For 16 months, Coconut Creek Police officer James Yacobellis was put on paid leave while an investigation took place to see if holding a Taser at a suspect in a bathtub is a violation of the rules.
In his case, it isn’t, the Broward State Attorney’s Office eventually determined.
But while prosecutors investigated, Yacobellis, collected his full salary and benefits, costing taxpayers more than $100,000.
“Our hands were tied,” said Coconut Creek Police Chief Michael J. Mann who, after conducting an internal review, doled out his own punishment: A two-week unpaid suspension for breaking the city’s rules of conduct, which cost Yacobellis about $3,000.
In the months prior to the bathtub incident, Yacobellis had to fend off other complaints.
In the first, Yacobellis was discovered with a female officer inside a city recreational building, instead of being on patrol.
“Your actions demonstrate a blatant disregard, not only of department policy, but also for your responsibility as a law enforcement officer to behave in an ethical manner,” Mann wrote after the May 2011 incident. “Please be advised that any further violations of this nature may result in further progressive disciplinary action, up to and including termination of your employment.”
Just a month later, Yacobellis was accused of falsifying a report, saying he activated his lights and sirens in an attempt to pull a suspicious car over. The teens in the car said they didn’t see the lights and sirens and didn’t realize it was a police officer trying to pull them over. The driver was charged with possession of marijuana and fleeing the scene.
Then in August of the same year, he was called to a home where the residents said their daughter and her boyfriend had stolen jewelry.
Yacobellis took the boyfriend, 19-year-old Blake Robinson, into the bathroom for questioning. Yacobellis turned on the water in the sink, he said, to make sure the girlfriend couldn’t hear what Robinson was saying.
When his partner, then-Sgt.Dominic Coppola, walked into the bathroom, Robinson was standing in the bath tub and Yacobellis had his Taser out, with the laser beam emitting. The Taser was pointed at the ground.
“Blake Robinson was speechless, with his hands down by his side and he appeared to have a blank, scared look on his face,” Coppola wrote in his report.
According to Coppola, Yacobellis then said: “I was telling Mr. Blake here how my report was going to read when he resists arrest and I tase him.”
Robinson was arrested on an outstanding warrant for an unrelated narcotics charge.
He later filed a complaint with the Coconut Creek Police Department about Yacobellis’ questioning techniques.
“I never, ever expected Officer Yacobellis to do anything but his job correctly and professionally, but instead he began to threaten me and my life with his Taser gun pointed at me the entire time,” Robinson wrote.
Although Yacobellis filled out an arrest report, he didn’t include activating his Taser and telling Robinson to stand in the bath tub.
Yacobellis was put on paid leave while the State Attorney’s Office investigated the June and August incidents.
In the end, investigator Stefanie Newman concluded there was “insufficient evidence that Officer Yacobellis engaged in any criminal activity.”