Crime

Miami police officer convicted of attacking nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital

A Miami Police officer is facing battery and false imprisonment charges

Lester Bohnenblust is facing battery and false imprisonment charges for battering now-retired Jackson Memorial Health nurse manager James Nicholson.
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Lester Bohnenblust is facing battery and false imprisonment charges for battering now-retired Jackson Memorial Health nurse manager James Nicholson.

A jury has convicted a former Miami police officer who was accused of attacking a Jackson Memorial Hospital nurse while on duty.

Jurors deliberated less than two hours Friday afternoon before unanimously convicting Lester Bohnenblust of battery on a person over the age of 65, and false imprisonment. He faces up to 10 years in prison and was released on bond while awaiting sentencing.

Bohnenblust was charged after the confrontation in May 2018, when he grabbed James Nicholson, a registered nurse and supervisor at Jackson’s behavioral health unit. He slammed him to the ground. The incident was caught on surveillance camera.

Nicholson, who is now retired, injured his knee, and plans to sue the police department. Bohnenblust, 51, who worked as a Miami cop for more than 20 years, was fired.

The clash started after the officer’s mentally troubled teenage niece was discharged from the hospital. Her father brought her back the next day to be evaluated again, but nurses determined she didn’t meet the criteria to be re-admitted. The hospital staff told him to make a follow-up appointment.

The father called Bohnenblust, who arrived in uniform and demanded the girl be admitted, prosecutors argued.

Nicholson told Bohnenblust they could not discuss business in the same area where patients are treated, so he began to lead them to another part of the facility. Video surveillance showed that Bohnenblust grabbed Nicholson by the back of his jacket, jostling him around and slamming him to the ground.

Bohnenblust told Nicholson, who was 66 at the time, he was under arrest and called for backup. Ultimately, Nicholson was let go and Miami police launched an internal affairs investigation on the officer.

“My client feels relieved that justice has been served and that a dangerous ex-police officer can no longer harm another person,” said Nicholson’s lawyer, Rod Vereen.

In her closing statement Friday, prosecutor Jennie Conklin demonstrated to the jurors how Bohnenblust shook Nicholson, flailing side-to-side.

“He was not responding because he was on a police call,” said Conklin, who tried the case with prosecutor Kerrie Crockett. “He did not have the right to use his uniform to get special treatment.”

Rawsi Williams, the attorney representing Bohnenblust, told jurors the case was steeped in reasonable doubt. She said the witnesses, hospital employees, saw only parts of the incident and reminded jurors the seven-minute video of the struggle did not show the nearly 30 minutes Bohnenblust spent waiting patiently.

“You only have a piece of the puzzle. A piece of the pie,” she said. “But as a jury, you don’t make a decision based on a piece of the pie.”

Williams ended by imploring the jurors — three times — to “do the right thing.” She declined to comment after the verdict.

Miami Herald staff writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.

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