éclat Law has filed a complaint on behalf of Marlowe Jones against the City of New Port Richey and its police department, Mayor, City Manager, former Police Chief, and three officers involved in wrongfully charging and arresting him in July 2020. The eight civil counts Jones is accusing the Defendants of come in the wake of a criminal trial he was made to endure before being acquitted; Jones is seeking over $2 million in damages, exclusive of attorneys’ fees, court costs, interest, and other administrative costs.
Laying the Foundation for His Case
In order to understand the extent of this lawsuit, we must first be aware of both the antagonistic history between New Port Richey’s police department (NPRPD) and its citizens and the false pretext under which Jones was arrested. The complaint, which was submitted to the US District Court for the Middle District Court of Florida (Tampa Division) on March 31st, 2023 by attorneys Kevin Ross, Jolynn Falto, Nikki Pappas, and Crisol Lopez Palafox of éclat Law, covers this context in a section titled “General Allegations” before detailing each of the eight charges.
New Port Richey’s History of Discrimination, Racism, and Harassment Towards its Citizens
Paragraphs 18-52 of the complaint outline egregious actions taken by NPRPD and other New Port Richey (NPR) officials against its citizens. Since 2010, NPR has been sued multiple times due to allegations of police brutality, unlawful behavior towards citizens of color, those of faiths other than conservative Christian, and those who don’t look or think like the governing officials; since 2020, NPR’s discriminatory conduct has only gotten worse.
Several NPR police officers have come under scrutiny for racist, harassing, and anti-Semitic behavior, including praying with Proud Boys (a dangerous and violent white supremacist hate group), displaying Confederate flags, and leaking department intel regarding the location of a silent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest to right-wing extremists. In one case, body cam footage shows an NPRPD officer broke into a Jewish woman’s NPR home to investigate alleged code enforcement violations and compared her stairwell to Anne Frank’s place of refuge during the Holocaust, saying “can I take the drywall down? I have to know what’s up there now,” while other officers laughed.
In another case, NPRPD officer Bobby Lubrido was reported by NPR citizens for needlessly aggressive action while arresting a group of young Black teenagers, like kneeling on one boy’s neck, but Lubrido was not punished. He later fondled a minor girl who was in his custody, groping her multiple times and using her phone to find lewd photos of her, which was all confirmed during an internal investigation.
Furthermore, Officer Joseph Valente wrongfully arrested Shinikki Whiting, a caring Black woman, by shoving her away from her neighbor’s girlfriend whom she was trying to comfort during a medical emergency; Valente then refused to identify himself or explain the arrest and failed to provide adequate care while holding Whiting, resulting in her soiling herself in custody.
Despite this department’s consistent problematic behavior, NPR Police Chief Kim Bogart chose to defend each of these officers until the day he retired in January 2023. Some of the officers above were fired, but none faced appropriate consequences proportional to their actions. It’s notable that former Chief Bogart was conducting an inappropriate romantic relationship with City Manager Debbie Manns throughout that time, while she was supposed to be managing and holding accountable city employees like him and his department.
Even NPR mayor Robert Marlowe has stood against his city’s citizens, often denouncing them lawfully exercising constitutional rights like requesting public records, making public comment at City Council meetings, or peacefully protesting in public spaces. He has gone so far as to call them “asses” and said “I don’t care where they go, just go away.”
This complaint makes it clear that New Port Richey has done everything in its power to get rid of Jones and any residents like him who are different from those in authority.
Why was Marlowe Jones Arrested?
The rest of the “General Allegations” section covers Marlowe Jones’s history with New Port Richey and his involvement with the police leading up to this complaint, from paragraphs 53-99. Jones’s family has been in NPR for a century, since 1924, so Jones grew up deeply embedded and invested in the betterment of his community. As an adult, he became an activist, leader, and organizer “to protest racism and the unfair treatment of African Americans by police,” especially during the national Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in 2020.
On July 24, 2020, Jones was leading a peaceful BLM protest in NPR when an angry, drunk white man named Patrick Oshnock violently attacked the protestors, punching activist Stephanie Hinkle in the face and striking Jones when he attempted to deescalate the situation. As NPR officers — who had been closely following the protestors prior to this incident but were nowhere to be found when the protestors needed help — finally arrived on the scene, Jones rightfully asked where they had been. At no point in time did he touch any officer (though in an interview with Jones, he claims Officer Nicholas Rickus grabbed his arm when Jones pulled his own pants up).
A week later, on July 31st, 2020, Jones went to the New Port Richey police station to help his colleagues file a Missing Person report for Hinkle. She had disappeared after another peaceful protest. Before Jones could enter the building, he and his colleagues were surrounded by officers and he was aggressively handled, arrested, and intimidated. Body cam footage shows that Jones remained calm and did not resist, but Detective Timothy Berge and Lieutenant Christopher Mellecker continued to forcefully manhandle Jones after he was already handcuffed to inflict further injury, even though Jones had peacefully informed them and the other thirty officers present that his arms and wrists were painfully twisted in unnatural positions. Many of these officers knew Jones through his involvement in the community and were aware that he was not an aggressive or violent man who needed thirty people to take him down, especially considering he was the victim of the previous week’s event.
At this point, Jones was thoroughly intimidated, in extreme pain, and still unaware of the reason for his arrest. Despite these dehumanizing and humiliating circumstances, he peacefully and respectfully asked for an explanation and was told he committed battery on a law enforcement officer (LEO), with video of him “pushing” an officer to prove it. The officers provided no further information, like who had been pushed, yet they maintained a taunting attitude while he was in their custody. The complaint states in paragraph 83 that:
All the while, various NPR officers snickered and laughed as JONES, an African American male, was in clear physical and emotional distress as a result of being surrounded and arrested by an excessive number of White police officers, all of whom knew that JONES did not have a history of bad behavior and knew that there had been no assault and battery on police officer Nicholas Rickus. NPR knew that it was indeed JONES who was the victim of an assault by Oshnock, but took the opportunity to fabricate a story to charge JONES—an attempt to rid the City of a prominent civil rights activist and “teach him a lesson”.
Jones was eventually charged with “battery on a LEO” and “resisting officer, obstruction without violence” — charges which directly contradict each other and could not be proved through any evidence.
When asked why it took over a week to arrest Jones, NPRPD had no real answer, though it came to light that “City Manager Manns and Chief Bogart had met with other City employees to discuss the ‘delay’ in charging JONES and decide what criminal charge ‘would stick'” (paragraph 71).
In May 2022, two years after the incidents above took place, Jones fought felony charges in a two-day criminal trial against the testimony of Officer Nicholas Rickus. Officer Rickus claimed that Jones “tapped” his shoulder, but in his original report he wrote that he had grabbed Jones first. No other reliable evidence was brought forward. In the video where Jones allegedly committed battery, even Rickus could not point out where Jones had touched him; and when Officer Brian Finch was asked to testify, he admitted that he neither saw Jones commit battery nor did he hear Rickus give Jones any orders. It only took two hours for a jury to find Jones innocent on both counts.
After winning his trial, Jones took action both by gathering public records and by attempting to make public comment at an NPR City Council meeting to discuss BLM issues and his wrongful arrest. Through public records, it was found that City Manager Manns had been texting other NPR officials during Jones’s trial and was “not happy” with its “divisive” outcome; it was also discovered that she, Chief Bogart, and others had an “incestuous and obsessive relationship… with JONES and other community advocates” (paragraph 94). During the City Council meeting, Mayor Marlowe not only flipped the script on Jones, misrepresenting him as the villain, but he also kicked Jones out of the meeting.
To this day, Jones is harassed by NPR with police officers showing up at his home under false pretenses or in response to non-existent 911 calls. The officers are intimidating him and his daughters, and even recently came to his home with guns drawn. This interview with Jones goes into depth about his experiences with NPR police post-trail and the lasting emotional impact it’s had on him; it illustrates the Defendants abusing their power and influence to silence citizens from demanding justice and equality.
Marlowe Jones has been forced to suffer years of prejudice causing extreme emotional distress, inflicted on him by the very people whose job it is to protect him as a resident and citizen of his hometown. New Port Richey authorities could not stand the thought that they might be wrong about something, so they did — and continue to do — everything in their power to silence him.
Eight Civil Counts Included in Complaint
For the injustices Marlowe Jones has endured at the hands of the Defendants, outlined above, éclat Law has filed an eight-count civil lawsuit with damages totaling over $2 million. For more detail, see paragraphs 100-166 of the complaint.
1. Violation of Civil Rights
This count is against all Defendants — New Port Richey, Mayor Robert Marlowe, former Police Chief Kim Bogart, City Manager Debbie Manns, Officer Nicholas Rickus, Detective Timothy Berge, and Lieutenant Christopher Mellecker — for violating Jones’s Fourteenth and First Amendment rights. Jones was deprived of liberty without due process, falsely arrested, prevented from speaking at City Council meetings and BLM protests, and threatened and harassed to discourage him from speaking out. These actions were made possible by NPR policies and practices which allowed these officers and officials to violate the Constitutional rights of peaceful protestors.
2. Failure to Train
This count is against NPR for failing to properly train its police officers and city officials in racial sensitivity and respecting the rights of protestors, which led to Jones’s wrongful arrest. A culture was created where NPR’s officers and officials were allowed to punish and violate citizens’ rights again and again despite numerous complaints of misconduct, which went ignored or defended against.
3. False Arrest
This count is against NPR, Chief Bogart, Officer Rickus, Detective Berge, and Lieutenant Mellecker for the intentional unlawful arrest and detention of Jones on July 31, 2020.
4. Malicious Prosecution
This count is against the same Defendants as above for causing the criminal prosecution against Jones, even though there was no evidence to corroborate their false accusations.
5. Abuse of Process
This count is against all Defendants for their “illegal, improper, and perverted use of process,” which was intended to serve their own personal agenda by unlawfully arresting Jones and infringing upon his rights.
6. Civil Conspiracy
This count is against all Defendants for each playing a part in conspiracy against Jones to violate his federal civil rights. This count also alleges that the Defendants continue to harass and conspire against Jones.
7. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
This count is against NPR, Chief Bogart, Officer Rickus, Detective Berge, and Lieutenant Mellecker for causing Jones an unreasonable and outrageous amount of severe emotional distress by harassing, intimidating, and cornering Jones during his false arrest and wrongful charge of a felony crime, forcing him to go through trial.
This count is against Detective Berge and Lieutenant Mellecker for holding onto Jones and continuously pushing down on his handcuffed wrists, despite Jones’s pleas that it put him in excruciating pain, thus intentionally causing him bodily harm.
The complaint filed by éclat Law on behalf of Marlowe Jones is a harrowing account of the injustice and violation he has endured at the hands of New Port Richey authorities. These eight civil counts — violating Constitutional rights, false arrest, battery, malicious prosecution, and more — highlight how important it is to be aware of our individual rights as citizens and hold those in power accountable when they fail to uphold them. We urge everyone to read through this detailed complaint carefully so that you can understand what people like Marlowe Jones have gone through — and are still going through — due to systemic racism within law enforcement. Only then will we be able to create lasting change for all individuals who suffer from similar injustices in their own communities.