Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know that this case not only illustrates the fact that official law enforcement reports can’t always be trusted, but also the rights of citizens when approached by officers not involved in an active investigation.
First, let’s begin with the facts of this particular case.
Back in early 2010, a 47-year-old Fort Lauderdale man was in a gas station convenience store, waiting for a fresh cup of coffee to be brewed, when he was approached by a uniformed sheriff’s deputy.
The deputy reportedly recognize the man from a traffic stop more than a month earlier. The deputy alleged that the coffee-sipping citizen “stared him down.” The deputy walked up and demanded the man’s ID. However, believing he had done nothing wrong – and he hadn’t – the man refused. The deputy said he then ordered the man to leave the store, but he refused.
It was at that moment that another sheriff’s deputy walked into the store, saying he was responding to aid an officer who was investigating a suspicious incident. He would later report that when he arrived, the suspect was hostile – yelling, clenching his fists and advancing toward his fellow officer. The second deputy subsequently tackled the suspect to the ground, handcuffed him and charged him with criminal trespassing, assault on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest. He duly noted all of this in the arrest report.
And the case may have been prosecuted without incident had it not been for one thing: a video surveillance camera inside the store. That footage did not back the deputies’ version of events. There was not a sliver evidence that that suspect was acting in a hostile manner, either clenching his fists or making a move toward either deputy or resisting their efforts to arrest him.
What’s more, as it later turned out, the first deputy had never called for back-up in the case. The second deputy later back-tracked and said he had stopped into the store for a quick break to get a drink and use the restroom when he stumbled upon an escalating situation.
As a result, the state not only dropped the charges against the suspect, it filed charges against both deputies. The first was convicted in May of last year of two misdemeanors for falsifying a report, and sentenced to one month in jail. Now, the second deputy is on trial for the same and facing up to two years in prison.
Of course, this is only one scenario in which police were caught being untruthful. It’s certainly not the only case, as our criminal defense lawyers well know.
This case also highlights your right to decline so-called “consensual encounters” with police officers. Basically put, you are obliged to cooperate with officers who have reasonable suspicion that you have done something wrong. If you don’t, you may be arrested.
However, officers who don’t have reasonable suspicion can’t force you to engage them, but they can approach you under the premise of a “consensual encounter.” That is, both parties voluntarily agree to the interaction. The problem is, it’s often difficult for a civilian to tell which is which.
The best way to do this is to simply assert your right to decline to speak to an officer. Be polite, but be explicit and firm. In fact, this is the tact you should take whether you or not you are under arrest. There won’t always be a video camera to refute an officer’s story, so it’s important for you to be as clear as possible, and say as little as possible thereafter.