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Federal courthouse in winter

The Hammond federal courthouse is seen in this February 2010 file photo

A federal judge has declared a mistrial in the police brutality suit of a Hammond man who now is being accused of attempting to tamper with a juror in his case.

It involves Mitchell Alicea, 44, who is seeking damages from Hammond police officers Aubrey Thomas and Alejandro Alvarez over allegations they used excessive force to arrest him March 29, 2011, for a home burglary.

The case was set for trial this week before U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen at the federal courthouse at Hohman Avenue and Russell Street in Hammond.

U.S. District Court records indicate eight jurors heard evidence in the case from Monday to Wednesday when the judge sent the jury home after lunch Wednesday.

David J. Beach, one of the attorneys for the police officers, filed a court document Thursday alleging one of the eight jurors walked to his car in the court's parking lot and was preparing to leave from the exit on Russell Street when Alicea "pulled up and gestured for (the juror) to roll down his window."

Beach alleges the juror refused and Alicea attempted to block the juror from leaving. Beach said the juror was able to drive away and promptly returned to the courthouse and reported the incident to a deputy U.S. marshal and court officials.

Beach states the juror was concerned for his safety and the safety of his family. It was unclear whether other jurors witnessed the incident. Beach said the judge said the matter has been reported to U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II's office for further investigation.

Beach states that Alicea's lawyers later told the court Alicea didn't realize he was talking to a juror and the encounter "was merely a road rage incident."

Attorneys for the Hammond police officers are asking Van Bokkelen to dismiss Alicea's suit. The judge states in court records he would meet with attorneys on the matter in two weeks.

Gregory Kulis, one of Alicea's attorneys, said Friday he believes Beach's statements are an exaggeration of the incident. He said the judge is properly taking a couple of weeks to give the matter further consideration before making any final decision on the case.

Alicea couldn't be reached Friday for comment. Beach and other attorneys for the Hammond police officers didn't return calls for comment.

Acting U.S. Marshal Todd Nukes and Ryan Holmes, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney, both declined comment.

Kristina Kantar, corporation counsel for the city of Hammond, said Friday she wasn't at the trial and didn't know more about the incident other than what is contained in public court documents.  

Court documents indicate the case arises from a break-in March 29, 2011, at a home in the 4200 block of Towel Avenue. Another resident called police, who chased Alicea from the crime scene. He ran through an alley, into a backyard and jumped into an empty, 5-foot-deep, above-ground pool.

Officer Thomas claims Alicea refused repeated requests to show his hands, so he ordered his police dog to enter the pool, bite and hold Alicea so he could pat Alicea down for a weapon.

Alicea claims he was trying to surrender and that Officer Alvarez punched and kicked him during the arrest. The officers deny they abused Alicea and that their actions were necessary to ensure their own safety and to stop him from escaping.

Alicea filed his suit against the police officers in December 2011. He pleaded guilty in January 2012 to burglary charges.

U.S. District Judge Theresa Springmann dismissed Alicea's suit in 2014, but the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago reversed Springmann's decision and ordered it before a jury.

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Lake County reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.