Three Fort Lauderdale police officers accused of official misconduct and other charges were found not guilty by a Broward judge Wednesday, a day after a jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict on the same charges.
Broward Circuit Judge Cynthia Imperato made her ruling from the bench, criticizing the Broward state attorney’s office for a prosecution that, in her view, shifted focus and inflamed the jury.
The case against Detective Sgt. Michael Florenco and Detectives Matthew Moceri and Geoffrey Shaffer centered on the pursuit of burglary suspect Kenneth Post, 50, in the city’s Rio Vista neighborhood on Nov. 22, 2009.
In official reports, the officers wrote that Post crashed his vehicle into theirs to end a half-mile chase that at one point exceeded 70 mph.
Prosecutors Stefanie Newman and Tim Donnelly told jurors that the officers struck Post’s car from behind, and only after their vehicle struck something else, causing damage unrelated to the collision with Post.
At one point during closing arguments Tuesday, Donnelly said the officers battered Post, eliciting loud objections from the defense and drawing the ire of the judge.
“For Mr. Donnelly to say, ‘Well, they beat the crap out of him’ makes me wonder what this case was really about,” Imperato said Wednesday. “Is it about Mr. Post and whatever happened? Then these officers should have been charged with battery. They weren’t charged with that. They were charged with nine felonies each. And I don’t think there was a case to support that, and the court grants the motion for a [judgment of acquittal].”
Imperato’s ruling drew gasps of relief from several supporters of the officers. Florenco, Moceri and Shaffer left the courtroom without commenting.
Sgt. Jack Lokeinsky, president of the Fort Lauderdale Fraternal Order of Police, said the union would immediately seek to have the officers reinstated to their jobs. They have been suspended without pay since their arrest late last May.
Defense lawyers Howard Greitzer, Anthony Livoti and Bradford Cohen had asked the judge to declare a mistrial and acquit their clients while the jury was still deliberating late Tuesday afternoon. The jury came back with acquittals on two misconduct charges each against Moceri and Shaffer, but failed to reach a unanimous verdict on all other counts.
While Newman argued that her closing statement relied on testimony and documents that were part of the evidence presented at the six-day trial, Donnelly offered no argument in defense of his statement about how Post was treated when he was arrested.
Other than Donnelly’s statement, jurors heard next to nothing about Post’s injuries. In his mug shot, Post can be seen with a black eye and a broken nose. Earlier this week, Post pleaded guilty to burglary and grand theft charges. He was sentenced to three years in prison.