06 Aug Jury Awards $4.6 Million to Man Wrongly Arrested for Bomb Threat
One minute, videographer Bill Rolland was filming a project for Cisco Systems in downtown Miami. The next minute, police had a gun to his head.
A security guard and two engineers for New World Tower at 100 N. Biscayne Blvd. accused Rolland of making a bomb threat after a 2011 argument over whether he could film outside the building. He was arrested and spent five days in solitary confinement before he was released on bond. Rolland was acquitted a few months later.
The Auburn, California, man sued the three men who reported the bomb threat, along with the building’s owner, manager and security company. A Miami-Dade jury awarded him about $4.6 million Monday, finding the defendants were liable for false accusations that damaged Rolland’s reputation and caused emotional pain.
“Justice was served,” said attorney Robert Stickney of Robert W. Stickney P.A. in Fort Lauderdale, who represented Rolland in both the civil and criminal trials. David Pollack and Sean Comroe of the Pollack Law Firm in Miami joined him on the civil case.
Rolland’s arrest came after he stepped inside the New World Tower lobby to take a phone call with a client. Security guards for the building, which houses Israeli and German consulates, approached him and asked him what he was doing there.
According to Rolland, he identified himself and told the guards about his business in the area. According to the guards, he said he was going to return the next day and bomb the building.
Rolland went back outside to film B-roll of the building, and he was approached again by a building engineer and guards who told him they were calling the police, Stickney said.
Orders for the building’s security guards say that in the event of a bomb threat, they must call 911 “without exception,” Stickney said. But instead, they called the Israeli consulate, where someone called a community resource officer on her cellphone. That person contacted police dispatch.
“911 is recorded,” Stickney said. “A cellphone isn’t.”
The building was never evacuated and in silent security video of Rolland’s interactions with guards in the lobby, he appears “non-antagonistic [and] calm,” Pollack said.
The guards maintained during the two-week civil trial that Rolland threatened to blow up the building, said one of the defense lawyers, Todd Ehrenreich of Weinberg, Wheeler, Hudgins, Gunn & Dial in Miami.
He argued that the guards, who were responsible for protecting two consulates, acted more reasonably than Rolland, who he said was shouting and using profanity in the high-security building.
Rolland told the police over and over that “it was a big misunderstanding,” said Ehrenreich, who represented the building’s owner, manager and the two engineers. “To him it was. To these folks, it was a threat.”
At trial before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas, the jury heard arguments that Rolland had lost business as a result of the arrest and suffered effects to his mental health and reputation among neighbors.
Plaintiffs’ witness Spencer Eth, a psychiatrist who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder at the University of Miami, diagnosed Rolland with chronic PTSD.
While the soldiers Eth sees are trained for stressful situations, Rolland was not prepared to be arrested at gunpoint, strip-searched and sent to a correctional facility where he witnessed violent behavior, he told the court.
The defense’s psychological expert did not testify at trial, but defense lawyers argued Rolland had not endured a traumatic situation that would cause PTSD.
The plaintiffs also argued the defendants had defamed Rolland, who returned home to California to find news trucks from national media quizzing his neighbors about the incident after the Associated Press picked up the story of his arrest, Stickney said.
While the plaintiffs argued Rolland had also lost more than $3 million in video work because of the arrest, both sides agreed Rolland still works with many of the same clients, including the Cisco supervisor for whom he was filming on the day of his arrest.
The jury on Monday awarded Rolland about $4.1 million and his wife $500,000. The claims were malicious prosecution, defamation, negligent training and supervision and negligent hiring, as well as a loss of consortium claim for Rolland’s wife.
The bulk of Rolland’s award—$3.5 million—was for reputational and emotional damage, and he was awarded $500,000 for lost earnings, $120,000 for legal fees in the criminal case and $12,000 for medical bills.
On the negligent training and supervision claim only, the jury apportioned Rolland 15 percent of the fault for his damages. Building owner 100 NWT Fee Owner LLC and associated companies, manager Panther Management and engineers Omar Clavero and Andres Caamano Osuna were assigned 60 percent of the liability.
Security company International Security Management Group and guard supervisor Jorge Acuna were assigned the remaining 25 percent.
Because 100 NWT and Panther were found negligent but not vicariously liable for the individual defendants’ malicious prosecution and defamation, the apportionment of fault applies to those defendants. ISMG was found vicariously liable for Acuna’s actions.
The security defendants were represented by Richard Vargas and Ramon Javier of Mintzer, Sarowitz, Zeris, Ledva & Meyers in Miami, who did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
Stickney said the plaintiffs did not argue that any defendant was more liable than the others.
“They unleashed these individuals on the public, therefore they’re responsible,” he said.
Case: William Rolland et al v. 100 NWT Fee Owner et al
Case no.: 2012-026854-CA-01
Description: Negligent security
Filing date: July 11, 2012
Verdict date: Aug. 1, 2016
Judge: Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas
Plaintiffs attorneys: Robert Stickney, Robert W. Stickney P.A., Fort Lauderdale; David Pollack and Sean Comroe, Pollack Law Firm, Miami
Defense attorneys: Todd Ehrenreich and Seth Alhadeff, Weinberg, Wheeler, Hudgins, Gunn & Dial, Miami; Nancy Ciampa and David Luck, Carlton Fields, Miami; Ian Robinson, Adams Coogler, West Palm Beach; Richard Vargas and Ramon Javier, Mintzer, Sarowitz, Zeris, Ledva & Meyers, Miami
Verdict amount: $4,632,000