Public defender protests police officer's tactics
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (WSVN) -- The young man at the center of a legal battle between Broward's public defender and the county's state attorney is speaking up regarding a disturbing encounter with a Coconut Creek police officer.
Broward's Chief Public Defender, Howard Finklestein, is outraged the state attorney has decided not to charge Coconut Creek Officer James Yacobellis with a crime. Finkelstein said, "I believe that a crime was committed. I believe the officer should be charged with a crime."
In August of 2011, Yacobellis was investigating the theft of jewelry from a home. The suspect was identified as 19-year-old Blake Robinson.
According to the state attorney's memo, the officer took Robinson into a bathroom and made him stand in the tub. He then turned the water in the sink on to drown out their conversation. He then pointed his Taser, as he questioned Robinson about the theft.
After a court appearance where charges were dropped against Robinson, he recounted the ordeal. "He pointed the Taser at me, and I'm asking him, 'Why am I getting into the tub?' and he said, 'It will clean the blood off easier, and it will be less of a mess.' I was scared for my life.
"He took his Taser out and said, 'I've never gotten to use it and would love to use it,'" Robinson continued. "He's pointing the Taser at me, and I see all the lights all over me, and he hit me on the shoulder. I collapsed and hit the drain, and he told me if he shot me on my kidney I would collapse and hit my head."
This interrogation technique is what Finklestein, who has a segment called "Help Me Howard" on Channel 7, has an issue with. "This is what we do in Guantamo Bay, in black op rendition sites. This is not what we do in Coconut Creek to find out whether a 19-year-old committed theft," said Finklestein.
In deciding not to prosecute, Assistant State Attorney Stafanie Newman, wrote, "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," said Newman.
We spoke to Newman on Wednesday. She said, "I am not saying I condone the way this particular officer conducted his investigation or techniques, but the facts did not rise to the level of crime," said Newman.
Former Miami Police Chief Ken Harms, an expert witness in police misconduct matters, also had questions regarding the investigation. "Apparently, they are of the opinion of doing bodily harm. Did he do it for the right reasons? I'm not sure that would qualify as giving him a free ride on it," said Harms.
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