Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sunrise man cleared after elevator video shows he did not batter Fort Lauderdale officers

After a beat down in an elevator, Joshua Daniel Ortiz ended up with his nose broken and facing a charge of battering a Fort Lauderdale Is your Fort Lauderdale restaurant clean? - Click Here. police officer.

The 22-year-old Sunrise man was surprised and delighted to learn Wednesday that Broward prosecutors were dropping the case against him after reviewing an elevator surveillance video showing three officers aggressively rush and beat Ortiz to the ground.

Once the Dec. 5 video surfaced, it altered the course of the case. It contradicted police reports that Ortiz provoked and attacked Officers Derek Lade, Stefan Silver and Steve Smith.

"They were just sitting there watching my life go down the drain with those charges," Ortiz said Wednesday. "I've been going crazy thinking my life is over. It's barely started and it's over."

The looming legal charges delayed Ortiz's enrollment in college classes, he said.

Police first charged Ortiz with felony battery on a law enforcement officer.

But after seeing the video obtained by Ortiz's defense attorney, Stephen Melnick, prosecutors downgraded the charge to a misdemeanor resisting charge. Upon further review, prosecutors dropped the case entirely.

"We thought based on the facts and the evidence, including the videotape, that there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction at trial," said Lee Cohen, assistant state attorney in charge of misdemeanor cases.

Fort Lauderdale police internal affairs investigators reviewed the incident more than a month ago and found no violations of policy or procedures, said Sgt. Frank Sousa, the department's spokesman.

"It was not a beating," Sousa said. "The video clearly shows that [Ortiz] made a movement toward the officer."

The 4:10 a.m. incident unfolded in a bank lobby at 200 SW First Ave. as Ortiz, his girlfriend and friends piled into an elevator, heading to a parking garage after a night out.

Acquaintances of Ortiz's started fighting in the lobby, he said, drawing police to the scene.

According to Lade's police report, Ortiz yelled at the officers from the elevator when they tried to break up the disturbance.

Ortiz "walked right up to me hitting his nose to my nose," Lade wrote, adding that he pushed Ortiz.

"As I approached Ortiz to take him into custody, Ortiz spun around to face me and assumed a fighting stance (both left and right hand clenched into fists and body bladed)," he wrote.

Ortiz said he exchanged agitated words with the officers, but the rest is fiction.

"They were on a power trip," Ortiz said. "I don't trust them anymore."

Melnick said the officers embellished their reports to justify their aggression without knowing the videotape existed.

"I think the video speaks for itself," he said.

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