Verdenia Baker, the County Administrator for Palm Beach County, issued an illegal curfew order on Friday morning. The curfew is set to take effect at 3 pm today (Saturday). Sheriff Bradshaw made an unclear statement about the order saying that the curfew applies to anyone who is not out for “legitimate purposes” without explaining what might be legitimate. County prosecutor Dave Aronberg indicated that people will be arrested for violating the curfew.
Under state law the county has no authority to issue such a curfew. Section 252.36 of the Florida Statutes, specifically subsection 5, authorizes the Governor (not the county) to take a variety of actions in an emergency. This includes ordering evacuations and in rather vague terms: “Take measures concerning the conduct of civilians, the movement and cessation of movement of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.” It does also authorize the Governor to delegate emergency responsibilities to local officials.
The Governor’s Executive Order does not indicate any curfews and does not delegate curfew authority to local officials.
One of the biggest problems with this curfew order is that many people may be unaware of the curfew and in particular they likely will not know what constitutes a “legitimate purpose” – the term used by the Sheriff whose deputies will enforce this curfew in West Boca and other unincorporated areas of the county.
The curfew order itself does define what purposes are allowed:
Put simply, we can travel for medical care, work and/or school, and we can facilitate the transport or distribution of essentials. Of course if a deputy doesn’t believe or accept your reason, or is unaware of the details of the order, you might be arrested even if you’re within these exceptions.
Some residents are planning to travel from less secure locations to more secure locations (i.e. from unshuttered homes to shuttered homes), or to pick up vulnerable people and bring them to safer locations. These are not protected under Ms. Baker’s order. In other words, if you drive to Century Village to help a distressed elderly person you are violating the curfew and subject to arrest. Journalism is also not on the list of permitted purposes, a particular concern for us as we are (or were) planning to go out and document the effects of Irma on our community.
Another concern is residents of other counties. Deerfield News questioned what would happen to Broward residents who travel into Boca. They would be even less likely to know about the curfew and its details.
West Boca News recommends that residents stay off the roads after 3 pm today. While the latest hurricane forecasts indicate we are unlikely to face hurricane force winds, anyone outside after 3 pm faces the risk of unlawful arrest by PBSO deputies and prosecution by State Attorney Dave Aronberg. If you’re thinking of suing, they will probably be immune from civil suit.
We did reach out to county commissioners Mary Lou Berger and Steven Abrams, who purportedly represent West Boca, for clarification. Neither responded.
We have been critical of State Attorney Dave Aronberg in the past. One of the reasons is his office’s failure to aggressively prosecute dangerous criminals, which is the reason for this article.
In this case it’s about the death of West Boca’s Aaron Rajman. Rajman was murdered, shot in July in a home in Sandalfoot Cove. One of the men arrested for the murder is Roberto Ortiz. Of course all accused are innocent until proven guilty.
Back in January Ortiz was arrested for robbery with a firearm. According to the probable cause affidavit, Ortiz attacked and robbed a student.
He and another man approached three students who were walking home from their school bus stop. The other man had a handgun, and fired it in the general direction of one of the victims. Both of them kicked and punched that victim, and Ortiz allegedly searched his pockets.
One of the other victims had video of the incident. Both Ortiz’ high school principal and Ortiz’ mother identified him from the video. Ortiz then admitted he was at the scene and attacked the victim.
In other words, if the probable cause affidavit is accurate Aronberg’s office had compelling evidence that Ortiz had committed a violent crime. Which makes it hard to understand why they dropped the case against Ortiz in less than two weeks.
Our regular readers may remember the case of Brett Knowles, a Boca Isles resident who hit three pedestrians on US-441 near West Boca Medical Center while driving on a suspended license. Aronberg’s office stalled on the prosecution. His office had repeatedly let Knowles off easy on charges of driving while suspended. Their failure to fully prosecute him left a dangerous driver on the road with an attitude and led to serious injuries.
Now we have a case of a violent criminal who participated in a shooting, was released by Aronberg’s office, and then went on to commit murder.
We requested their file on the old Ortiz case and asked for an explanation, though we doubt his office will cooperate (no response in over 24 hours). In the past they’ve told us that they “do not comment on open cases”, but of course Aronberg has already commented on this open case.
It should be noted that somehow West Boca News was not included on the distribution list for Aronberg’s press release. Some people think it’s inappropriate for politicians to play favorites with the media, but we’re used to it.
Other details worth noting from this case:
1. Summer Church was also arrested and charged with murder and robbery. Ms. Church is a 16-year-old student at Olympic Heights High and a former student at Loggers’ Run Middle School. The Post interviewed her mom, who said that she was forced at gunpoint to call Rajman and was let out of the car before they reached the house. The mom also claims that she cooperated extensively with police.
2. Ortiz is or was a student at Quantum High School in Boynton Beach. Quantum is referred to by one media outlet as an “alternative” school. That may mean it’s an alternative to jail for some of its students. The school test scores are some of the worst in the county.
3. Swinton has a reported address in Margate but may live in Boynton Beach. It appears he attended Don Estridge Middle School and may be a Boynton Beach High student. Swinton and Church may have been dating.
4. The cases for Church and Ortiz are in the court system, though certain documents are not available yet and it’s not clear what will be in the ones that are in process. Swinton’s case does not show up in the court system yet but his arrest record is in the PBSO blotter.
Traffic on US-441 was blocked from Glades to Yamato this morning after a serious accident near Kimberly Road. Hector Mauricio Mazariegos (age 31, Coral Springs) was arrested and charged with several offenses.
According to the Sheriff’s report:
P-1 (the deputy) was working a traffic enforcement operation on State Road 7 just south of Kimberly Blvd with several other deputies. P-1 obtained a speed reading of 97 mph on V-1 (Mazariegos on the motorcycle) in a 45 mph zone.
P-1 stepped into the center lane, faced southbound and was waving V-1 over. According to witnesses the deputy had been out in the roadway for more than enough time for the rider to see him and stop. The deputy was wearing a neon green reflective vest at the time. V-1 slowed and tried to drive around P-1, but at the same time P-1 feared V-1 was going to run him over and moved slightly to his right.
V-1 impacted with the deputy, then made a heavy brake applicated (leaving a lengthy skid mark) and overturned. V-1 slid to final rest at Kimberly Blvd.
Mr. Mazariegos has quite a history in the courts, as explained below the scene photos.
By our count, Mazariegos has had 9 traffic cases (7 of them criminal) in Broward County dating back to 2007:
He also was arrested in 2015 in Palm Beach County for driving without a valid license. Despite his lengthy history, that charge was resolved with a fine and “adjudication withheld.”
Similar to a case we reported last year, the prosecutors and courts in Palm Beach and Broward County seem to have a policy of going easy on serious repeat traffic offenders. In the previous incident three young males were badly injured. Now it’s a deputy taking the hit.
State Attorney Dave Aronberg is running unopposed in this year’s election so we can expect another four years of lax enforcement. Mr. Mazariegos has probably run out of luck.
PBSO reports the charges against Mazariegos as:
- Reckless Driving resulting in serious bodily injury
- No Driver’s License causing serious bodily injury
- Driving without a motorcycle endorsement
- Driving an unregistered vehicle
- Attaching an unassigned tag to a vehicle
Mazariegos’ Facebook page indicates he works (or worked) for Fit Foodz Cafe, which is on Clint Moore near 441.
PBSO deputies arrested Galen Kinsey (27) Sunday night after a hit-and-run accident. Mr. Kinsey stands accused of several offenses including driving while suspended, DUI, hit and run with property damage, and a probation violation. His reported address is in Boca Del Mar near the Boca Raton Synagogue.
Mr. Kinsey previously appeared in West Boca News in February of 2014 for drug charges, where we detailed some of his criminal history.
Court records for Palm Beach show a 2012 felony that was resolved with pre-trial diversion. Broward records show a few cases including two disposed with probation. One of the previous cases also involved drugs.
Kinsey has managed to add a bit to that since then. In July of last year he was arrested on felony charges of burglary and grand theft dating back to a 2013 incident that may have involved the Apple store at Town Center Mall. The burglary charge was dropped and he was convicted of grand theft. For that he was sentenced to a year of probation, a violation of which has been triggered by the new arrest.
Kinsey also had two other criminal traffic cases in October and December. The October case was for leaving the scene of a property damage accident. He was convicted of that and paid fines but had no other consequences. Then in December he was charged with driving while suspended or revoked. That case is still open. He didn’t show up for court and a warrant was issued for his arrest in January. He’s had driving while suspended charges in Broward as well.
This history of repeated arrests for hit-and-run and for driving while suspended with little or no consequences should remind readers of the Brett Knowles case we’ve been following. State Attorney Aronberg has been persistent and willful in letting these offenders off, sending the wrong message to bad drivers in our community. Kinsey is yet another in a long list of people who have been repeatedly let off light and then continue to break the law putting us all in danger.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
West Boca News
Reply from Ms. Cruz (same day):
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.
There was no reply from Aronberg’s office.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.