Panhandling, Development, and the Aronberg Shuffle

WBCC President Sheri Scarborough
WBCC President Sheri Scarborough

The West Boca Community Council held its regular meeting at the Boca Lago clubhouse on Tuesday evening. A larger than usual crowd of residents heard from county officials.
President Sheri Scarborough, who is also chair of the Palm Beach County Zoning Commission, updated the audience on several changes in the works.
First, construction has started on the Rooms To Go expansion on the north side of Glades Road between 441 and Lyons. We stopped by today to see it for ourselves and our video of the work is below.

We asked inside and learned that the current 26,000 square foot space will be expanded by another 20,000 square feet. The project should take about a year. It has already been quite a while. We reported on the plans back in 2013.
Also coming is a 43-home development by GL Homes south of Eagles Landing Middle School. You can see the location on the image below (courtesy of the county appraiser’s website). South County Regional Park is on the right, and the property in question is on the lower left.
GL-43
An old map of the plan, dating back to 2006 or before, is below (full pdf at bottom of this article). It’s called the Collier PUD (Planned Unit Development).
collier-pud
Ms. Scarborough also noted that the lights are close to ready on 441 just south of Glades Road, between Sports Authority and the Westwinds Plaza (Publix and Home Depot).
After the meeting was over we asked her about the proposed 300-townhome development on the northeast corner of Clint Moore and 441. She did not have any particular news about the proposal. The first hurdle that has to be overcome is that the property is in the “agricultural reserve.” Unlike most ag-reserve properties, however, Scarborough noted that it is surrounded by non-agricultural development (The Oaks community, the Stonebridge community, and The Reserve shopping center). There’s a process they have to go through to get reclassified out of the ag-reserve but it seems likely to West Boca News that they’ll eventually get there.
County Commissioner Mary Lou Berger spoke next.

County Commissioner Mary Lou Berger
County Commissioner Mary Lou Berger

Ms. Berger spoke in depth about the panhandling issue and what the County Commission is doing about it. She was an engaging speaker, answering many questions from the audience.
First, she explained that something is in the works. The County Attorney’s office is drafting an ordinance which is expected to go before the County Commission in April. Once it’s reviewed at that meeting it should go before the Commission again in May and if all goes well it will be approved then.
Ms. Berger was emphatic that the ordinance is not limited to vagrants and panhandlers. It is a general ordinance that will affect anyone who tries to solicit or engage in similar activities in the medians of intersections. This is an important distinction and it’s very good that she is talking about like this. If it’s done the wrong way it will be held unconstitutional.
The audience asked whether it will extend to the corners and sidewalks, but that was not clear. She said the County Attorney is working on that language.
Next up was State Attorney Dave Aronberg, the prosecutor for Palm Beach County.
State Attorney Dave Aronberg
State Attorney Dave Aronberg

Mr. Aronberg was the headline speaker in the council’s notice for this event, which said he would speak about panhandling. He did not talk about that much, but focused more generally on what he called “quality of life” crimes. The most common crime that his office deals with is “DUS” or Driving Under Suspension. It’s sometimes called DWLS (Driving While License Suspended) and can refer also to revoked licenses or other license problems.
While Mr. Aronberg was mostly a pleasant speaker, his responses to questions presented a stark contrast with Ms. Berger, who answered questions directly.
Aronberg’s focus on suspended drivers opened the door to questions about a prominent case that happened not long ago on 441 in front of West Boca Medical Center. A driver hit three kids and then left the scene. A few weeks later the alleged driver, Brett Knowles of Boca Isles North, posted this beauty on his Facebook page:
knowles-gecko
West Boca News followed this case closely. Readers notified us in September that 441 had been closed and we went to the accident scene. speaking with family members of victims, contacting the Sheriff, and also Aronberg’s office. In October we reported that charges had not been filed yet, though we made no reference to the State Attorney in that article.
We researched the driver’s history in our courts and found quite a bit. Relevant to the issue of suspended drivers, Knowles was convicted of DUS (or DWLS) at least three times before this incident. There was a fourth case in Broward but we don’t know the results of that one. Knowles has had dozens of other cases including traffic tickets and drug charges.
In December, after getting a copy of the crash report from the Sheriff, we reported that Aronberg was stalling on the case. We noticed that Knowles had been ticketed again in October of 2014 for driving while suspended – while this investigation was pending – and that Aronberg’s office dropped the charge.
Shortly after that article charges from the incident were finally brought against Knowles.
In November and December we e-mailed inquiries to Aronberg’s office for a statement on the accident case and for the records from the dropped case. His office did not respond to either request. The refusal to provide records on the dropped case is a flagrant violation of the Florida Public Records Law (sometimes called the Sunshine Law).
With that background in mind, this reporter asked Aronberg about how his office handles repeat offenders on the Driving Under Suspension law. In particular the law (Section 322.34) allows repeat offenders to be charged with higher level offenses. A second offense can be charged as a first-degree misdemeanor with up to one year in jail. A third offense can be charged as a felony with up to a 5-year prison sentence.
Mr. Aronberg’s office, along with Broward, has repeatedly let Mr. Knowles off easy on these charges.
After he didn’t answer the question the first time this reporter asked him again about his office policy on whether and when his office charges repeat offenders with the higher level offenses provided by the law. Aronberg claimed that they do but provided no specifics. Our readers may have noticed that we frequently report on the criminal history of those arrested. We never see repeat offenders charged with the higher level offenses. This is not just a Palm Beach problem. Knowles’ fourth case was in Broward and was charged at the lowest level as well.
Rather than address the issue Aronberg then decided to attack this reporter. Along with his political consultant in the back of the room they accused me of being rude to their office and engaging in politics.
As a response to that bogus claim, my e-mails to his office are below:
November 21:

Ms. Cruz and/or Mr./Ms. Harris,
I write to inquire about the State Attorney’s position on the case of Brett Knowles. PBSO advises that the case has been forwarded to the Palm Beach County State Attorney.
Please let us know the status of this case.
Thanks,
Warren Redlich
West Boca News

Reply from Ms. Cruz (same day):

Good afternoon.
This case pertains to an active criminal investigation and is exempt from disclosure pursuant to Florida Statute 119.07(2)(c)1.

My reply (again, same day):

I’m not asking for records. I’m asking if the SA has any statement to make on the case. My question relates both to the pending investigation as well as Mr. Knowles past history.
And by the way I don’t see how there’s an active investigation. PBSO finished their investigation. It’s in the SA’s hands now per PBSO. So who’s investigating?
No need to reply until next week.
Thanks
Warren

There was no reply from Aronberg’s office.
December 3rd:

Ms. Cruz (and Mr. Edmonson?):
I just noticed that Mr. Knowles had a subsequent DWLS case in Palm Beach County: 50-2014-CT-023520-AXXX-SB, citation # A3B50ZE.
Court records show that case was resolved with a nolle prosse.
Please e-mail or fax (518-708-8752) me all records in the SA’s possession regarding this case. Also, please let me know if the SA has any statement it wishes to make regarding the decision to nolle prosse the case.
Regarding my previous inquiries you asserted that there was an active investigation. I don’t think you can make that argument with regard to a case that has been nolle prossed.
Thanks,
Warren Redlich

If the Sheriff’s investigation is accurate, three kids were hit by Mr. Knowles while he was driving on a suspended license. Had prosecutors held Knowles accountable according to the law, the accident wouldn’t have happened. Call me rude all you want. Aronberg’s blasé attitude toward repeat offenders makes us all unsafe. His disregard for the Public Records law is offensive for someone in the position of enforcing the law.


The full pdf of the old Collier PUD map is below:
[gview file=”http://westbocanews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/collier-pud.pdf”]

The Bell Tolls for Brett Knowles: Finally Arrested

brett-knowles-hit-run
Brett Knowles (30) was finally arrested for Hit-and-Run and additionally for causing serious injury while driving without a license.
We originally reported from the accident scene on September 19th. Three kids on skateboards were allegedly hit by Knowles’ car on the northbound shoulder of 441 near West Boca Medical Center and across from Target. Two of the kids had fractures requiring surgery, and there were also head injuries. We included videos from the scene in that article.
car-debris-800
Back in October we reported that charges had not been filed yet. Our readers may remember from that article that Knowles had posted on Facebook appearing to brag about leaving the scene:
knowles-gecko
A week ago we reported that the State’s Attorney Dave Aronberg was stalling on the case. His office dropped yet another driving while suspended charge against Knowles from a mid-October incident. It’s possible our coverage caused them to move, though we’re hopeful there’s a good reason they took their time.
As we previously reported, Mr. Knowles has had over 40 cases in the courts, including multiple charges of driving with a suspended or revoked license. We will keep an eye on this case to see if the so-called justice system actually holds Knowles accountable.
These new charges do not show up in the court system as of yet. The Sheriff’s blotter indicates that Mr. Knowles remains in custody.
He is, of course, innocent of these charges at this stage of the process.

State Attorney Stalls on Hit-and-Run

aronberg-knowles
Dave Aronberg (above left), the State Attorney for Palm Beach County is stalling on a hit-and-run case involving alleged driver Brett Knowles (right, 30) of Boca Isles North. We spoke with Natalie Cruz and Mike Edmonson from Aronberg’s office. So far they have refused to provide any documents or answer any substantive questions about the case.
Back in September there was a serious car accident on 441 in front of West Boca Medical Center (across from Target) where three pedestrians were hit by a driver who then fled the scene. We reported on the accident at the time and followed up in October regarding the fact that the alleged driver had not been charged yet.
After 60 days the Sheriff sent us a copy of the crash report, which is at the bottom of this article. One brief excerpt from it is below:
knowles-report-1
The Sheriff also provided a narrative from one of deputies or investigators. The full narrative is at bottom, but here are some key excerpts:

Upon arrival to XXXXX Preserve Drive. I observed a Brown Nissan Murano with major front end damage baring FL tag XXXXXX to be properly parked in the driveway of the above listed residence. The vehicle damage appeared to be consistent with injuries sustained by the victims. The hood had sustained major damage in the center and had a direct impact point crack in the windshield that was consistent with the size of the victims head …
While at the residence, Brett began to make excited utterance statements to me stating that “he was going to come back, and he just wanted to tell his parents what he did.” He then made another statement to me stating that “he was driving the vehicle and he wants to know if everyone is alive and ok.” These statements were all made without any questions being asked. …
Based on the aforementioned to include the utterance and unprovoked admissions made by Brett Knowles, witness statements, severity of injuries and evidence left at the scene of the crash, probable cause exists that Knowles was the driver … at the time of the crash. Knowles is therefore being charged with three counts of leaving the scene of a traffic crash with injuries …. It should be noted that two of the pedestrians … had sustained serious bodily injuries each as a result of the collision. Knowles is also being charged with one count for driving with a suspended license with knowledge ….
This case will be forwarded to the Palm Beach County State’s Attorneys Office for further review.

In short it appears that the Sheriff provided sufficient evidence for the State Attorney to go forward with prosecution. But no charges have been filed yet well over two months later.
We previously pointed out that Mr. Knowles has a substantial history in the courts with over 40 cases including multiple charges for driving with a suspended license. The State Attorney and Sheriff have allowed his repeat offenses to be filed as first offenses, reducing the consequences Mr. Knowles would have faced. Aronberg’s spokesman, Edmonson, refused to comment on that.
Edmonson and Cruz refused to provide us with any documents from the case claiming that it’s “an active investigation”, which is an exception to Florida’s Sunshine Laws. This struck us as odd since it appears PBSO completed its investigation well over a month before our conversation, but they stood by that refusal.
We also previously covered Mr. Knowles joking about “leaving the scene” on Facebook:
knowles-gecko
That is something prosecutors could potentially use as a further admission.
Shortly after making that joke, Mr. Knowles was yet again ticketed on October 23rd for driving with a suspended license. Yet again it was not treated as a repeat offense. And as we see so frequently, the prosecutors dropped the charges.
It should be apparent to our readers that Mr. Knowles likely continues to drive on our roads. State Attorney Aronberg appears unconcerned about the threat that poses to the residents of West Boca and the rest of the county and South Florida.
We contacted the State Attorney again today to see if they have any further comment. So far we have received no response.


Crash report:
[gview file=”http://westbocanews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/14121902-Crash-Report.pdf”]
PBSO Narrative:

I responded to the residence of 19424 Preserve Drive in unincorporated Boca Raton, Palm Beach County, Florida in regards an investigation involving a hit and run traffic crash with injuries. I was notified by Palm Beach County Sheriffs Office dispatch that they received a 911 phone call from witness, later identified as XXXXXX stating a Nissan Murano baring Florida tag “941VJN” had hit three pedestrians on the side of the roadway. This incident occurred in the area of 21644 South State Road 7, which is located just south of Glades Road. It was discovered that the vehicle that was seen leaving the crash scene had a registration address of 19424 Preserve Drive. Boca Raton, FL. 33498.
Upon arrival to 19424 Preserve Drive. I observed a Brown Nissan Murano with major front end damage baring FL tag “941VJN” to be properly parked in the driveway of the above listed residence. The vehicle damage appeared to be consistent with injuries sustained by the victims. The hood had sustained major damage in the center and had a direct impact point crack in the windshield that was consistent with the size of the victims head, showing were the victim Victor Carneiro Brito’s head was struck. While outside the residence, I could hear three subjects arguing while walking exiting the front door of the residence. When I walked over to the front door, I observed a white male later identified as Brett Knowles to be wearing a white tee shirt with shorts and no shoes arguing with his mother. Knowles was identified verbally, and was not the registered owner of the vehicle.
While at the residence, Brett began to make excited utterance statements to me stating that “he was going to come back, and he just wanted to tell his parents what he did.” He then made another statement to me stating that “he was driving the vehicle and he wants to know if everyone is alive and ok.” These statements were all made without any questions being asked. I detained Brett by placing him into handcuffs which were checked for proper fitting and double locked. Photographs of the scene were taken by Investigator Robert Stephan (ID 7240) of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Vehicle Homicide Investigations Unit. The crash investigation report was conducted by Deputy Sheriff Terry Drake (ID 5310) of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
I then read Brett his Miranda warnings which he understood but did not want to talk to me. After conducting my investigation at the residence Brett was taken out of hand cuffs and release on scene.
Sworn written statements were also provided by witnesses to include, XXXXXXXX. XXXXXXX had observed the traffic crash in front of her and observed the Nissan/ Morano leave the scene. XXXXXXXX called 911 and provided PBSO dispatch with pertinent information to include the vehicle make, model and tag. See sworn statement for further.
On September 30, 2014, Investigator Ken Noel (ID 7660) of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office DUI Enforcement Unit and I met with Marco Barreto, who was one of three victims from the hit and run traffic crash. While at Marco’s residence, with his mother present, a taped and a written statement were provided about what had happened on the night of September 19, 2014. Marco told me that he was skateboarding to the Shadowood Movie Plaza located at Glades Road and State Road 7 with two other friends Daniel Palmer and Victor Carneiro Brito. He said they were traveling from SW 3rd Street heading north on State Road 7, in unincorporated Boca Raton, Florida. He then said they were just about north of Palmetto Park Road when they decided to walk the rest of the way. Marco told me that while they were walking he heard tires screeching, and when he looked backwards he saw really bright headlights. He then stated that he was then struck by the vehicle and was impacted so hard he went flying in the air and landed on his back in about the middle lane of State Road 7. During the interview, Marco stated that as a result of the crash he had a broken right femur, broken nose, broken right ring finger, and multiple road rash injuries on his entire body. Finally Marco ended the interview by saying that due to this incident his dreams of joining the United States Army have been dismantled. Due to the traumatic injuries he sustained, Marco will no longer be able to join the military. Attempts to interview Brito and Palmer were made on several attempts; however, yielded with negative results.
Based on the aforementioned to include the utterance and unprovoked admissions made by Brett Knowles, witness statements, severity of injuries and evidence left at the scene of the crash, probable cause exists that Knowles was the driver of the Nissan/ Murano at the time of the crash. Knowles is therefore being charged with three counts of leaving the scene of a traffic crash with injuries F.S.S. 316.027(1)(A). It should be noted that two of the pedestrians, Barreto and Brito had sustained serious bodily injuries each as a result of the collision. Knowles is also being charged with one count for driving with a suspended license with knowledge F.S.S. 322.34(2). This case will be forwarded to the Palm Beach County State’s Attorneys Office for further review.