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29 Jul 2015

Okeechobee Battery Attorney Defends Man Charged in Bar Fight

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Okeechobee Stampede Bar Brouhaha Resolved – The Case For a Better Defense

Something happened at the Okeechobee Stampede bar around 1:30 – 2:00 A.M. in the early morning
hours of 2/14/15. This was not a lovers’ quarrel. Whatever it was, no one involved thought it
important enough to complain about that night to the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO).

A month later, on 3/15/15, Jacob Geronimo (not his real name) was picked up on a warrant charging
him with a battery which allegedly occurred at the Stampede bar on 2/14/15. Geronimo made the
mistake of not retaining Attorney Jeffrey H. Garland until several weeks later on 4/6/15. This
delayed the normal progression of “discovery” in the case.

Before the initial discovery responses had been received, Geronimo was cited for driving without
a valid license on 4/19/15. Although he was initially issued a “Notice to Appear”, the prosecutor
would subsequently point to the driving charge as grounds for revoking bond on the misdemeanor
battery. As is customary in Okeechobee County, Geronimo’s bond was revoked by order dated
4/24/15.

As a respectful and honest citizen, Geronimo surrendered on the bond revocation warrant on 4/28/15.
Attorney Garland filed a motion to reinstate the bond the following day, arguing that Geronimo’s
lack of significant prior criminal history, strong ties to the community and innocense were grounds
to reinstate the bond. County Judge Gerald Bryant denied the motion on 5/12/15. The State,
meanwhile, threatened to charge defendant with two felony batteries, arising from the same incident,
based upon what the prosecutor alleged were serious personal injuries.

At this point, the stakes had dramatically raised. Geronimo was serving time in jail whether he was
innocent or guilty. The prosecutor was threatening to refile felony charges for the same conduct.
Clearly, it was time to present a better defense.

Attorney Garland left court on 5/12/15, and went directly to Investigator Mike Strippling’s office for
assistance. This was the right move, because Investigator Strippling knows his way around
Okeechobee County. He quickly made contact with the owner of the Stampede Night Club, and
found out that the two men, whom the State alleged to be “victims”, had given notice of intent to sue
because of the Valentine’s Day incident. Stampede, therefore, developed an interest similar to
Geronimo’s in seeking to establish what really happened during the fateful period of time.

Social networking showed that a number of Fort Pierce men coordinated their travel to the
Okeechobee Stampede Night Club, with the intended goal of engaging some of the Okeechobee
locals in fights. Further investigation established that there had been, in fact, a large brawl in the
parking lot outside of the Stampede. Sheriff’s deputies responded promptly, but 911 records
established that all of the people supposedly involved in brawling had left by the time the deputies
arrived. No one remained to claim that they had been “battered” or injured. No one requested
medical assistance. In fact, no one went to the local hospital for treatment. While there had clearly
been an incident in the parking lot, it was over and done with in a short period of time.

Over three weeks later, on March 6, a Fort Pierce man went to the Sheriff’s office to complain that
he had been beaten by an unknown person. He stated that Geronimo had “started a confrontation
inside the bar”. However, this complaining witness did not state that Geronimo actually hit him.
Instead, he described being punched by an unidentified person. This complaining witness said he,
and another Fort Pierce native, went to a Fort Pierce hospital, and both received treatment. The
claimed injuries included a fractured face bone and broken jaw. Based upon these generalized
assertions, OCSO obtained a warrant for Geronimo’s arrest for battery.
Further investigation of the incident confirmed that a large number of people were involved with an
affray in the parking lot. The people with most knowledge of the situation were reluctant to get
involved. Only Geronimo’s twin brother was willing to give clear and direct testimony. Indeed, the
twin brother had suffered serious injuries to his knee, which have required two surgeries so far. The
twin claimed that he sustained the knee injury after being attacked by unknown persons in the
parking lot and being kicked while defenseless on the ground. Both Geronimo and his twin believed
that the troublemakers were from Fort Pierce, a suspicion that seemed to be confirmed by social
network information.

Investigator Strippling finally broke the case open by obtaining statements from Stampede’s security
personnel. The prosecutor was now confronted with evidence which strongly suggested that an
affray occurred in the parking lot involving many people. Based on these circumstances, the
prosecutor agreed to reduce the charge to disorderly conduct and a sentence of “time served”.
Having been held without bond, Geronimo gladly agreed to the reduced charge and was released on
6/29/15.

Comment from Okeechobee Battery Attorney Jeffrey Garland

This is another example of prosecutors using the commission of a new criminal offense to revoke
bond on a pre-existing charge. In this case, Geronimo was out on bond on a defenseable battery, but
committed the offense of driving without a valid license. Even though Geronimo came to court with
a valid license, the prosecutor still used this excuse to have the bond revoked. Ultimately, the
prosecutors are able to use this technique to hold people in jail, whether they are guilty or innocent,
and whether the evidence is strong or weak. The State’s routine use of bond revocation is not
consistent with the constitutional presumption of innocense. Indeed, the practice creates a perverse
and strong incentive for innocent people to plea “no contest” in order to get out of jail. Prosecutors
have an obligation to seek and do justice. There is nothing justifiable about revoking bonds on cases
where there is no danger to the community and no threat of flight.

This case also points out the value of a good investigator in helping to develop facts to strengthen
a defense. Hats off to Mike Strippling for his work in investigating this case. He can be reached at
All Over Bail Bonds at (863) 467-2021, or at aalloverbailbonds@hotmail.com.

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