NFL player sues Fort Myers police over wrongful arrest

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NFL player and Cape Coral native Nate Allen (R) discusses his wrongful arrest lawsuit against the Fort Myers Police Department with his attorney, Sawyer Charles Smith (L). (WINK News)

FORT MYERS, Fla. – A NFL player and Cape Coral native who was wrongfully arrested for masturbating in front of a 16-year-old filed a lawsuit Thursday afternoon against the Fort Myers Police Department.

The City of Fort Myers, former police chief Douglas Baker, and two Fort Myers police officers, Sgt. Jacquelyn Garrett and detective Audenia Thomas, were also named in the suit.

The suit claims the February 2015 arrest of Nate Allen, a safety for the Oakland Raiders, violated his fourth and fourteenth amendment rights and that Baker, along with city officials, “created a policy and practice of encouraging its officers to use racial profiling” in making arrests.

In addition, the suit claims Fort Myers police officers are not properly trained to investigate crimes and were encouraged to “cover up” wrongful arrests, including Allen’s.

Baker was fired for lying during an internal investigation of the arrest, claiming he ordered Allen’s release. City officials said that did not happen.

Four officers were reprimanded and two others were suspended for the incident.

The department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wrongful arrest

The teenager said a “mixed race” man in his 40s or 50s with a gray or white goatee pulled up in a truck next to her and started masturbating, according to the lawsuit.

Officers were searching for the truck when they stopped Allen, 29, near Colonial Boulevard and Fowler Street.

“What should have been apparent about the truck seen by (Fort Myers police officer Kelsey) Evenson is that it was lifted and it would have been impossible for the girl to have seen through the passenger side window from her car,” the suit said.

Allen was stopped, then arrested for “exposure of sexual organs to a minor under 16 years of age,” the lawsuit said.

“(The officer) was telling me I had made a pass at a girl and I had been accused of something and the next thing I know they’re searching me,” Allen said in an interview with WINK News. “And I’m being detained. They put me in cuffs.”

One officer, Timothy McCormick, refused to be involved in the arrest, believing Allen was the wrong guy, the suit said.

Allen’s attorney, Sawyer Charles Smith, described the arrest as “corrupt and illegal.”

“We were able to determine right away that Mr. Allen was innocent of all the charges,” he said. “Why all of our tax money goes to a law enforcement agency that’s so ineffective and unconstitutional in its practices is beyond me.”

Allen was pictured at a Red Lobster restaurant one minute before the teenager contacted 911, Smith said. While the emergency call was being made, Allen texted his mother, then called a friend, according to his phone records.

Allen was eventually released – more than five hours later – after an assistant state attorney told the department they cannot hold someone for a misdemeanor that was not observed by an officer, the suit said.

“This can’t be how things are supposed to be done,” Allen said. “Who gets arrested and doesn’t even know what’s going on? I honestly thought I was going to prison that night and had no clue why.”

‘Change in leadership’

Baker, the police chief at the time, told internal investigators he directed Capt. Melvin Perry, who oversees the department’s detectives, to release Allen.

Perry told investigators that conversation never happened.

When asked about Perry’s response, Baker said “I can’t explain it.”

Baker later told city council members the internal investigation was “very thorough” and there were “no untruthfulness” to his statements, but added there were other motives behind an effort to remove him.

“There’s no wild secret about the relationship between the (police) union and myself,” he said. “I’m not afraid to terminate when it reaches that level. I have no fear of arbitrators.  I have no fear of losing in the event. The union’s going to do what the union does. They talk about agendas. They have an agenda too, but that’s their business, that’s what they do. We’re going to keep moving on. Tomorrow’s another day and it is what it is.”

Baker’s August 2015 firing came two weeks after the head of the local police union called for his resignation.

Former Fort Myers City Manager William Mitchell, in a memo to city leaders, said Baker’s contract was terminated “because it is my judgement as city manager that a change in leadership is necessary to enable the City of Fort Myers Police Department to continue to move forward.”

How the department moves forward, Allen and Smith say, is why the lawsuit was filed.

“Mr. Allen is going to be the client that forces an improvement in FMPD so we have the absolute best law enforcement agency that the state of Florida has ever known,” Smith said. “If they wont do it on their own, me and Nate are going to make them.”

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