The Real Deal Miami

Privé opponent wins appeal battle against policemen who allegedly manhandled her

Dara Clarke's suit against the two officers for violating her civil rights is heading to trial
By Francisco Alvarado | September 05, 2018 06:00PM

Prive at Island Estates and BH3’s Charlie Phelan, Greg Freedman and Daniel Lebensohn and Gary Cohen

While Dara Clarke has lost key court rulings in her long-running battle with the developers of Privé at Island Estates, the Aventura resident’s federal case against two city cops is moving forward.

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals last week rejected a request by Aventura police officers Terry Scott and Joseph Craig to overturn a Miami federal court’s denial of their motion for summary judgment.

In 2016, Clarke sued Scott and Craig for violating her civil rights for allegedly arresting her on false charges and using excessive force a year earlier when she and some of her Williams Island and Island Estates neighbors were attempting to stop construction of the 150-unit luxury condo project at 5000 Island Boulevard in Aventura, which was recently finished.

Clarke alleges that on Feb. 25, 2015 the pair roughed her up and put her in handcuffs while she was trying to explain to them that a crew had poured concrete for a new sidewalk on her property’s swale. The construction of the sidewalk was a key point of contention raised by Prive’s opponents.

She was arrested for disturbing the peace, resisting arrest and criminal mischief. Scott and Craig also arrested her husband, David, for allegedly destroying the developer’s property because he ran over a freshly poured curb with his car.

Her attorney Matthew Leto told The Real Deal he expects a trial date to be set shortly. “I think this opinion shows that officers can’t simply act without repercussions,” Leto said. “Sometimes, officers use the badge as an excuse to use excessive force against individuals who are compliant or who otherwise are not committing a crime at all.”

Lawyers for Scott and Craig could not be reached for comment.

Clarke, an Aventura city commission candidate running a police reform platform based on her personal experience, claims Scott stomped on her right foot and grabbed one of her arms, twisting it behind her back when she attempted to show the officers property survey images on her phone. According to the complaint, Craig grabbed her other arm and twisted it behind her back so they could tightly handcuff her.

“Scott and Craig then lifted Clarke in the air for thirty to sixty seconds,” the lawsuit states. “The combination of the lift and the tight handcuffs injured Clarke’s shoulder.”

Prosecutors subsequently declined to pursue the charges against the Clarkes, who also sued Privé developers Gary Cohen, Daniel Lebensohn, BH3 and five related companies for defamation in Miami federal court. Although in February, Judge Robert Scola Jr. granted summary judgment for Cohen, Lebensohn and the six entities.

Lebensohn then shared information on Dara Clarke’s arrest, including her mugshot, to Privé’s public relations firm Boardroom Communications, Scola’s order states. “Boardroom’s efforts resulted in the publication of three articles on Clarke’s arrest, which were also referenced on Aventura Bytes blog posts,” Scola wrote. “There were also several follow-up articles and subsequent media coverage.”

In its ruling, the appeals court determined that Scott and Craig could not receive the benefit of qualified immunity as police officers performing their duties because “no hostility or violence was shown by Clarke before force was used against her.”

“What happened to her was unfair and uncalled for,” Leto said. “Something like that should not have happened to her or anyone else.”