Dropped arrests leave marks on citizens
Published: Sunday, December 16, 2012 at 5:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 16, 2012 at 5:19 p.m.
Editor's note: When people are arrested, they enter the criminal justice system — with all that that entails. From losing their liberty and being held behind bars to having their face appear online in mugshot galleries and facing legal and financial hurdles, the toll can be enormous. If the charges are dropped, the person is set free — but the damage is done.
Here are three recent instances of people whose cases were dismissed for insufficient evidence.
Case 1: Roger Henderson
Deputy Aaron Nichols pulled over 63-year-old Roger Henderson for a window tint violation on Nov. 19.
It was 4:04 p.m., and Henderson was in a car with his mother.
In the dashboard camera video, Nichols asks Henderson to step out of the car and show his driver's license.
“I've got to urinate,” Henderson tells Nichols. The deputy appears not to hear him.
In his report, Nichols wrote that he asked Henderson to stand in front of his car while he checked the tint.
“Don't move from right there,” Nichols says as he walks to the car and chats with Henderson's mother.
He apologizes for pulling her over and says he thought the window tint looked illegal. He admits he saw it wrong and apologizes again.
“It's my fault. I apologize for stopping you,” he says to the woman.
While Nichols chats with the woman, Henderson finally urinates. The deputy walks back to him.
“With the intention of letting the defendant go with only a warning and explanation of the issue with the front window tint,” he wrote in the report, “I returned to front of my patrol car to observe a large puddle of liquid in front of my patrol car.”
“You alright?” Nichols asks.
“I had to urinate,” Henderson says.
“Did you pee on my car? You just (urinated) on my car,” the deputy says.
An agitated Nichols tells Henderson to put his hands on the car. He asks Henderson how much he had to drink. He says he can't figure out why Henderson thought it was OK to pull “out his privates” and urinate on his car.
“I didn't do it intentionally,” Henderson says, explaining he tried to hide himself as much as he could but he just had to go.
Nichols arrested Henderson on a charge of indecent exposure. It was dropped for insufficient evidence on Dec. 7.
Even so, anyone who looks up Henderson's name online will find his police mugshot along with a charge of indecent exposure. The video of this incident is on various websites dealing with law enforcement activities.
State Attorney Bill Cervone said the county does not have a public urination law, only the city of Gainesville does. He said a charge of indecent exposure requires lewd intent, and in this case there was none.
Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Todd Kelly said he didn't think Henderson urinated out of any malicious intent.
“When I saw the video I couldn't help but feel sorry for the guy,” Kelly said. “I don't think it was his intent to thumb his nose at the police. I think simply it was time. He had to go.”
Case 2: Jeremiah Baker
On Jan. 15, 2011, Jeremiah Baker, 23, was stopped for speeding in northeast Gainesville. The police officers also said he ran a stop sign.
That led to Baker's arrest on possession of marijuana charges.
He spent 48 days in jail before the marijuana charges were dropped by the state attorney for insufficient evidence, according to court records.
“My rights were all the way violated, they arrested me over nothing and I went to jail,” Baker said. “(Police) are supposed to help the community, not hurt the community.''
Gainesville Police Officers Tony Ferro and Anton Lipski stopped Baker and a friend in a parking lot. There are varying accounts of what happened next. One is a police report written by Lipski, which is at odds at key moments with a video shot from a camera in the patrol car.
The officers ask the pair if they've been smoking marijuana, and they say no. The report notes “an odor of cannabis emanating from the vehicle.”
Baker was on probation at the time he was pulled over for a robbery with a firearm charge. Baker has had several convictions for drug and other charges.
The officers said they believed Baker was a flight risk. Baker said he was nervous because he didn't want to go back to jail.
The officers repeatedly searched the car. The camera shows Lipski looking in the passenger side and saying, “There's shake everywhere.” Shake is a colloquial term for marijuana seeds and stems.
“There's no weed shake in the car,” Baker says. “There's nothing in that car. C'mon, man.”
Baker has a large amount of cash on him. The officers say they can't verify where he got it from and put him in the patrol car.
Lipski tells Baker, “Not being on the rental agreement of the car is the biggest problem. You're probably going to get your money back.”
They let the other man go, and Lipski tells Baker that he will be “cut loose soon.” At least 30 minutes have passed.
On the video, Lipski says he wants to let Baker go. Ferro says to arrest him for the shake. Lipski says he can go either way.
“I'm more prone to wanting to get out of here,” Lipski says. “I can do whatever you want to do.”
Lipski then tells Baker he's going to jail.
Baker repeatedly says there is no marijuana in the car. “I didn't find it, he did,” Ferro replies.
“Sir, you know that's wrong,” Baker says.
The officers took a photo of the floor area of the driver side of the car.
In the video, Baker asks if he's going to get his money back. An officer says, “It ain't happening.”
In the car, the officers ask Baker if he wants to give them any information. He says no, I've done nothing wrong. You can take me to jail. “Bet you I'm going to sue,” Baker says in the video. “I'm definitely going to sue you all.”
In his report, Lipski writes, “On the way to the jail, the defendant told me that he knew how to take care of this and that he would ‘shoot us both' when he got out of jail.”
“They heard me say sue, how can you make up a whole sentence?'' Baker said. “Now, why would I say that if I know they have nothing on me?”
After more than a month in the Alachua County jail, Baker is released. There were costs — he had to hire an attorney for $3,500, and racked up money for phone and commissary charges. The incident was especially stressful for his family, Baker said. He said his young son and girlfriend and mother were all worried about him. He said it made him feel powerless.
“People start looking at me like I'm a criminal, and I didn't do anything at all,” he said.
Baker filed an internal affairs complaint against Lipski. After an investigation, GPD found that Baker's complaint was unfounded.
“How can something like that be unfounded?” Baker said. “Two officers in the wrong on camera and it's unfounded.”
Case 3: Gerald Stuckey
Alachua County sheriff's deputies stopped Gerald Stuckey on April 19 near his house in Newberry for a window tint violation.
Stuckey, 43, was in his work truck — he owns a contracting business. It was around 4:30 p.m. He had just finished a job, he said.
“I have worked for some of the wealthiest people in Gainesville. Doctors at Shands, I've worked with people at the sheriff's department and people at GPD,” he said. “I have a long list of clients that trust me.”
Stuckey's traffic stop ended with him spending the night in jail. His reputation suffered, he said, and his face showed up on mugshots online.
The case was later dropped, and he is considering what legal action to take next.
That day, he was going west on Northwest 26th Avenue and turned north onto 170 Street, where he lives. Deputy Christopher Weitzel pulled him over. In his report, Weitzel wrote that the vehicle had just left a “high crime and drug area.”
Stuckey had a truck full of tools. He said he'd been through an FHP checkpoint recently and they looked over his tint and said it was fine.
Florida law says front windows must allow 28 percent of light to come in. Weitzel measured the tint at 25.6 percent.
On a dashboard camera video, Weitzel asks Stuckey if he'd ever been in trouble. Stuckey says if he was pulled over for window tint, why is he asking about that?
“But, anyway, I didn't have a problem. So, he wrote a ticket and then, again, he said, ‘Have you been in trouble? Have you ever done drugs.'
“I don't do drugs, I don't know nothing about no drugs,” Stuckey tells the deputy.
Stuckey said he was annoyed with the line of questioning. Weitzel wrote that Stuckey was “very evasive in his answers.”
Stuckey did not give consent to have his truck searched, so Weitzel called in a K-9 unit. Forty-five minutes passed, and it was a busy street. People stopped and stared, Stuckey said, people he knew, and neighbors.
Stuckey repeatedly asked the officer if he could leave.
The officer took six minutes to write a ticket for the tint, and when Stuckey asked for it, the officer would not give it to him.
“Within 10 minutes there were four cops there,” he said, “like I had robbed a bank. Just for window tints.”
Deputy Bill Arnold and his dog responded. In the video, the deputy walked the dog around a few times, then touched the truck door. The dog immediately sat down.
The report said the K-9 had alerted to the presence of narcotics in the vehicle. No drugs were found. Police did find a handgun wrapped in a towel. Stuckey said sometimes he carries the gun for protection.
He was arrested for carrying a concealed firearm because it was “readily accessible for immediate use, and was concealed in such a manner that it could have been retrieved and used as if it had been carried upon his person,” the report said.
Stuckey said the State Attorney's Office offered him a plea to a misdemeanor count (carrying a concealed weapon without a permit is a felony). He said no, and that once they looked at the evidence they'd see there was no case.
Stuckey's lawyer filed a motion asking the judge to throw out the evidence due to violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Then, the state dropped the case.
“I feel like I was kidnapped, and my civil rights were violated,” Stuckey said. “I was put in handcuffs and that officer with the dog got to go home and sleep in his bed like nothing happened.”
Stuckey spent the night in jail. He said the thing that bothers him the most, besides worrying his family, is his reputation being tainted.
“I got 30 calls wanting to know what happened because it was so out of character,” he said. “I work seven days a week — all the time.”
He said he missed a concrete job that morning in jail, and three of his workers couldn't work because he wasn't there.
Stuckey admits he's been in trouble with the law before, for some traffic offenses. But, he said, he feels like he was profiled, and treated unfairly.
“They tried to ruin my life over a false charge,” he said. “They should be charged and put in jail themselves. They do what they want do, and there's no one to slap them on the wrist.”