Legal battle continues between local public defender and State Attorney
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (WSVN) -- A Legal battle is brewing between the public defender and State Attorney in Broward County. And now a request from one of them could turn into a federal case.
The public defender says, the State Attorney has a long history of looking the other way when investigating the wealthy, powerful, or police officers. Now, Broward's Chief Public Defender Howard Finklestein is asking the Department of Justice to step in.
Finklestein has fired off a letter to the United States Justice Department and he is asking the department to investigate the state attorney's office for not charging a Coconut Creek police officer for the way he interrogated 19-year-old Blake Robinson in the bathroom of a Coconut Creek home, back in 2011.
Blake Robinson recounts the encounter and says, "He brought me into the bathroom, he told me to get into the tub, and proceeded to take his taser out."
Robinson was being questioned about missing jewelry.
He says Coconut Creek Officer James Yacobellis, turned on the water to the sink and ordered him to stand in the tub, so if he was tased and hit his head, the blood would run down the drain. "He is pointing the taser at me, the red light is all on my shoulder, he's telling me he could hit me in my shoulder, I'll collapse and hit the drain. He's telling me if he shoot me in my kidney, I'll collapse and hit my head," said Robinson.
In his letter to the Department of Justice, Finkelestein, who appears in the Help me Howard segment on channel 7 writes, "I believe Officer Yacobellis violated the suspect's civil rights and that the failure to prosecute him is an affront to our justice system. Please do something." Finklestein adds, "When the person they are investigating is a police officer, a politician or a wealthy person, they suddenly morph into defense lawyers and look for all the problems in the case to justify not charging that person."
After channel 7 first covered the story last week, Assistant State Attorney Stefanie Newman, wrote the following letter to the station, taking issue with the coverage, and saying of Finklestein's quote, "It is truly disappointing that a public official is using his side job, which purports to be to aid the public, to smear a local police officer for political gain," said Newman.
In deciding not to prosecute, Newman said there were conflicting accounts from witnesses.
Newman said, "I'm not saying I condone the way the officer conducted his investigation, or the techniques he may have used, but the facts did not rise to the level of a crime."
Today, the state attorney responded to Finklestein's letter to the Department of Justice saying, "Our office stands ready to assist the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice in any way that we can. We reiterate our position. There simply was not enough evidence that would have enabled the state to move forward in good faith and prosecute this officer," replied Newman.
Yacobellis was suspended for two weeks by his department for the way he handled the interrogation and Robinson was never charged in the crime.
The chief of the Coconut Creek Police Department said he is confident in the State Attorney's investigation.
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