May 30, 2014

Federal Court jury awards family of Joshua Salvato $2.3 million in restitution


A jury of 3 men and 5 women found Sheriff Chris Blair, and Deputies Lauren Miley and Norman Brown of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, responsible for using excessive deadly force that resulted in the wrongful death of Joshua Salvato, an unarmed 21-year-old, who was shot and killed by the deputies nearly two years ago.  The verdict was issued after an eight-day trial in the United District Court, Middle District of Florida Ocala Division, under presiding Judge William Terrell Hodges.

The jury returned restitution in the amount of $2.3 million, charging Miley used excessive force and Brown willfully and wantonly acted in bad faith by inflicting conscious pain and suffering on Joshua Salvato before he died.  The jury further charged that the Sheriff violated department protocol in his failure to investigate the shooting, thus ratifying the actions of Miley and that Brown “acted with malice and outrageous conduct.” 

 “Through this verdict, our community stood up and spoke on behalf of my son Josh.  They sent a message that the Sheriff is not above the law and his position does not grant him immunity for wrongdoing nor does it protect him from being held accountable,” said plaintiff Vincent Salvato, father of the victim. 

“We are extremely pleased with the outcome of this trial. The defendants were not truthful during the Grand Jury investigation.  If not for the civil justice system, the full scope of the evidence would never have been heard and justice would not have been served,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Theodore Leopold, of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC.  Also representing Vincent Salvato in the civil case are co-counsel Antonio M. Romanucci of Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, and Janet Varnell of Varnell & Warwick, P.A.

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The federal lawsuit charged that Salvato, of Summerfield was deprived of his civil rights as a U.S. citizen under both the Fourteenth and the Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. According to the complaint, on July 6, 2012, at approximately 10:45 p.m., Deputy Miley responded to a 911 call concerning an alleged disturbance along a local highway.  Joshua Salvato was walking along the road when Miley approached and started questioning him.  She asked whether he was carrying a weapon and confirmed that the only item in his pockets was a piece of bread.  She then proceeded to call for back up, despite having no cause to place Salvato under arrest or take him into custody.  When Deputy Brown arrived he drove Joshua’s face in the ground and the two Deputies attempted to handcuff Salvato, without any justification of a crime being committed.  Salvato, in fear for his life, escaped from their grasp and was moving away from the deputies when he was shot and killed. 

Salvato’s tragic death was captured by the patrol car’s dashboard camera, a key piece of evidence in trial. The footage established that Miley pulled out her service pistol and opened fire, shooting Salvato in the abdomen as he was retreating away from her.  As Salvato lay face down bleeding to death in the middle of the road, Deputy Miley handcuffed Salvato.   Brown then tasered Salvato 12 consecutive times over six minutes, prior to Salvato dying of his gunshot wound.

“We are very pleased for the family, and through this trial justice prevailed.  While nothing can bring this young man back, with this verdict Joshua’s father, Vincent Salvato, and his family can finally start to heal from this tragic loss,” said Antonio Romanucci.

The lawsuit is Civil Action No. 5:12-CV-635-OC-10PRL.