JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Jacksonville man is suing the police department in Columbia, Missouri for an altercation where an officer used a Taser on him before his arrest.
Thirty-year-old Nick Daniels, who grew up in Riverside, says he was celebrating his 27th birthday with friends at a bar in Columbia, near his college alma mater, in October 2013. According to Daniels, he wanted to step outside for fresh air because, although he wasn't drinking, the bar was noisy.
He accidentally bumped into a security bouncer, sparking an altercation. At the same time, Columbia police officers were conducting a routine sweep for underage drinkers. That's when officers jumped in on the altercation between Daniels and the bouncer.
"In that situation, there's so much movement going on because there's so many people hitting me and grabbing me," Daniels told First Coast News on Friday, describing his confusion as the incident began.
As part of the melee, Columbia police officer Clint Sinclair received a punch in the jaw. Thinking Daniels had thrown the punch, Sinclair pulled his Taser and used it on Daniels, subduing him so he and other officers could arrest him. Columbia police charged Daniels with resisting arrest, assault of a law enforcement officer, and trespassing.
When I asked Daniels whether he ever swung a fist that night, he replied, "Not at all. I had my hands up and open, just like this," gesturing with his hands in the air.
The officers were wearing body cameras, which don't appear to capture Daniels throwing any punches. But, based on the video, Daniels and his lawyer say it was a fellow officer, Ryan Terranova, who punched Sinclair in the face. The body cam video can be seen here:
"I mean, [Sinclair] had the obvious signs of somebody who did get punched. He had a sore jaw, he had a red mark because he did get punched, but he got punched by another cop," Daniels' attorney, Brent Haden, told First Coast News.
Eventually, after reviewing the video, the Columbia Police Department dropped all charges against Daniels. Both Sinclair and Terranova later spoke in sworn deposition, Sinclair suggesting that Daniels' claims might be accurate.
"I believe there’s a possibility that another individual involved in the fight with myself and Officer [sic] Daniels, specifically another officer, could have been responsible for me being struck in the face," Sinclair said.
In the deposition, Terranova was asked, "Is that you throwing a punch?"
He answered, "I’m going to say no. And the reason why is because I know I didn’t throw a punch there, just because I wouldn’t punch someone standing up like that."
Despite the dropping of charges, Daniels' arrest has lingered on his record, which he says cost him his job at the time in Missouri as well as many job prospects since.
"I hate to say how I’ve been living, but you know, I sleep out of my car and I drive Uber, and you know, I take showers at the YMCA."
Daniels and his lawyer aren't specifying a dollar amount in their lawsuit, but they are seeking monetary and punitive damages.
"I don’t wish for those cops to lose their jobs or lose their livelihoods, but think about my livelihood and what’s happening to me," Daniels said Friday.
His attorney says he can allow for the confusion of a charged situation, but that the department's - particularly Terranova's - continued denial is unacceptable.
"I think they knew from the very beginning, if not while they did it, very soon thereafter, that they had messed up in the way they handled this, and then it became – they doubled down and said 'Well, it’s all his fault, he was assaulting officers’," Haden said.
Both Daniels and Haden agree that if not for the footage from the officers' body-worn cameras, they might not have a case, but that the video doesn't lie.
"If we didn’t have these body cams, with the jury pools we have here, we literally would be down to Nick Daniels’ word versus the cops’ word," Haden said.
The Columbia Police Department returned calls from First Coast News, declining to comment because the lawsuit is still pending.