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 charginghim with a battery which allegedly occurred at the Stampede bar on 2/14/15. Geronimo made themistake of not retaining Attorney Jeffrey H. Garland until several weeks later on 4/6/15. Thisdelayed the normal progression of “discovery” in the case.
Before the initial discovery responses had been received, Geronimo was cited for driving withouta valid license on 4/19/15. Although he was initially issued a “Notice to Appear”, the prosecutorwould subsequently point to the driving charge as grounds for revoking bond on the misdemeanorbattery. As is customary in Okeechobee County, Geronimo’s bond was revoked by order dated4/24/15.
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’slack of significant prior criminal history, strong ties to the community and innocense were groundsto 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 wasinnocent 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 forassistance. This was the right move, because Investigator Strippling knows his way aroundOkeechobee County. He quickly made contact with the owner of the Stampede Night Club, andfound out that the two men, whom the State alleged to be “victims”, had given notice of intent to suebecause of the Valentine’s Day incident. Stampede, therefore, developed an interest similar toGeronimo’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 theOkeechobee Stampede Night Club, with the intended goal of engaging some of the Okeechobeelocals in fights. Further investigation established that there had been, in fact, a large brawl in theparking lot outside of the Stampede. Sheriff’s deputies responded promptly, but 911 recordsestablished that all of the people supposedly involved in brawling had left by the time the deputiesarrived. No one remained to claim that they had been “battered” or injured. No one requestedmedical assistance. In fact, no one went to the local hospital for treatment. While there had clearlybeen 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 thathe had been beaten by an unknown person. He stated that Geronimo had “started a confrontationinside 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. Theclaimed injuries included a fractured face bone and broken jaw. Based upon these generalizedassertions, 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 anaffray in the parking lot. The people with most knowledge of the situation were reluctant to getinvolved. Only Geronimo’s twin brother was willing to give clear and direct testimony. Indeed, thetwin brother had suffered serious injuries to his knee, which have required two surgeries so far. Thetwin claimed that he sustained the knee injury after being attacked by unknown persons in theparking lot and being kicked while defenseless on the ground. Both Geronimo and his twin believedthat the troublemakers were from Fort Pierce, a suspicion that seemed to be confirmed by socialnetwork information.
Investigator Strippling finally broke the case open by obtaining statements from Stampede’s securitypersonnel. The prosecutor was now confronted with evidence which strongly suggested that anaffray occurred in the parking lot involving many people. Based on these circumstances, theprosecutor 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 on6/29/15.
This is another example of prosecutors using the commission of a new criminal offense to revokebond on a pre-existing charge. In this case, Geronimo was out on bond on a defenseable battery, butcommitted the offense of driving without a valid license. Even though Geronimo came to court witha valid license, the prosecutor still used this excuse to have the bond revoked. Ultimately, theprosecutors 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 notconsistent with the constitutional presumption of innocense. Indeed, the practice creates a perverseand strong incentive for innocent people to plea “no contest” in order to get out of jail. Prosecutorshave an obligation to seek and do justice. There is nothing justifiable about revoking bonds on caseswhere 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 strengthena defense. Hats off to Mike Strippling for his work in investigating this case. He can be reached atAll Over Bail Bonds at (772) 242-6380, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.