BY JENNIFER CABRERA
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Three employees of Colliers International who were present during the Gainesville Police Department (GPD) SWAT raid on June 2, 2021, have now sued for damages.
Jason Hurst, Nicola Moreland, and Bennett Harrell, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed July 19, 2022, also previously settled a lawsuit in August of 2021 with GPD for the return of property seized during the raid.
The new lawsuit requests compensatory and punitive damages from the City of Gainesville, GPD, Detective Ronald A. Pinkston, SWAT Team Command Lieutenant M. West, 15 additional unnamed SWAT officers, and 15 unnamed investigating officers, along with attorneys’ fees and expenses.
The case has been filed in federal court as a civil rights action for violating the plaintiffs’ rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
The claims in the lawsuit
At the time of the raid, Hurst and Harrell were commercial real estate brokers and Moreland was an intern at Colliers International. The lawsuit claims that 14-20 SWAT officers surveilled the employees as they arrived for work on the morning of the raid and that none of the three plaintiffs were named in the search warrant or were under investigation of any type.
The lawsuit states that there was no reason to believe there would be violent resistance to the execution of the search warrant and that an investigatory subpoena would have achieved the goals of the search warrant. It further claims that the warrant was generated by a questionable police report and a search warrant application that may have been “outright fraudulent.”
The criminal case and related civil lawsuit
In March of 2019, Daniel Drotos, Michael Ryals, Lauren Edwards, and Rory Causseaux left Bosshardt Realty; they joined Colliers International later that year. Hurst and Harrell joined Colliers International in June 2020, and Moreland began her internship in May of 2021. None of the three plaintiffs ever worked for Bosshardt.
The search warrant that was executed in June 2021 led to a sworn complaint, later filed on August 19, 2021, that laid out probable cause for theft of trade secrets against Drotos, Ryals, Edwards, and Causseaux. Drotos and Ryals were arrested on February 10, 2022. Other than multiple judge reassignments because of recusals, nothing has happened in Edwards’ and Causseaux’s cases.
Drotos and Ryals filed a civil lawsuit against Bosshardt in 2019 for breach of contract, claiming that Bosshardt had failed to pay them the real estate commissions that had been negotiated in the separation agreement signed by Bosshardt and the brokers who left. Drotos and Ryals were recently awarded over $1.3 million by an arbitrator in that case, and the award was confirmed by a judge; the arbitrator did not uphold any of Bosshardt’s counterclaims, and an August 24 order emphasized that the final determination in the case “was entirely in favor of Drotos and Ryals.”
Bosshardt paid the judgment in full in August; the amount was $1,379,242.96 as of August 19, and it continued to accrue interest from that date. On May 11, 2022, Bosshardt Realty Services took out a 30-year mortgage from the U.S. Small Business Administration for $1.5 million on its corporate offices on NW 43rd Street.
Hurst, Moreland, and Harrell are not involved in either the criminal case or the civil lawsuit.
The trade secret dispute
According to the complaint in the lawsuit from Hurst, Moreland, and Harrell, Bosshardt never alleged any theft of trade secrets during the lawsuit with Drotos and Ryals, but after that lawsuit reached an impasse in July of 2020, Aaron Bosshardt, Managing Member of Bosshardt Realty Services, filed a police report with GPD, alleging grand theft of trade secrets; the complaint alleged that Drotos and Ryals had stolen customer lists, forms, old contracts, and other documents. The arbitrator in Drotos and Ryals’ civil lawsuit found that no trade secrets had been stolen and awarded damages and attorneys’ fees to Drotos and Ryals. However, the criminal case remains open.
In the criminal case, Judge Colaw has recently ordered the return of property seized from the defendants, and Judge Curtin denied a motion from Bosshardt to seal transcripts of depositions from Bosshardt employees. The motion to seal the transcripts claimed that the transcripts would compromise Bosshardt’s “proprietary, confidential information and trade secrets.” County Commissioner Ken Cornell is on the list of Bosshardt employees to be deposed, along with Bosshardt President Aaron Bosshardt, General Counsel Kim Bosshardt, and Director Autumn Doughton.
Issues with the police report
The complaint alleges several issues with the police report filed by Bosshardt in July of 2020.
One of those problems is the inclusion of Hurst’s 2014 Tesla in the list of stolen items. The complaint states that Hurst purchased the Tesla in Illinois in December of 2020, so he didn’t own the car when the police report was supposedly filed in July. The complaint argues that because of this issue, the police report was either altered well after July of 2020 or was completely fraudulent.
GPD’s investigative report in response to a citizen complaint from Hurst states, “Although Mr. Hurst’s vehicle appears on Page 1, it was not added to the report until after his vehicle, which is not listed as stolen, was discovered at the scene of the search warrant on June 2, 2021.”
Bosshardt allegedly paid for the investigation
The police report was originally assigned to Detective T. Tirado and then reassigned to Detective Pinkson in the fall of 2020, following Tirado’s retirement.
The complaint states that in Tirado’s deposition in a defamation case filed by the brokers against Bosshardt, Tirado “admitted that he relied on Bosshardt to conclude that the electronic materials alleged to be trade secrets were, in fact, trade secrets.”
The complaint also states that Tirado “admitted that Bosshardt had paid thousands of dollars to the Gainesville Police Department during the course of the investigation. Bosshardt laundered and disguised the payments by paying the Police Department’s bills, like subpoena costs, to conceal any record of the money going directly to the Police Department.”
The complaint alleges that the Search Warrant Application was “grossly misleading,” including omitting the fact that Bosshardt had not claimed any theft of trade secrets during the civil lawsuit and omitting information about the separation agreement between the brokers and Bosshardt that allowed the brokers to continue accessing Bosshardt’s files, documents, and resources. The complaint also says that events in the application are presented out of order to suggest that files were accessed after the brokers’ termination, but those activities took place while the brokers were still working for Bosshardt.
The complaint also states that the Search Warrant Application “never once specifically named… a single trade secret” that the brokers allegedly stole from Bosshardt.
GPD’s decision to use SWAT to serve the warrant
The complaint lists the general criteria that GPD uses to decide whether to use SWAT for high-risk search and arrest warrants. However, none of these general guidelines were applicable to the search at Colliers International. The criteria include:
- The crime at issue is a violent crime or is commonly associated with crimes of violence.
- The location in question is barricaded against entry or the suspect is inside a location, vehicle, or hidden from view and refuses to submit to arrest.
- There is reason to believe the suspect is armed and may use weapons against law enforcement officers.
- The suspect’s background reveals a propensity towards violence.
- The location in question is known to be inhabited or frequented by subjects with a propensity towards violence.
- It is not practical to arrest the suspect outside the location in question while meeting operational objectives.
GPD’s Administrative Procedures also use a matrix that generates a score; if the score is in the 0-9 range, that means SWAT would normally not be required. According to GPD’s investigative report, Det. Pinkston’s matrix for this search warrant registered 2 points.
However, according to the complaint, SWAT Commander West “rejected Detective Pinkston’s matrix” and completed his own matrix that registered 10 points because he determined that the search warrant was for items that could be destroyed (2 points), firearms were readily accessible to the subjects (2 points – a half score – because it was unknown whether firearms were accessible) and a possible requirement for forced entry (6 points).
The complaint argues that this revision of the SWAT Search Matrix was based on factors “that would be present in the case of nearly any search warrant.” The complaint states that GPD’s policy at the time gave full authority to the SWAT commander to determine when SWAT would be deployed to support service of a search warrant. Because of this, as the complaint quotes from the Internal Affairs report, “utilizing the GPD SWAT Team for the execution of search warrants with various risk levels has become a fairly standard practice… for approximately 1 year.”
Issues with the service of the warrant
The complaint points out that despite the assertion that use of the SWAT Team was necessary because evidence could be destroyed, the warrant was served over ten months after the police report was filed.
The complaint says that when the SWAT Team arrived at 9:25 a.m., shouting “Gainesville Police, open up,” both Hurst and Moreland thought it was a prank. In fact, according to the complaint, body camera footage released by GPD shows that a member of the SWAT Team had already entered the unlocked front door. Hurst said that after another loud knock, he looked out the window to see that the SWAT Team had blocked off the street in front of the office, there was an armored SWAT vehicle in the Colliers International parking lot, and there were approximately 15 SWAT Team members in “full riot gear,” some “aiming military-style rifles at the office building.”
Hurst and Moreland went down the stairs with their hands up. They were zip-tied and searched, and they were told that their personal electronics would be seized, although their names were not on the search warrant. After about 15 minutes, they were released from the zip ties and moved to a conference room for about 2 hours. As additional employees arrived, they were searched, their personal electronics were seized, and they were placed in the conference room.
The complaint asserts that the search warrant did not establish probable cause for the search of the plaintiffs, their detention, or the seizure of their personal electronics.
Lawsuit requests damages for “unconstitutional” actions
Based on the above information, Hurst, Moreland, and Harrell are asking the court to enter judgment against the City of Gainesville, GPD, Detective Ronald A. Pinkston, SWAT Team Command Lieutenant M. West, 15 additional unnamed SWAT officers, and 15 unnamed investigating officers and to award compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees and expenses to the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs are represented by Jeff Childers, and the defendants are represented by Matthew Carson and Michael Spellman of Sniffen & Spellman PA in Tallahassee. The only action in the case so far has been a motion by the defendants’ attorneys for an extension of the deadline for filing a response to the plaintiffs’ complaint to September 7. The motion was granted by Judge Allen Winsor.