TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Florida sheriff’s office has been ordered to pay more than $250,000 to a man who was wrongfully arrested by deputies in 2018 on cocaine possession that tests later revealed was sugar.
The unanimous vote by a Tallahassee jury said Leon County Sheriff’s Office Deputy James Dills did not have probable cause to restrain Miles Evora, 51, and that the deputies’ actions caused Evora damages.
In total, Evora, a father of six children who is a local barber, was awarded $269,810.
Evora’s attorneys, Ryan Molaghan and Paul Aloise, both of Tallahassee and the Brooks LeBoeuf law firm, said they “are extremely grateful for the jury’s attentiveness throughout the trial.”
“The verdict in this case is the culmination of Mr. Evora’s long journey for vindication and we’re very happy he was able to get the justice he deserved,” they said in a statement to The Tallahassee Democrat, part of the USA TODAY Network.
On Dec. 18, 2018, Evora was driving north on Janet Drive in Tallahassee, Florida when he was pulled over by Dills for rolling through a stop sign, which Evora denies, according to court records.
After receiving permission, Dills and a fellow deputy, Scott Littlefield, searched his car where they found a white substance on the floorboard.
Dills said he believed it was crack cocaine “based on (his) training and experience,” in his initial arrest affidavit and written narrative of the incident.
He continued: “I was able to retrieve a piece of the substance which upon a closer look, confirmed my suspicion and belief that the substance was crack cocaine.”
Dills later said it tested positive for crack cocaine by a “field test” of which there is no record.
Once the deputies gathered the substance, Dills “forcefully restrained (Evora),” which he “objected” and tensed his muscles, according to court records. That’s when the pair of deputies forcefully slammed Evora onto the pavement and used a Taser on him, Evora says in court records.
Evora was taken to Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare before he was jailed and booked in the Leon County Detention Facility on charges of possession of a controlled substance, resisting an officer without violence, and battery of an officer, court records read.
In December 2019, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement tested the white substance and determined the “fragments of off-white waxy material” were, in fact, not crack cocaine. This finding caused State Attorney Jack Campbell to drop all charges against Evora.
The following October, an independent laboratory concluded that the substance was sugar, which Evora later elaborated was “icing from a Danish pastry” in court records.
“The Leon County Sheriff’s Office respects the jury’s verdict in this case,” read a statement from Leon County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Angela Green. For now, no decision has been made regarding an appeal, she added.
Deputy Dills, who was hired in January 2016, is currently employed as a “professional standards detective” with Leon County Sheriff’s Office, said Green, adding that he is not under investigation and has not been disciplined.
Deputy Scott Littlefield, who was hired in July 2016, is currently employed with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office and is assigned to the department’s patrol unit. He was not reprimanded for his role in Avora’s arrest.
The attorneys representing Avora said they hope that the Leon County Sheriff’s Office “takes this as an opportunity to evaluate its personnel and policies to ensure that the high degree of professionalism required by that office is being met.”
In February, an informal notice of intent to sue was sent to the Leon County Sheriff’s Office regarding the wrongful detainment of a Havana, Florida, man who refused to show his identification, according to records obtained through public records requests.
Follow Christopher Cann on Twitter @ChrisCannFL