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Mentally Ill Man Shot by Cops Has Triable Claims

ORLANDO (CN) - The police chief of an Orlando suburb may be liable after his officers allegedly fired three shots into an unarmed man with the mental capacity of a 9 year old, and then tried to stage a cover-up, a Florida federal judge ruled.

Ronald Btesh suffers from several mental illnesses and severly diminished mental capacity, he claims through his guardian, Albert Btesh.

After Btesh's Spanish-speaking, live-in caregiver called the police for help in December 2008, a 911 operator allegedly mishandled the report, did not request help from a Spanish-speaking co-worker and erroneously informed officers to respond to a rape and sexual battery. A second operator was then dismissive with the caregiver's English-speaking friend who also called to clarify the report, according to Btesh's complaint.

Although Btesh says the Maitland Police Department has allegedly documented his condition in four prior incident reports, it failed to send adequately trained officers in response to the Dec. 22 call.

When Officers Rebecca Denicola and Amanda Payne entered Btesh's home to respond to a sexual assault incident, Btesh says they did so with their guns drawn. The officers had less than five years on the force between them, were not equipped to respond to calls involving the mentally ill in crisis and did not follow the proper protocol for responding to a sexual assault, either, Btesh claims.

Though the caregiver informed the officers that Btesh was ill, and they could see that the man was unarmed and not threatening them, Officer Denicola shot Btesh three times with 9mm bullets, according to the complaint.

Btesh says the officers then tried to stage a cover-up by making it seem as though Payne had kicked in the front door because Btesh had become violent and locked her outside the apartment.

After Btesh sued the two officers, Chief of Police Gary Calhoun and the city, Calhoun moved to dismiss two of the 12 counts in Btesh's second amended complaint.

On March 6, U.S. District Judge Patricia Fawsett ruled that Calhoun cannot be liable for Btesh's battery claim, since he never touched or shot the man. The judge upheld the claim that Calhoun violated Btesh's civil rights under federal law.

Btesh has provided enough evidence that Calhoun allegedly ignored a pattern of constitutional violations by his department, failed to provide adequate training and failed to discipline officers, "thereby causing and encouraging the allegedly unlawful conduct of Denicola and Payne," the ruling states.

Fawsett also ruled that the claims against Calhoun are not duplicative of the claims against the city, and she said Betsh can choose to file a third amended complaint.

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