FEATURED IN INVESTIGATION
Let’s say you’re a gang unit investigator. In fact, let’s say you’re the lead gang investigator for your agency. And let’s say you’re on duty late at night and see a car full of junior gangbangers driving through your city. You know the driver has a suspended ops and the two guys in the backseat are on probation with a 6 p.m. curfew. You give chase but they manage to elude you.
Now, let’s say you observe one of the gangbangers who was in the car loitering outside a local school a few hours later and decide to conduct a Terry stop. Let's call her Miss Banger. During the conversation, you notice her furtive glance behind you. You turn to look and see another gangbanger peering out from behind a pillar inside the schoolyard. You know this second person because you just arrested him for assault a few months back.
Proper police protocol dictates that you make contact with the schoolyard trespasser and investigate his illegal presence on school property. When Mr. Banger decides to get froggy during the pat-down process, you place him butt first on the ground. After a few minutes of begging and pleading (along with some great gang intel he gives you), you agree not to arrest Mr. Banger at that moment, give him back his personal belongings (except for the edged weapon you took from his pocket) and send him on his way. Less than 30 minutes later, his intel pays off and you arrest the two passenger gangbangers on violation of probation charges.
About an hour later, your sergeant contacts you and informs you that Mr. Banger just reported you on use of excessive force. It seems he didn’t like the fact that you put him on his butt and further alleges you punched him in the mouth. You deny the claim of excessive force (the mouth punch), admit to ground stabilization and justify it based on his frogginess and past history of violence, his known presence in a gang and his furtive glances toward the exit during the pat-down frisk. You also know the 24/7 video camera in the schoolyard will support your version of the events.
When your boss interviews Mr. Banger, he sees there’s no cut lip, swelling, redness or any indication of “fist-to-lip” contact and verifies that fact with a photograph. But Mr. Banger demands to fill out a citizen complaint form, so your supervisor takes it and sends it along with his report and the schoolyard video up the chain to the chief’s office.
Worst-case scenario is the chief sends it to IAB who calls you in for an interview, clears the matter with an “unfounded” finding and you’re back on your way cleaning up the streets. Best-case scenario is that the police chief sends it back to your immediate supervisor for a unit review. After your gang unit commander investigates it, he reaches the same conclusion. These are both plausible situations, unless you’re Orlando Police Department (OPD) Gang Unit Detective Dante Candelaria.
The Witch Hunt
For almost a year and a half, Det. Candelaria has lived a life a hell. The scenario I just described happened to him back in late January 2011. Neither of the two logical administrative reviews happened. Instead, the physical crimes sergeant responsible for reviewing all assault reports, decided two weeks later to take this complaint and go off on what's been described by more than a few members of the OPD as a “witch hunt.”
Indeed, there was never a shred of evidence that the mouth punch ever occurred. The video tape from the school showed that it never happened. The photo of Mr. Banger's lip an hour afterward showed no cut, bruise, redness or swelling. Two female associates who were present in the schoolyard, but left when ordered to, claimed to witness the incident. But the video showed that they left the area before the ground stabilization even happened. Yet the sergeant took sworn statements from both of them in spite of the video evidence that showed they were not there when the alleged act occurred. And when Mr. Banger embellished his story with a claim that he cleaned up his bleeding wound in the bathroom of a fast-food joint moments afterward, the video from that establishment shows that he never went near the restroom. It shows him entering, borrowing a cell phone and leaving. In fact, the person who loaned him the cell phone when interviewed said she never saw a cut lip on Mr. Banger.
However, in spite of all this exculpatory evidence, the physical crimes sergeant types up a probable cause affidavit which alleges false imprisonment and battery, and zips it off to the state attorney’s office for filing.
But it gets worse. When the state attorney gets the PC affidavit, he decides to up the ante by filing a second charge of false imprisonment for the brief Terry stop of the person you spoke to earlier outside the school. So now your brief detention of Mr. Banger in the schoolyard, a lawful seizure by anyone’s standpoint, has resulted in two felony charges of false imprisonment, each carrying a term of imprisonment of 10 years, and a misdemeanor charge of battery for which there's no physical evidence.
When you respectfully decline the gracious offer of the state to cop to the misdemeanor battery, they decide to “enhance” the two false imprisonment charges to two counts of false imprisonment with a deadly weapon, which adds five years time to each felony count. So now, what started out as great piece of police work in late January 2011 that resulted in two dangerous suspects being arrested and jailed, now finds you, 15 months later, facing 31 years in a state prison.
To be continued.