Public defender wants police officer fired
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (WSVN) -- The State Attorney cleared an officer accused of crossing the line during an interrogation, but the decision has a public defender outraged, and now a legal battle could be brewing.
"This is so far off the grid," said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, "this is so far outside the constitution, that it should shock everyone that hears this."
Finklestein is outraged the State Attorney has decided not to charge Coconut Creek police officer James Yacobellis with a crime.
In August of 2011, Officer Yacobellis was investigating the theft of jewelry from this home. Nineteen-year-old Blake Robinson was identified as a suspect.
The teen was made to stand in a tub with the water running, according to the State Attorney's report, as Yacobellis pointed a Taser at him and questioned him about the theft.
In a memo, the State Attorney decided not to prosecute, stating, "While this may not have been the best technique to interrogate a suspect, the intent, by all witness accounts, was certainly to help the victims to recover their missing items."
Finkelstein, who you may know from the 7News segment "Help Me Howard," calls the officers' actions illegal. "This is what we do in Guantanamo Bay," said Finkelstein, "in Black Op rendition sites, this is not what we do or should be doing in Coconut Creek to find out whether a 19-year-old committed theft."
The chief investigator in Finkelstein's office said Officer Yacobellis was clearly trying to intimidate the teen into confessing and calls the State Attorney's investigation incomplete at best. "You can't use threats and intimidation in order to recover property on an investigation," said Chief Investigator Allen Smith. "They don't teach that tactic in the police academy."
The teen was never charged in the jewelry theft.
Finkelstein said he will make it his mission to make sure Officer Yacobellis is charged. "Our police officers are important. They protect our neighborhoods. They are not supposed to use torture like you use in a war zone to our children."
The Assistant State Attorney said she did plenty of interviews and defends her investigation. She said the officer's actions did not rise to a crime. "We have to look at do the facts rise to the level that a crime has been committed?" said Stefanie Newman. "That's what we're looking at. I'm not saying that I condone the way this particular officer conducted his investigation or the techniques he may have used, but the facts did not rise to the level of a crime."
The officer was suspended for two weeks by the Coconut Creek Police Department, not for the use of his Taser as a source of intimidation, but not using proper interviewing techniques.
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