The 82-year-old disabled veteran of two wars filed a civil lawsuit accusing a troubled Fort Lauderdale police officer of illegally arresting him and using excessive force – "slamming" him to the ground, shattering his hip and forcing him to use a wheelchair for the last 2 1/2 years of his life.
The officer, Matthew Moceri, testified that he acted reasonably and that Dock Williams' injury was a regrettable accident, brought on by him interfering in a police matter.
Williams had challenged Moceri for stopping two young black men, including his grandson, and ordering them to lie on the ground outside Williams' home in a crimeridden part of northwest Fort Lauderdale in July 2009.
But Williams' didn't get to tell his side of what happened during the July 2009 incident — he died in December, age 84, after being struck by a car while crossing the street in his wheelchair.
On Wednesday, a jury took about 20 minutes to side with the officer in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, rejecting all the allegations against him.
Moceri, 29, looked relieved when he heard the verdicts, although he is still facing even bigger legal worries.
Moceri, a former member of the so-called "Raiders" or Street Crimes Unit, is suspended without pay from his detective job pending the outcome of state criminal charges of perjury, official misconduct and falsifying records in an unrelated case in an upscale neighborhood on the other side of town. Moceri denies the allegations and has pleaded not guilty.
The eight jurors in the civil lawsuit were not told about Moceri's other legal troubles because a judge ruled the criminal allegations – involving a November 2009 police chase, crash and alleged beating of a white suspect in Rio Vista – were not relevant to the civil case.
Williams' lawyer Gregory Durden, who filed the civil lawsuit, said he thought that part of the difficulty of proving his case was that Williams' death obviously meant he wasn't available to testify in court.
"You need a live person in court for the jury to connect with and he just was not there," Durden said.
Williams' granddaughter Tamira Williams, who took over the lawsuit as the representative of his estate, said she was disappointed by the verdict.
"It will happen again," she said of Moceri's alleged misconduct.
Moceri declined to comment.
Moceri testified in court that he had used the lowest level of physical force that was reasonable in the circumstances to stop Dock Williams from obstructing his investigation. Moceri testified that he had placed Williams -- a veteran of World War II who was left disabled by injuries sustained in the Korean War -- on his stomach on the ground.
The officer also told the jurors that the 82-year-old had not complained of pain at the scene. Williams had to get a hip replacement, use a motorized wheelchair, and needed full-time care after the incident, according to medical and court records. He became reclusive and moved out of his home because he came to fear the police, his lawyer said.
Other witnesses testified that Williams, who was so unstable on his feet that he used a cane attached to his wrist with a strap and was frail because of a laundry list of ailments including asthma, had voiced his disapproval about how the officers were acting. They said he was hobbling over to the officers but was knocked to the ground before he got near them.
Jurors declined to comment on their verdict as they left the courthouse.
Durden said he understood why the other allegations against Moceri could not legally be used in the civil case but added: "I hope the jury in the criminal case is not as kind to him as this jury was."
In the unrelated criminal case, Moceri is one of three police officers accused of chasing a burglary suspect from the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina hotel on Southeasth 17th Street to a residential street in Rio Vista, where they crashed. The officers filed police reports stating that the suspect tried to run down two of them and that he rammed their undercover vehicle, which state prosecutors said was contradicted by the physical evidence.
Moceri has been suspended from his job since April 2011. His pay was stopped after he was arrested in May of this year. Police officials said Wednesday that an internal affairs investigation will go forward after the criminal case is over.
In the civil lawsuit, Williams' lawyer had asked to jury to award damages of more than $425,000 and to find Moceri liable, though the city would have had to cover the costs.
Williams, a Fort Lauderdale resident for 52 years, had worked alongside civil rights pioneers Eula Johnson and Von D. Mizell to desegregate the police department.
Williams' lawsuit said that Fort Lauderdale officers had targeted teens outside his home on three occasions in a single day in July 2009 and that he demanded to know why Moceri and another officer ordered Williams' 19-year-old grandson and another young man to the ground.
Williams refused orders to go back to his apartment and said he was entitled to ask questions about how officers were behaving in his neighborhood. Moceri told him he was interfering with an investigation, threw him down and arrested him, Williams told the Sun Sentinel in an interview last year a month before he died.
Prosecutors charged Williams with misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest and assault, but later dismissed the case. They said they found no evidence that he resisted arrest and said his age and the fact that he used a cane made a conviction unlikely.
The officers said they had received an anonymous tip that two young men were selling drugs but none were found and no drugs charges were ever filed.
Williams' grandson, Darryl Bryan, was arrested on a misdemeanor count of resisting without violence but Broward County Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren acquitted Bryan of the charge. In dismissing the case, she said she found it shocking that the officer brought Williams to the ground.
"How you get an elderly man with a cane to the point where you have EMS coming is really imagery that I can barely fathom," the judge said, according to a court transcript. "I just can't fathom it."
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