Battle Continues: Finkelstein Asks For U. S. Probe Of Satz Over Accepting “Torture” Of Suspects

BY BUDDY NEVINS

TV star and Public Defender Howard Finkelstein has raised the ante in his public brawl with State Attorney Mike Satz’s Office.

On Friday, Finkelstein called for a U. S. Justice Department probe of “a long, distressing history of excusing and accepting threatening, improper interrogation techniques by local law enforcement and now has explicitly endorsed the threat of torture during interrogations.”

The letter was prompted by a growing feud over the handling of a Coconut Creek officer’s interrogation of a theft suspect while wielding a Taser. Here is the earlier Browardbeat.com post on that incident.

This is just the latest in a long line of disputes between two of the leading law enforcement figures in Broward.

Added to the mix is Finkelstein’s visibility as the host of the “Help Me Howard” legal advice feature on WSVN Channel 7 News. One of the complaints from a prosecutor was that the Public Defender was misusing his role on TV to propagate his views against Satz.

To sum it up simply:

*Finkelstein Believes Satz and his office whitewashes police misconduct and condones illegal interrogation techniques by officers. He accused Satz of “never” prosecuting an officer for a “bad” shooting of a suspect.

The Public Defender, whose job entails representing the poor charged with a crime, also believes that Satz prosecutes needless cases against minor drug offenders. In doing so, Satz victimizes the mentally ill, the sick and indigents who are not a threat to public safety.  This policy also clogs up the court system and the jails.

“The feud is between Satz and the Constitution,” Finkelstein said.
*Satz Believes that police seldom break the law. He believes that he prosecutes bad cops when there is evidence to do so.

To counter Finkelstein’s accusation about wasting resources by prosecuting minor drug crimes, Satz told Browardbeat.com a year ago that he enforces the law.

“It is not my role to decide which laws to enforce and which laws to ignore,” Satz said in that earlier interview. “I don’t write laws. The Legislature does.”

Finkelstein and Satz were re-elected in 2012, so expect this battle of philosophies to go on for awhile.

Le me add an aside here that I find interesting:

Jeannette Camacho is the taxpayer-paid Coconut Creek police’s legal advisor. She began her job in Nov., 2011 after a career in the same unit of the State Attorney’s Office that investigates police officers.

I’m not saying there is anything improper in the decision not to prosecute the Coconut Creek officer for his interrogation techniques.  But it is an interesting coincidence.

Here is the letter:

 

March 1,2013

Mr. Thomas E. Perez
U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Mr. Perez,

The Broward State Attorney’s Office has a long, distressing history of excusing and accepting threatening, improper interrogation techniques by local law enforcement and now has explicitly endorsed the threat of torture during interrogations.

I am the elected Public Defender in the 1ih Judicial Circuit, Fort Lauderdale, Broward County Florida. I am writing to advise the Department of a yet another instance of reprehensible behavior by a law enforcement agency in Broward County condoned by our State Attorney office.

Coconut Creek Officer Jarnes Yacobellis interrogated a 19 year old theft suspect in a small bathroom with the door closed. Officer Yacobellis ordered the suspect to get into the bathtub and turned on the sink faucet. Officer Yacobellis then activated his taser and threatened to torture the suspect. Officer Yacobellis’ supervisor Sergeant Coppola entered the bathroom and observed Officer Yacobellis with his activated taser at his side, the suspect standing in the bathtub looking frightened, and the sink faucet running at full capacity. Officer Yacobellis advised Sergeant Coppola that he had been telling the suspect how his report was going to read when he resists arrest and has to be tased.

The State Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute Officer Yacobellis and issued a “close out” memorandum, which I have attached. Assistant State Attorney Stephanie Newman concluded that “[I]t is entirely possible that Officer Yacobellis may have taken out his taser in an attempt to scare Blake into confessing where he had pawned the missing jewelry. 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.”

There have been three DNA exonerations in Broward County in which the State Attorney obtained murder convictions using the defendants’ “confessions.” Jerry Townsend, Frank Smith and Anthony Caravella were all diagnosed with mental retardation prior to trial. They had been coerced into confessing to murders they did not commit. They were exonerated by DNA after serving decades in prison- Frank Smith died in prison before he was exonerated. According to statistics from the Innocence Project of Florida, there have been 13 men in Florida exonerated by DNA. The same Broward state attorney prosecuted three of those 13 cases. In addition, John Purvis, who was known to be mentally disabled, was prosecuted and convicted of murder using a coerced confession. He was exonerated after the real murderer confessed. Tim Brown was 14 with an LQ. of 56 when he confessed to a murder he did not commit. His case was dismissed after a federal judge ruled his confession was coerced. Despite these chilling statistics, the same prosecutor’s office has now implicitly approved the use of torture as a means of obtaining confessions.

I contacted the Department in 2011 regarding the state attorney’s failure to investigate several Broward Sheriff Office deputies for obtaining controlled substances by fraud. My letter fell on deaf ears. I am once again reaching out to the Department on behalf of the poor, young and mentally challenged citizens of Broward County who continue to be abused by law enforcement with impunity because the state attorney office stands silent.

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.

 

Sincerely, 

 

 

Howard Finkelstein

Public Defender

cc:
Michael B. Steinback Special Agent in Charge



16 Responses to “Battle Continues: Finkelstein Asks For U. S. Probe Of Satz Over Accepting “Torture” Of Suspects”

  1. Just Saying says:

    “It is not my role to decide which laws to enforce and which laws to ignore,” Satz said in that earlier interview. “I don’t write laws. The Legislature does.”

    VERSUS

    12th Curcuit (Gulf Coast area) GOP State Attorney Ed Brodsky:
    Brodsky and other legal eagles say if he thinks criminal charges make no sense for a couple coping with a terrible and fatal disease — one that has put Cathy Jordan in a wheelchair and is expected to get gradually worse — Brodsky could just decline to file any charge at all.

    He doesn’t need to find some technical excuse, either, like a foul-up with the chain of evidence or the like.

    “We’re vested with prosecutorial discretion,” Brodsky told me. If he thinks filing charges is not in the best interest of the people and the state, he doesn’t have to.

    http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20130228/COLUMNIST/130229577?tc=obnetwork

  2. Silent Majority says:

    The people of this County do not realize there are two Hoaward’s, TV Howard and Public Defender Howard. TV Hoawrd does nice things for people. PD Howard and his office work long and hard to make sure criminals get right back on the street.

    Someone should ask the victims of the crime in the Yacobellis case if they feel bad the cop came close to the line. I doubt they care.

    Ask anyone whose house has been robbed in this County if they would care if an officer came close or went a little over the line for them. They wouldnt mind one bit.

    Howard speaks for criminals. Sadly the people of this county are blinded by their TV sets to see this.

    Why do you think the FT Lauderdale cops were recently aquitted, the Jury saw right through the BS Howard’s client tried to sell them about the police officers that aressted him after a high speed chase through a residential neighborhood.

    Of all the complaints Howard has made about law enforcement in the last few years, how many of the accusations have been made about the Plantation PD where he lives? Zip. He knows enough to keep his cops happy.

    Howard can have his Office for as long as he likes. But Howie, you should know you will never pass the office to Gordon Weeks or anyone else without an election. There are quite a few people who are going to run and make sure your “legacy” is erased over time just like you did to Al.

    Howard, enjoy it while it lasts, because it wont last forever. Maybe this term and another, no one has a problem waiting you out.

    I am sure Howard is the type of guy who walked out of Zero Dark Thirty unhappy the Navy Seals killed Bin Laden without his PD present and outraged that torture was used to get the people who took down the world trade center. Sadly, this is the real Howard the TV fans dont know.

  3. excompassionateconservative says:

    I do not wish to pay taxes to overpay the Coconut Creek city manager nor do I wish to pay taxes to a PUBLIC SERVANT who does this to a suspect. If this allowed then anyone of you or your offspring are also at risk if they run into this officer. The actions also open up one lawsuit after another and rightly so by people who have faced similar circumstances. Many of us left foreign countries where the police are not under any control and can do as they please.

    I used to pay taxes in Coconut Creek but no longer do. I can however, express my distaste the same way I express my distaste at Hollywood by never spending a dime within the city limits.

    Has the police chief and/or union given their beliefs in this action or offer to be tasered in a bathroom with the water running while being questioned?

  4. Lawyer Who Knows says:

    We’ve got a State Attorney who still believes that a single reefer should ruin a kid’s life and that cops are always right to shoot down the defenseless homeless and mentally ill. Howard does what he was elected to do which is uphold the Constitution for everybody. Keep it up, Howard.

  5. Trolololol says:

    Silent Majority,

    Constitutional rights are not put up for a majority vote. What the people want is irrelevant.

  6. experience says:

    This kid was not even arrested. How many other kids get this kind of treatment but never have the courts shine a light on the cops behavior? This is why we scrutinize cops and their tactics because they are so often WRONG and we never know about their behavior because Satz just Makes It Go Away for the police.

  7. Silent Majority says:

    Of course let me guess, if it was any of your houses that got robbed and the cops got back your belongings, i doubt you would have a problem with the methods used here.

  8. Lamberti is garbage says:

    I don’t want to pay taxes for the Criminal Defenders Office. Go away Howard …you and your pigtail.

  9. I Remember says:

    Does anyone remember when Subject Finkelstein was arrested for drugs and something involving a women in a vehicle in Fort Lauderdale someone tell me how a felon is an Officer of the Court

    FROM BUDDY:

    Howard Finkelstein was arrested in 1987 — 26 years ago! — after being found in his car with drugs. The Bar suspended his license and he pleaded guilty in court. He went through recovery successfully, passed all his blood and urine tests required back then by the court and got his Bar license back. He has been sober for many, many years.

    “Tell me how a felon is an Officer of the Court” It is as simple as this: He got elected. Obviously the majority of Broward’s voters have more forgiveness than you.

  10. Bob Adams says:

    Michael Satz certainly DOES decide which laws to enforce! Anti-corruption laws – if an elected official is involved, forget it. Satz only prosecuted elected officials when the feds were on his ass! Now it’s “see no evil” again. You go Howard! The justice department needs to investigate the Broward State Attorney’s office!

  11. excompassionateconservative says:

    “Of course let me guess, if it was any of your houses that got robbed and the cops got back your belongings, i doubt you would have a problem with the methods used here.”

    If I was living and loved living in a third world or totalitarian or fundamentalist run society I guess that would be the norm.

    I was not born in this great country and left a place as I described many decades ago. Perhaps this makes me more sensative to human rights and constitutional laws to prevent abuses of the indiviudal vs the State or the State Religion.

    As a man of God I value the morals of the culture and the people in it vs the objects of loss.

    No faith or nation or society benefits from forced coercions from those in power to those beneath.

  12. Close but... says:

    I believe Howard was charged at one point with drug possesion with an amount very close to being trafficing after he rear ended a police car with a briefcase full of drug.

    As for the voters, the voters do not know the truth about his history with drugs and running into a police car. Luckily for Howard he was handed the office and no one of any value ever has run against him. If the people knew the real truth about his past he would most likely get elected but the percentages may not be so overwhelming.

    No matter, rest assured Howard will not be able to pass on the office without an election to Gordon Weeks or anyone else when the time comes. Hopefully Howard’s successor will be as respectful to his legacy as Howard was to Big Al’s, lol.

    FROM BUDDY:

    This comes up every time he runs. Here is the story from the Miami Herald:

    LAWYER GETS PROBATION FOR DRUG VIOLATIONS
    Miami Herald, The (FL) – Thursday, November 19, 1987
    Author: JAMES F. McCARTY Herald Staff Writer
    Howard Finkelstein was ready to be sentenced for drug possession crimes Wednesday, and the show of support was remarkable.

    Lawyers packed the Broward courtroom of Circuit Judge Patti Englander Henning. Four circuit judges testified on Finkelstein’s behalf. Seventy-five colleagues and former clients wrote letters of support for the Broward lawyer renowned as much for his trademark ponytail as for defending civil rights of the downtrodden.

    While Henning said she was moved by the display of camaraderie, she declined to show Finkelstein preferential treatment. She sentenced him to five years of probation — the maximum punishment under state guidelines — plus $2,000 in fines and community service, suspended his driver license and ordered him to continue drug treatment for two years.

    Henning, however, withheld adjudication of the sentence, which means Finkelstein, 34, will not have a criminal felony record or lose his civil rights.

    “Five years’ probation beats the hell out of death,” Finkelstein said afterward. “I’m one of the luckiest men in the world today.”

    Then Finkelstein hugged his wife Donna and wouldn’t let go, while tears streamed down both their faces.

    The Florida Bar Association is expected within 11 days to suspend Finkelstein from practicing law for three years, said Harry Gulkin, his attorney. Gulkin said he would ask the Florida Supreme Court to set aside the suspension. If the request is denied, Finkelstein said, he will work as an investigator on homicide cases for the Broward Public Defender’s Office.

    When Finkelstein was arrested for driving under the influence and for possession of three narcotic pain relievers, he said he was in the throes of drug addiction. Had he not been arrested, Finkelstein said, he feels he probably would have died soon after.

    Finkelstein was arrested in July after his car ran into a Broward Sheriff’s Office patrol car driven by Deputy R.T. Brown in the 2000 block of Northwest 56th Avenue in Lauderhill. He failed a roadside sobriety test and pills were later found in his car, according to sheriff’s records.”

  13. Chaz Stevens, Genius says:

    As a recovering alcoholic, I applaud Howie for getting his life back in order.

    Call it a disease, addiction, character flaw, or something else, alcoholism affects about 1/13 adult Americans. According to some statistics, the first year recidivism rate (returning back to drink) is 95-97%.

    I challenge everyone to consider their own personal lives, and I’m willing to bet, nearly everyone has been touched by alcoholism — whether they themselves, a family member, friend, etc.

    If Finklestein conquered his demons 25 years ago, and has remained clean and sober, we don’t need to throw him a party. No celebration is needed for him “acting normal.”

    No need for that.

    However, I’m willing to bet he’s got some tales of experience, strength, and hope to share. And his stories might just help others struggling in their own personal hell.

  14. In re Howard says:

    Howard must be applauded for overcoming his demons and no reasonable person can continue to hang his mistakes on him 25 years later.

    On the other hand, the problem is while he begged and got absolution for his sins he refues to afford to the same to others.

    No one is perfect, police officers especially deal with a very stressful job and in fairness from time to time make mistakes.

    The problem here is that Howard seeks to tar and feather these officers and destroy their careers without a second thought. No I am not commenting on Yacobellis, there is merit to his position on that one.

    There have been other officers Howard has made accusations about that were based on the word of his criminal clients who have a bias to say anything to get out of trouble.

    Top that with the instances where Howard’s investigator Al Smith made allegations based on his own faulty investigations causing good officers to be subjected to investigation based on nothing.

    I agree bad officers who committ crimes should be run off. On the other side no one can expect perfection from anyone, to try and ruin a career over a simple mistake flies in the face of all those people who gave Howard a break many years ago.

  15. Chaz Stevens, Genius says:

    We hold cops to a higher stander because we give them a gun and a badge. The only problem with that is, they’re recruited from the human race.

  16. christine says:

    I have long ago abandoned the concept that there are any perfect people. We all make mistakes. Some of them bigger than others- but no one over the age of 18 is unscathed. Let’s grow up as a society, and move beyond what Howard did 26 years ago, or who’s sleeping with who, or who said what to whom, wars of words and focus on the issues at hand. Were/are illegal methods are means being utilized by the cops in Broward County or not?

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