AVARES -- A father who accused a Mount Dora policeman last year of dumping out his infant daughter's cremated remains sued the city and the officer Monday.
Filed in Lake Circuit Court, the lawsuit accuses the city and Officer Brad Cline of illegally stopping and searching Jason Burnham, 34, as he was walking home after Hurricane Charley.
During the stop, Burnham's suit says, Cline emptied the ashes from a cross-shaped pendant worn by Burnham, suspecting it contained cocaine.
"This is probably the most mean-spirited violation of a person's civil rights that I have seen in many years," said Winter Park lawyer Howard Marks, one of Burnham's attorneys. "That conduct is not acceptable -- it's not warranted."
Mount Dora Mayor James Yatsuk would not comment on the case, saying the city's insurance company likely would select the attorney to represent the city.
The seven-count lawsuit accuses the city of false arrest/false imprisonment and detention of Burnham, and violation of his right to privacy. It accuses the city and Cline of invasion of privacy and violation of Burnham's civil rights. Finally, it accuses Cline of intentional infliction of emotional distress on Burnham.
It asks for damages in excess of $15,000 each from the city and the officer.
"Burnham was illegally patted down, illegally searched and illegally detained, all without probable cause or reasonable suspicion that Burnham had committed a crime," the suit states.
Cline, who could not be reached for comment, resigned from the department three months ago, said Jane Green of the city's Human Resources Department. She said he was not disciplined in the Burnham incident.
Police Department spokesman Lt. Roger Chilton said Cline resigned to run a mortgage-brokering business but still works for the department as a reserve officer doing undercover or drug work when necessary.
Chilton said the department stands by its internal investigation that determined it was Cline's word against Burnham's.
"We did an investigation and determined that we couldn't prove or disprove that these allegations were true," Chilton said. "Both parties admit being with each other . . . and to having the necklace. But that's where one says he dumped it out, and the other says he didn't."
Cline was on patrol Aug. 14 in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley when he said he saw Burnham walking on Highland Street about 2:30 a.m. According to the police report, Cline said Burnham "appeared to be intoxicated."
The officer questioned Burnham about "a variety of issues, including illegal drug use," according to the lawsuit.
Burnham said he had a prescription for Xanax that he was taking because he was depressed over his daughter's death.
After examining the pills, Cline questioned Burnham about the pendant, the lawsuit says. It contained the ashes of Carli Miracle Burnham, who died at the age of 9 months in 2002. She was napping with her father when he mistakenly rolled on top of her, suffocating her. The death was ruled accidental, and no charges were filed.
Taking the pendant from Burnham, the officer broke its seal and dumped the ashes on the hood of his patrol car, the suit says.
"Defendant Cline, after seeing that the ashes were not cocaine, wiped Plaintiff Burnham's daughter's ashes to the ground," the suit says.
The suit also notes that Cline "failed to follow the city's policy in that he failed to turn on his lights and or his camera during the stop."
Burnham was not charged and was allowed to continue on his way.
"Cline's conduct was outrageous beyond all bounds of decency and utterly intolerable in a civilized society," Burnham's lawyers wrote in the suit.
The suit claims that Burnham has endured "mental suffering, embarrassment, humiliation, disgrace and injury to his feelings and reputation."
Burnham, who lived in Tangerine at the time of the incident, now lives with his mother-in-law in Marion County.
He loads trucks for a trucking company. He said he lost the empty pendant when it fell off his necklace afterward.
"It's been real stressful," he said. "It really bothers me a lot. I'm scared to go anywhere now."
He said he wanted the Police Department to discipline the officer.
"He knows what he did."