Road Rage incident leads to Deputy’s arraignment

A 37-year-old Broward Sheriff’s deputy faces four criminal counts – burglary, battery, criminal mischief and petty theft – resulting from a traffic encounter with a driver in May. Formally arraigned on February 22, Paul Pletcher faces a maximum sentence of 11 years after entering a written plea of not guilty through his attorney, Alberto Millan, on Feb. 7.

The seven-year veteran has suspended without pay since Jan. 30th, coinciding with turning himself in to authorities at the Broward Main Jail. Under investigation for months, Pletcher was initially placed on paid leave May 24 following a 911 call by a woman who reported the deputy pulled her over, berated her profanely with racial slurs and absconded with her cellphone.

Neyda Osorio, 38, reported to the Plantation Police that Pletcher pulled next to her truck waiting at light on Broward Boulevard near State Road 7 when her friend noticed Pletcher yelling at them. Off-duty and out of uniform, Pletcher was armed and driving his patrol car.

According to Osorio, the deputy gave her the middle finger to which she returned with her own middle finger. Pletcher turned his flashing lights on and pulled her over.

Osorio told her friend to record the incident with her cellphone.

Pletcher demanded the phone once he realized he was being recorded, but Osorio put the phone in her purse. Putting his arm across her neck, he reached into the purse and retrieved the phone.  Ososio was then instructed to pull into a nearby bank parking lot, but was shocked to see Pletcher driving off with her phone and driver’s license.

Plantation police recovered the phone near where Osorio was pulled over. Broken in two pieces, the officers were able to put the phone together and recover the video.

State Officials, Law Enforcement Put Brakes to Lead-foot Cops

A sweep orchestrated by South Florida Police Chiefs and elected officials to crack down on speeding cops comes on the heels of a Sun-Sentinel investigation uncovering rampant abuse of the traffic laws.

In response to the three part series printed in Feb., various cities have begun to devise methods to track what appear to be nearly 800 officers from a dozen law enforcement agencies driving in excess of 90mph and upwards of 130mph during a 13-month investigation – many violating the law while commuting to and from their jobs.  Since 2004, Florida officers driving at high speeds have caused 320 crashes, including 19 fatalities.  Among the deceased are seven officers

A combination of tough punishment and tracking technology will be employed to curtail these rampant violations. The communities and agencies involved offered the following strategies to the Sun-Sentinel:

Plantation Police Chief Howard Harrison instructed his department to begin using GPS devices already in vehicles, sending alerts whenever officers exceed certain speeds.

Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan is considering buying GPS devices for its patrol cars, conceding that it was “a shame” that taxpayer money would have to be spent to prevent cops from breaking the law.

Margate officers may have their SunPass transponders used to identify potential violators.

According to the Sun Sentinel, Florida Highway Patrol spokesmen Capt. Mark Brown said the dept. “is reviewing our policies to determine if we need to make any changes.” Among the changes considered is using GPS technology to trigger cameras in patrol cars to activate when troopers reach a certain speed.

Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti and Gov. Rick Scott are among the most influential elected officials in the state who have voiced their concerns over these violators. Both have pledged to monitor efforts to investigate these incidents. Gov. Scott will monitor the work of a statewide law enforcement task force reviewing police speeding and crashes; Sheriff Lamberti will discipline deputies at the conclusion of his own investigation of the incidents spotlighted by the Sun Sentinel.

“If it can’t be justified, it can’t be tolerated,” Lamberti told the Sun Sentinel. “We’re not above the law, and if we’re going to enforce the law, we have to obey it.”

Postponed Sentencing Hearing for Marine who beat wife in Judge’s Chambers set for March 2

A former Marine faces a maximum of 15 years for aggravated battery and another year for resisting arrest after pleading no contest to charges of beating his wife during a divorce proceeding last year. Defense attorneys have been given extend time to respond to the allegations as the sentencing hearing has been postponed until March 2.

Paul Henry Gonzalez, 29, is accused of attacking his wife Catherine Scott on April 15, 2011 in the chambers of Broward County Judge Ronald Rothschild. Scott, 24, required surgery at Holy Cross Hospital, repairing her fractured jaw and a broken nose. Deputies pulled Gonzalez off his wife before finally subduing him with a stun gun. According to court records, the divorce was finalized three days after the attack. He pleaded no contest to both counts on Feb 6.

Defense attorney Dana Swickle is seeking a downward departure, a legal ruling that would permit the judge to sentence Gonzalez to less than minimum sentencing as required by law. The minimum sentence under the law, according to Judge Geoffrey Cohen, would be roughly four years and three months. However, Prosecutor Sarahnell Murphy said the State Attorney’s Office made no promises of leniency for the no-contest plea, as numerous witness have been scheduled to testify at Wednesday’s hearing.

Married in September 2006, the couple had two children before separating in March 2010.

Sun Sentinel’s Michael Mayo explores the law enforcement community reaction to his newspaper’s three-part series investigating speeding cops. Mayo applauds his co-workers for their hard work on their reporting, but quickly realized that it might not be a safe drive for reporters for a little while.

Probing deeper, Mayo sought out the impressions of local officers to get a gauge of how the law enforcement community felt about this startling revelation. The reaction on the message boards of LEOAffairs.com provided much of what Mayo reported in his column, revealing a mixture of little denial and little sentiment to “shoot the messenger” either.

Overall, the Sun Sentinel columnist found that there was some introspection mixed in with the comments of bitterness. With many of the officers chiming in on the controversy, Mayo wrapped up his column with the insight of an officer who hoped that with the controversy would come needed change from the top to the bottom.

Let’s hope our elected officials read this loud and clear.

Sun Sentinel columnist Michael Mayo championed the efforts of reporters Sally Kestin, John Maines and Dana Williams for exposing and confirming the rampant abuse of power over the traffic laws by many in the law enforcement community. The emphasis on the column targeted the 100-120 mph high-speed driving that would have most civilians levied with hefty fines, insurance hikes and points against their licenses.

Furthermore, the data made clear the cavalier attitude has been “nurtured and coddled by years of inaction.” This kind of behavior and its consequences have also included a stunning lack of accountability. Eric Brody of Sunrise was left wheelchair-bound and brain-damaged after a 1998 car-wreck involving a speeding BSO deputy. While winning a civil lawsuit, Brody had travelled to the state capital to fight for the $10.75 million insurance settlement that needs approval from the Florida House of Representatives. The bill had already been ratified by the State Senate.

Mayo considered a few of the options available to curtail this problem, such as GPS tracking or curbing the use of take-home cars to discourage some of the behavior. However, no solution seems easier, according to Mayo, than having those sworn to uphold the law obey the rules of the road.

The Florida Senate struck down a proposal to privatize 28 prisons and work camps in the South Florida area by a narrow margin on Feb. 15, with the final vote at 19-21.

The Sun-Sentinel’s Michael Mayo applauded the outcome in his column, stating the drive towards privatization of the prison system is misguided. The idea had been a hot topic under Gov. Bush’s administration and has gained steam under Gov. Scott. How the Governor and his allies in the State Legislature plan on trying to implement this plan remains to be seen.

While allowing for the bill to be debated and voted upon was the right way, Mayo conceded, he still hopes that ultimately this controversial proposal will fail. Making a case for what should belong in the domain of government, Mayo underlines the government’s role in law and law enforcement should make them the only ones responsible for overseeing the incarceration of criminals. This responsibility requires a level of accountability and transparency, which Mayo argued, is best served by keeping prisons in government hands.

Furthermore, the columnist made suggestions for cost-cutting by reviewing the use of mandatory sentencing of non-violent offenders on drug charges. According to Mayo, in a state dominated by ideology over pragmatism, common sense has the odds stacked against it.

On Feb. 21, The Florida Senate’s Budget Committee is expected to take on texting-while-driving, after the bill (SB 416) has been cleared by three Senate committees. If nation-wide sentiment holds any sway, then there has been a lot of momentum pushing towards the passage of this bill. Already, thirty-five states and the District of Columbia have passed bans outlawing texting while operating motor vehicles.

Passage has eluded the Florida legislature for the past few years where a House version (HB 299) has stalled because leaders believe the bill to be a needless intrusion of government.