Chastised Deputy Sues Station Over Wheelchair Footage

By Andrew Gauthier 


The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office faced national scrutiny in early 2008 when a video of police officers dumping a quadriplegic man out his wheelchair circulated on the web. Brian Sterner, a quadriplegic from a past neck injury, was taken into a Tampa, FL area jail in January of ’08 on a traffic violation. Surveillance cameras captured police turning over Sterner’s wheelchair, causing him to fall violently to the floor.

Now Steven Dickey, a deputy in the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office, and unsuspecting supporting actor in the Sterner tape, is suing the owners of St. Petersburg CBS-affiliate WTSP and reporter Mike Deeson for slander and defamation. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Dickey, who was cleared of wrongdoing in the incident, is accusing the station of editing the video in such a way as to implicate him in the abuse.


Surveillance footage of the incident shows Dickey walking by the Hillsborough officers as they place Sterner back in his wheelchair. At one point, as Dickey passes the scene and walks towards the camera, it appears as if he were laughing. (Full video here). In its report, WTSP aired a condensed version of the video that utilized editing dissolves to string together the significant moments.

“We concluded the station has deliberately misrepresented the facts and they have done that to make the film more entertaining or to help their ratings,” said Dickey’s attorney Elihu Berman. Dickey contends that he was laughing because of an unrelated joke that another deputy had told him at the time.

Barbara Wall, an attorney for Gannet Co., which owns WTSP, wrote in a letter obtained by the St. Petersburg Times that WTSP provided a “fair and accurate account” of the original surveillance footage.