On a Sunday afternoon, Warren Rollins took a friend to a Hollywood convenience store to pick up some cigarettes on his way home.
Within seconds of parking at the store, a police officer yelled at Rollins to turn down his radio. Then another cop told him to get out of his car, pinned him against the side, grabbed his neck in a choke hold and slammed him to the ground, a store video shows.
"I couldn't breathe for a few seconds," recalled Rollins, 34. "He looked me right in the eye and said, 'You're lucky I didn't shoot you.' "
Rollins is now suing officer Alfred Stabile, 42, and the city of Hollywood in a civil rights case headed for trial in federal court. The altercation with Rollins is not the first time Stabile has landed in trouble over allegations of using excessive police force.
Previously, two other men stopped by Stabile in Hollywood accused him in similar lawsuits of beating them up during arrests. Also, two other people in the Hartford, Conn., area filed suits alleging Stabile committed battery and made a false arrest as a police officer before he was hired by Hollywood in 2006.
Rollins, who lives in Dania Beach with his family and works in the medical supply business, is seeking damages from the city and Stabile over the altercation at M&B Groceries on North Dixie Highway in September 2012. Rollins says he sustained injuries when Stabile choked him, threw him backward to the ground and cuffed him. But Rollins, who is black, did not file a civil rights claim based on his race.
Earlier this year, a federal judge found that a jury should decide whether the veteran cop assaulted Rollins, used excessive force, and violated his civil rights after handcuffing him without ever arresting and charging him with a crime. But rather than settle the case — the city's potential damages are capped at $200,000 under state law — attorneys for Hollywood and Stabile are mounting an aggressive defense at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars to local taxpayers.
Attorney Daniel Abbott, representing the city of Hollywood, and Stabile's lawyer, Tamatha Alvarez, declined to comment for this story because of the pending lawsuit.
In the aftermath of the convenience store altercation, Stabile and fellow officer Perry Beckford, the one who initially shouted at Rollins to turn down his car radio, did not file an incident report. Rollins says Stabile threatened him not to say anything. The Hollywood Police Department learned about it when Rollins filed a complaint.
In the Hollywood internal affairs investigation, Stabile said he acted defensively after Rollins stuck a finger in his face — an accusation that cannot be verified on the convenience store video. The investigator found that Stabile committed battery on Rollins and referred the matter to the Broward State Attorney's Office for possible criminal action, but the office concluded the officer was justified in using force because Rollins acted aggressively.
A professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York independently reviewed the store video taken of the altercation outside the convenience store and concluded that Stabile assaulted Rollins without provocation or justification.
"He obviously grabbed him around the throat [while] the subject was making no overt act of resisting the officer," Professor Dennis Kenney, who once worked as a police officer in Florida, told the Miami Herald.
"It looks like the city has a bully in a uniform," Kenney said. "I would say the city should settle the suit and consider criminal charges."
In his case, Rollins notes that Stabile has been accused four times in the other civil rights lawsuits filed in South Florida and Connecticut of using excessive force or making a false arrest. Those suits were ultimately dismissed while Rollins' case is going to trial in Fort Lauderdale federal court. No trial date has been set by U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas.
Rollins' confrontation with Stabile unfolded after Rollins told the other officer, Beckford, that he didn't have to be so hostile when he ordered him to turn down the car radio in his Mercury Sable. Rollins' friend was already in the store when the altercation occurred. The two officers happened to be there that Sunday when they responded to a report of a domestic dispute between a store employee and his girlfriend.
After Rollins filed his complaint with the Hollywood police, the internal affairs unit opened an investigation in February 2013.
In the internal affairs report, Stabile said he didn't grab Rollins by the throat and that he was acting defensively because the driver was "sticking" his finger in the cop's face. But the IA investigator found "Stabile did intentionally touch or strike Rollins against his will" on the afternoon of Sept. 9, 2012, and that he placed "his hands around Rollins' neck for approximately 5-6 seconds and then [took] him down backwards to the ground." The IA investigator, Lt. Jack Anterio, concluded that Stabile "did commit a battery upon the victim."
The John Jay College police expert contacted by the Herald strongly agreed.
Citing the store video, Kenney said that Stabile's choke hold was clearly improper — noting that the Miami police force and many other law enforcement agencies nationwide no longer allow officers to use that kind of force to subdue suspects. But he said Stabile's slamming Rollins backward to the ground was even worse conduct, describing it as "really problematic."
"What I'm witnessing here is an assault and an attack," Kenney said.
Kenney said that while juries have historically given police officers the benefit of the doubt when they resort to force in split-second decisions to subdue someone being difficult, their perspectives have changed with video evidence showing no resistance to justify it. He said the altercation between Stabile and Rollins would never have happened if the officer had simply let him go after he turned down the car radio.
Rollins' attorneys, Douglas Jeffrey and Niti Sharan, said Stabile should have been fired after the Hollywood internal affairs investigation. But instead, he was promoted after he was placed on paid suspended leave for more than a year following the convenience store incident and internal probe.
"He's everything that is wrong with today's policing," Jeffrey said. "Hollywood knows it, and they are doing nothing about it."
According to Hollywood's own records, Stabile's history is not unusual in the police department. In 2014, an independent audit concluded the department significantly under-reported incidents involving use of force.
The audit, conducted by an outside consulting firm at the request of the police chief, found the department's reports on use of force were incomplete, lacked clarity and did not provide an accurate picture of events.
As a result, police supervisors encountered difficulties in trying to determine whether an officer's actions were justifiable. The report recommended sweeping changes aimed at greater transparency in the department.