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Jury Rules Officers Violated Woman’s Civil Rights in Domestic Dispute

March 1, 1990

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ A federal jury awarded a woman $1.1 million after deciding that four sheriff’s officers, including her estranged husband’s father and uncle, violated her civil rights when they intervened in a domestic dispute.

Lori Bowden of Palatka said that in 1987 the four St. Johns County officers used their positions to find and detain her so her husband, Tommy Wayne Bowden Jr., could take their infant son from her.

Jurors deliberated for about 70 minutes Tuesday before ruling against the defendants: Lt. Byron Kirkland, Deputy Melvin Tennyson and auxiliary officers Tommy Wayne Bowden Sr. and Fleming Bowden. The Bowdens are Tommy Bowden’s father and uncle.

Gayle Smith Swedmark, who represented the defendants, said she will appeal ″on the basis that it was an outrageous award.″

William L. Townsend, Mrs. Bowden’s attorney, said he was satisfied with the jury’s award. ″I thought something very outrageous had been done to her,″ he said.

Mrs. Bowden testified that she and her husband separated in May 1987, but he returned on Oct. 5, saying he wanted to rekindle their marriage.

She testified that when she tried to flee, he shot the truck she was driving, disabling it. She returned home with him but fled the next day with her 2-year-old son, Tommy Wayne Bowden III, and filed aggravated assault charges against her husband.

On Oct. 9, Tennyson and the auxiliary deputies tracked her to a friend’s apartment in St. Augustine. They told her they wanted to check on the boy’s condition and refused to let her leave until her husband also saw him. When he arrived at the apartment, he took the boy, she said.

She then returned home to be with her son. Five days later, Bowden was arrested for aggravated assault.

Townsend argued that Kirkland, the watch commander that night, approved the officers’ action despite a policy forbidding uniformed officers from interfering in incidents involving relatives of officers.

Ms. Swedmark said the men were merely checking on the baby’s welfare and that it was unclear whether Bowden took the child or Mrs. Bowden voluntarily gave him the boy.

The Bowdens are now divorced and Mrs. Bowden has custody of their son.

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