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Two Florida Police Officers Acquitted in Custody Death

November 6, 1991

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Two police officers were acquitted Wednesday of murder and aggravated battery charges in the beating death of a construction worker they stopped for hitchhiking.

Officers Glen Thurlow and Stephen Rollins were charged in the November 1990 death of 34-year-old Robert Jewett. Jurors deliberated all day Tuesday and returned their verdict Wednesday morning.

During the 2 1/2 -week trial, a witness testified the two officers held Jewett and beat him repeatedly in the groin with a flashlight.

The courtroom, packed with fellow West Palm Beach police officers and relatives of the officers, erupted in cheers when the verdict was announced.

″A year of torture is finally over with,″ Rollins said. ″It’s been a long year.″

Both officers are suspended with pay, and neither may return to police work until internal investigations are completed.

Thurlow and Rollins said they were only defending themselves after Jewett became violent and reached for Rollins’ gun.

″It was just a bad accident. That’s all it was,″ Thurlow said after the verdict.

Jewett was hitchhiking on a highway when the officers stopped their unmarked police car to arrest him.

According to the officers, Jewett began scuffling and the three fell to the sidewalk. The fall broke Jewett’s neck in several places, bruised his lung and tore a hole in his heart, according to doctors called as defense experts.

The officers testified that Jewett reached for the gun and pulled a knife, which was found next to his body. No fingerprints were found on the knife.

Their accounts didn’t match the testimony of Joe Huffman.

Huffman said he saw Thurlow holding Jewett around the neck while Rollins beat him in the groin with a police flashlight.

A doctor testified that Jewett suffered asphyxia as a result of a choke hold. Another doctor testified that injuries to his testicles were reminiscent of a torture case.

Prosecutor Andrew Slater was asked if the jury’s acquittal might send a signal to police. He dismissed the suggestion, adding: ″It’s a verdict in a case. ″