The Coastal Star

Ocean Ridge: Arresting officer files lawsuit, accuses former vice mayor of battery

By Steve Plunkett

    Officer Nubia Plesnik, part of the police team that charged former Vice Mayor Richard Lucibella with resisting arrest last fall, has filed a lawsuit against him claiming battery and negligence.
    Lucibella “committed a battery upon [Plesnik] by intentionally causing harmful or offensive contact with [her] by pushing [her] and further physically contacting her during the course of the arrest,” Plesnik’s lawsuit says.
    In a second count, the suit alleges Lucibella’s actions were negligent.
    As a result, the suit says, Plesnik “has suffered and will suffer bodily injury and resulting pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of the capacity for the enjoyment of life, expense of hospitalization and/or surgery, medical and nursing care and treatment and related expenses, loss of earnings, loss of the ability to earn money in the future, and/or an aggravation of previously existing conditions.”
    Lucibella has $10 million in insurance for personal liability. Plesnik’s suit says she is seeking at least $15,000 in damages, the legal threshold.
    Richard Slinkman, her lawyer, said Plesnik only wants what a jury feels is fair and just.
    “I can tell you that I do not expect such to be in excess of Mr. Lucibella’s $10 million insurance policy,” Slinkman said.
    The complaint was filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court on June 6, but as of June 27 Lucibella had not been handed the lawsuit.
    “He is evading service,” Slinkman said.
    Lucibella did not answer a phone call seeking comment.
    Ocean Ridge Police Chief Hal Hutchins said Plesnik and fellow arresting Officer Richard Ermeri both returned to full duty as soon as they were cleared by their physicians.
    “No special assignments were made to accommodate them,” Hutchins said.
    But Plesnik has not fully recovered, Slinkman said.
    “Though she can fully perform the functions and duties of a police officer, she suffers from pain in her shoulder with activities, including necessary physical activities on the job,” he said.
    Lucibella faces a felony charge of resisting arrest with violence; after reviewing the case the state attorney’s office added a felony charge of battery on a law enforcement officer. The battery charge covers Ermeri only; the resisting arrest with violence covers Ermeri “and/or N. Plesnik ... by offering or doing violence to the person of such officers,” the charging document says.
    Lucibella also is charged with misdemeanor use of a firearm while under the influence of alcohol. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
    Lucibella’s trial, originally scheduled for April and then July, is now postponed until October. His criminal defense attorney, Marc Shiner, and Assistant State Attorney Danielle Grundt told the judge they could not finish depositions in time for a summer trial.
    Plesnik, Ermeri and Sgt. William Hallahan went to Lucibella’s oceanfront home Oct. 22 after neighbors reported hearing shots fired. They confiscated a .40-caliber handgun and found five spent shell casings on the backyard patio.
    With Lucibella was one of the officers’ supervisors, Lt. Steven Wohlfiel. Both men were “obviously intoxicated,” the police said.
During the arrest, Lucibella was pinned to the patio pavers and suffered injuries to his face and ribs. Shiner has said the officers overreacted.
    Plesnik and Ermeri said in their initial police reports that they went to MD Now, the department-approved urgent care center, Plesnik for “injuries to the left side of my body,” including shoulder, arm, wrist and foot.
    Plesnik, who was hired by Ocean Ridge in March 2013, also reported being placed on restricted duty.
    Officers later determined the confiscated handgun belonged to Wohlfiel, who was fired in January for his role in the incident. He is appealing his dismissal.
    Wohlfiel’s lawyer, Ralph King, petitioned a circuit judge on May 31 to order Town Manager Jamie Titcomb to hold an evidentiary hearing that is required by the town’s charter and would allow Wohlfiel to present and confront witnesses. Wohlfiel also wants back pay until the hearing can be held.
    Town Attorney Brian Shutt would not comment on the Wohlfiel case other than to say Ocean Ridge’s insurance company has hired a lawyer to defend the town.
    Lucibella resigned his vice mayor and town commissioner positions in December.

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