misconduct said the panel used the illicit information to justify its $75,000 was inadmissible.

Woodside, now a police officer in Alabama, claimed he punched the handcuffed Paul because she was trying to kick him. Swartz called his account unbelievable.

Woodside stopped Paul, claiming she was playing her car radio too loud, Swartz said. When she didn’t have her car registration, he gave her a ticket. Minutes later, Woodside stopped Paul again and asked for her registration again, Swartz said.

When Paul pointed out that Woodside knew she didn’t have it, the situation unraveled. Woodside put her in a choke-hold, slammed her on the ground and punched her in the face, Swartz said. All of the charges Woodside filed against her were dismissed by state prosecutors.

“It was just crazy,” Swartz said of the turns the case took. “I’ve done 150 trials and I’ve never had a jury come back and say, “We violated the judge’s order.”

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