Catch-and-Release: Criminal Injustice Under Aronberg

Regular readers of our crime reports have noticed so many cases where serious criminals repeatedly get breaks, leaving the public exposed to their ongoing mayhem.

I should start by noting that many think of me as “soft on crime” because I’m a defense lawyer and because of my opposition to DUI checkpoints and my criticism of DUI enforcement. This is best embodied by my book Fair DUI and the Fair DUI flyer.

That doesn’t make me soft on crime. It means I’m strong on the Constitution.

Since I moved to West Boca eight years ago I have noticed repeatedly the soft treatment criminals get from the system. Where I come from (Albany NY), first-time criminals often get breaks and that’s true in most places. But repeat offenders rarely get significant breaks. I represented a client who was arrested for home burglary and he got 19 1/2 years in state prison there. He was a repeat offender and this was not his first prison sentence. But he had nowhere near the record I see in many cases here where people get out on low bail and then get their cases dropped or get short sentences.

The system seems extremely arbitrary. This post was inspired in large part by a local attorney whose DUI case was dropped by Dave Aronberg’s office. Aronberg is the Palm Beach County prosecutor. We’ve been critical of him in the past for being soft on repeat offenders who drive while suspended. Like most politicians he does not take criticism well.

In this latest incident the attorney’s DUI case was dropped very quickly. I found this in doing my local crime report article and began investigating. I requested public records from the Boca Raton Police Department and from Aronberg’s office. Boca PD responded quickly and provided me with a lot of information including videos, and the memo from Aronberg’s office supposedly explaining why the case was dropped.

Aronberg’s office has still provided nothing.

The memo is below. Hard to read but basically one of Aronberg’s assistants said he dropped the case because the video showed the stop was not going to hold up in court.

Memo-to-File_19CT007787-Def.-Peter-Koziol

That doesn’t fit with what we saw in the video leading up to the stop.

First of all the video only shows 30 seconds before the traffic stop commenced. We, and the prosecutor, do not know what the officer saw in the minute before the video starts. In any event the driver is clearly weaving, hitting the left lane line at the beginning of the video and going well over the right lane line. He hits his brakes for no apparent reason, and hits the right lane line again as he’s going through an intersection. He’s heading for the left lane line again as the officer starts the traffic stop.

What’s particularly odd about this from my perspective as a defense lawyer is that the ASA (assistant state attorney) reviewed the video so early in the case. I discussed this with an experienced and highly regarded local defense lawyer who agreed that prosecutors never look at evidence like this so early on.

Boca PD’s disclosures meanwhile indicate that the attorney’s defense lawyer requested the video the same morning that the prosecutor dropped the case and it was ready for them at 11:30 am. The prosecutor’s memo was written at 1:23 pm.

What prompted the ASA to look at this case so early on? What led him to review the video so quickly and thoroughly? These are questions and we’d like answers. But we’re not getting them from Aronberg.

Mike Edmondson is the media guy for Aronberg and Natalie Cruz is the person designated for public records requests.

I made a public records request to Aronberg’s office two weeks ago after seeing ASA Meshulam’s memo. Cruz responded two days later indicating that the request was received. A few days later I followed up:

Public officials are required to comply with public records requests. Failure to do so is illegal and should subject them to a fine. Wilful failure to do is a misdemeanor and can lead to jail time and removal from the job.

It is now two weeks after my request and there is still no response. How hard can it be to provide a copy of ASA Meshulam’s calendar for a single day?

That day matters because it’s the day he wrote the memo. What are they hiding and why are they hiding it?

We can only conclude that Aronberg’s office is covering up their misconduct in giving a sweetheart deal to a connected local lawyer. This is not surprising from a prosecutor with a history of unethical conduct. We saw this most recently when Aronberg used the Robert Kraft case to get public attention for himself while grossly exaggerating the circumstances. And of course his office botched its handling of the insanity defense in the Jimmy the Greek murder.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg in our county and all of South Florida. We keep seeing cases where people continue to reoffend and are never held fully accountable under Florida law. Just last week we covered a man arrested for driving while suspended for what is at least his sixth offense. He’s never done any meaningful jail time for it.

Back in 2015 we covered the Brett Knowles case, a driver who hit 3 pedestrians on 441 near West Boca Medical Center. Aronberg’s office stalled on prosecuting the case, dropped a subsequent driving while suspended prosecution against Knowles, and this was amidst a history of failing to properly charge this repeat offender with the felony count and putting him in jail. Because Aronberg’s office failed to hold him accountable, Knowles was on the road and sent two of those three kids into surgery.

Political prosecutors like Aronberg use high profile cases, like Robert Kraft or Tiger Woods, to pretend they’re tough on crime. In reality they let a lot of serious criminals off easy or with no consequences at all.

Basically we have a criminal injustice system in South Florida where a few people are treated very harshly in an arbitrary manner, either because of their celebrity or just bad luck. Meanwhile our police officers and deputies do a pretty good job catching criminals only to see them released by incompetent and careless prosecutors.

It’s a catch-and-release system and the end result is more crime in our neighborhoods. More car burglaries, more residential burglaries, more robberies and so on. Not only does this make us less safe, it also drives up our insurance rates.

Dave Aronberg’s Office Mishandles Insanity Defense

Tilus Lebrun mugshot from PBSO

The State Attorney’s office for Palm Beach County, run by Dave Aronberg, botched the murder prosecution of Tilus Lebrun, who killed West Boca’s Jimmy Karaloukas at the victim’s Jimmy the Greek restaurant.

Lebrun was just found not guilty by reason of insanity on Monday on all charges including subsequent incidents of felony battery on law enforcement officers.

The insanity defense is governed by Florida Statute 775.027

Insanity is established when:
(a) The defendant had a mental infirmity, disease, or defect; and
(b) Because of this condition, the defendant:
1. Did not know what he or she was doing or its consequences; or
2. Although the defendant knew what he or she was doing and its consequences, the defendant did not know that what he or she was doing was wrong.
Mental infirmity, disease, or defect does not constitute a defense of insanity except as provided in this subsection.

(2) BURDEN OF PROOF.—The defendant has the burden of proving the defense of insanity by clear and convincing evidence.

West Boca News obtained a copy of the psychologist’s report that was prepared for the prosecution. The report starts off with the question asked by the prosecution:

“Whether Mr. Lebrun was legally sane at the time of the offense.”

If you read the statute, that is not the correct question. It is overly simplistic. The psychologist should have been asked to address the language of the statute.

It seems clear that the psychologist would have answered yes to part (a) of the statute – that Lebrun had a mental disease. But the bigger issues are in part (b). Did Lebrun know what he was doing? If so, did he know that what he was doing was wrong?

Those two questions are not addressed in the prosecution psychologist’s report. But the evidence shows Lebrun knew what he was doing. The probable cause affidavit reflects a statement he made right after he was arrested:

The unanswered question is whether Lebrun knew that what he was doing was wrong. For that we know under Florida law that it was his burden (or his lawyer’s) to prove that by clear and convincing evidence. This is a high standard to meet for the defense.

There’s a recent example of this in a case out of Orlando, Rodriguez v. State. In that case Rodriguez had the same diagnosis as Lebrun (paranoid schizophrenia) and the insanity defense was similarly based on hallucinations and delusions. The jury found Rodriguez guilty* even though seven defense expert witnesses testified he was insane and the prosecution did not offer an expert witness.

The appeals court noted in Rodriguez that:

the jurors were free to consider Rodriguez’s hallucinations and delusions as evidence of whether he suffered from a mental infirmity, disease, or defect, [but] they were only permitted to consider whether this condition caused Rodriguez at the time of the offenses to not know what he was doing or the consequences of his actions, or whether he knew that what he was doing was wrong.

Due to blunders by Aronberg’s office the victims and their families were deprived of a fair hearing on this important issue. An Orlando jury faced with similar facts denied the insanity defense. Lebrun’s insanity defense should have been determined by a Palm Beach County jury.

*Although the Rodriguez case was reversed on appeal (on a technical legal issue related to jury instructions), Rodriguez pled guilty before the second trial. He was sentenced to 30 years and later committed suicide in prison.

Illegal Curfew Order Starts at 3 PM


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.

Would Aaron Rajman Still Be Alive If Aronberg Had Done His Job?

State Attorney Dave Aronberg

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.
Aaron Rajman, image from a July post on his Facebook page.

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.
Roberto Ortiz mugshots: Left is his mugshot from a January 2017 arrest for robbery with a firearm. Right is the mugshot from yesterday’s homicide arrest.

Back in January Ortiz was arrested for robbery with a firearm. According to the probable cause affidavit, Ortiz attacked and robbed a student.
Part 1 of the police description from the January Ortiz probable cause affidavit.

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.
Part 2 of the probable cause affidavit.

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.
E-mail from media relations at “sa15.org” – Dave Aronberg’s office.

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.
Jace Swinton from Facebook

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.
Jace Swinton mugshot from PBSO

Repeat Offender Recklessly Injures Deputy on 441

Mazariegosorellana
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.

Reader photo of accident scene
Reader photo of accident scene

Reader photo showing what we believe to be the deputy on the ground at the scene.
Reader photo showing what we believe to be the deputy on the ground at the scene.

By our count, Mazariegos has had 9 traffic cases (7 of them criminal) in Broward County dating back to 2007:
mazariegos-broward-1
mazariegos-broward-2
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.