Woman Wins $45,000 Settlement from Incident with Riviera Beach Cops

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A follow-up from an old story: Collette O' Neill (formerly Spears) claimed that in December 2009, Riviera Beach Police officers knocked on her door while she was in bed and said they wanted her to let them her house and into her backyard. A single woman, she said they could go around the side of the house; she would come out and unbolt the gate. She peeked out the back door and saw an officer standing on a garbage can trying to unlatch her fence, then heard a knock at her front door and went to it.

Her version of events: She called 911, and an operator advised her to crack open the front door and speak to the officers. Lieutenant Reno Wells and Sergeant Joshua Lewis, O'Neill says, accused her of being a mental patient who had escaped from a nearby facility. They kicked down the door, came in her house, pushed and wrestled her to the floor, ripped off her pajama top, took her outside with with her breasts exposed, and drove her off to jail to book her for battery and resisting arrest.

When she asked police if they had a search warrant, officers replied "We don't need one. We're the Riviera Mafia," O'Neill alleged in a federal lawsuit against the city. She claimed to have fractured her vertebrae and hurt her wrist.

In court records, police gave a different take. They said they arrived at the residence because a neighbor had called the cops when he saw smoke and fire in his yard, which adjoined O'Neill's. He thought he had seen someone pouring gasoline on the grass. They later found out O'Neill had "lit leaves and bushes on fire in a chimney" of her yard.

Lieutanant Wells said that when they arrived, O'Neill threatened to "blow their heads off with a shotgun." They used what even the plaintiff had called "a very professional maneuver" to take her down, and cops say she kicked and flailed and resisted handcuffs. In the lawsuit, the defendants claimed O'Neill was not hurt by them; any of her back injuries were the result of a prior auto accident.

In any case, the City settled with her for $45,000 -- a sum commissioners agreed to in March. The money will come from a liability insurance fund.

O'Neill's attorney did not return calls for comment. The Riviera Beach city attorney offered documents confirming the settlement, but no comment.



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