Legislation to help a Lakeland man in his decade-long effort to collect $312,500 from the city of Lakeland may be helped by heightened awareness of social justice issues following last spring’s protests of police shootings, a state senator says.
State Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, has filed a claims bill against the city in that amount on behalf of Reginald Jackson, who was shot on Oct. 18, 2001, by Lakeland Police Officer Mike Cochran.
If passed, the city would be forced to pay Jackson $312,500, the balance of a 2009 civil court judgment.
The city of Lakeland will neither oppose nor support the bill, City Attorney Palmer Davis said after speaking to city commissioners.
Rouson said this is his third attempt at sponsoring the claims bill after unsuccessful efforts in the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions. No bills were filed in 2019 and 2020.
The 2017 bill was passed by a Senate committee but did not get a floor vote because the House of Representatives took no action, he said. The 2018 bill failed to get hearings in either body.
The state senator said the prospect for passage in this year’s session has greatly improved after the nationwide reaction to police conduct after the May 25 death of George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police officers and the March 13 shooting death of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police officers.
“I think the timing is right in communities across Florida and across the nation who are screaming for justice,” Rouson said. “I think Lakeland has gone through growth and progressed in many respects to want to be fair and want justice for all its citizens.”
State Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, said she would support the claims bill if it makes the House floor, which would be her only opportunity to vote. State Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, did not return calls from LkldNow.
Officer Cochran shot Jackson once through the neck during a 2001 traffic stop, according to The Ledger articles at the time. Cochran said he feared for his safety because Jackson was driving his car toward him.
A Lakeland Police Department internal investigation found the shooting was justified, The Ledger reported.
Former State Attorney Jerry Hill declined to bring charges against Cochran or Jackson, but he criticized the officer’s handling of the traffic stop.
The jury in a February 2009 civil trial at the 10th Judicial Circuit Court in Bartow determined Cochran was negligent and awarded Jackson $550,000. That was reduced to $412,500 because the jury found Cochran 75% responsible for events that led to the shooting.
But the city of Lakeland paid Jackson only $100,000, the limit of its liability under the state’s sovereign immunity law at the time. Under that law, Jackson can get the balance of the payment only if the Legislature approves a claims bill.
Former state Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, sponsored the first claims bill in the 2010 legislative session, said Rouson, who did not know how many subsequent bills Smith sponsored before he took up the cause in 2017.
A former Pinellas County prosecutor, Rouson said he was approached to sponsor the Jackson claims bill because of his record on criminal justice issues since he began serving in the Florida House in 2008 and the Senate subsequently.