BY BUDDY NEVINS
Public Defender “Help Me” Howard Finkelstein and the State Attorney’s Office are at it again.
This time they were railing at one another over why a Coconut Creek officer was cleared of wrongdoing despite questioning a theft suspect while wielding a Taser.
State Attorney Mike Satz’s prosecutors cleared the Officer James Yacobellis in a memo stating “It 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.”
Here is the chronology from that point:
* On Feb. 26, Browardbulldog.org broke the story of the case.
* On Feb. 27, after reading the Browardbulldog.org story, Finkelstein wrote an angry letter to Satz. He charged that the State Attorney’s Office was ignoring “the use of torture or the threat of torture….akin to a black op rendition site.”
* Also on Feb. 27, WSVN Channel 7, where Finkelstein is the host of the “Help Me Howard” legal advice show, then broadcast a story on the incident.
On the transcript of the broadcast Finkelstein said:
“This is what we do in Guantanamo Bay 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.”
* On Feb. 28, the State Attorney’s Office struck back. The defense came in complaint from Asst. State Attorney Stefanie Newman to WSVN Channel 7.
Why Newman? She wrote the memo that closed the investigation against Officer Yacobellis including the offending language justifying the use of a Taser.
Newman told WSVN that the case was not clear-cut and that there was conflicting testimony.
Her most pointed criticism of Finkelstein were her charges that he was misusing his status at the station to make biased statements about the case.
“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 public officer for political gain,” Newman wrote.
Regardless of any conflicting testimony, its shocking (no pun intended) that Newman made any excuse whatsoever for an interrogation tactic which is akin to what has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. There should be no justification in the United States for using a Taser to “scare” a suspect.
Here are the letters. The first is Finkelstein’s hand delivered Feb. 27. Following it is Newman’s letter dated Feb. 28:
Michael J. Satz
Office of the State Attorney
Broward County Courthouse
Fort Lauderdale, FL 22201
Dear Mr. Satz,
I am terrified by your office’s handling of allegations involving Officer James Yacobellis’ use of a taser when questioning a 19 year old innocent man regarding a theft complaint.
The close-out memo authored by ASA Stefanie Newman and approved by ASA Tim Donnelly dated October 19, 2012, illustrates the lengths your office will go to protect a police officer and appallingly suggests that you as the top law enforcement officer approve the use of torture or threat of torture as a police investigatory tool in Broward County. You are effectively allowing Coconut Creek to act akin to a black op rendition site. What’s next – waterboarding teens who steal candy? Your office goes to great lengths to absolve an officer so it doesn’t have to take action, despite the obvious concerns of Yacobellis’ supervisor. Sergeant Coppola said that Officer Yacobellis was behind a closed door with his taser activated, that the suspect was standing in the tub and looked frightened, and that Yacobellis made statements to Coppola wherein he admitted he was threatening the suspect. You approved the closeout memo containing the following: “It 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.” This statement alone is stunning. It clearly approves the use of a taser to terrorize a suspect into admitting a crime.
Despite my many requests over years that your office practice equal justice when investigating law enforcement and the wealthy and powerful, this is yet another instance in which your office has turned a blind eye to police misconduct, which has now risen to the use of torture or the threat of torture. As I warned in my earlier letters, your inaction has encouraged a cavalier attitude among police officers that they are beyond reproach. This close out memo will serve to unleash these officers beyond simply lying under oath. After Townsend, after Purvis, after Smith, after Caravella, how can your office continue on this course? Has your office learned nothing from these cases? Is your office not horrified by its role in these prosecutions? I am at a loss at the continued acceptance by your office of mistreatment, coercion, and shoddy investigations by law enforcement. Your office’s decision not to prosecute Yacobellis, or, at the very least, publically denounce his conduct, is inexcusable.
Below are Stefanie Newman’s memo complaining about Finkelstein to WSVN (letter courtesy of Myactsofsedition.com ). Click to enlarge.