Aggravated Battery Charges Dropped in Okeechobee County
Newt Ranger (not his real name) was arrested for an aggravated battery that allegedly occurred on
10/26/13, at about 1:30 A.M. 17-year-old Newt, together with a number of other juveniles and
adults, were at Douglas Park in Okeechobee. The State accused Newt of hitting a 22-year-old man
in the head with a hammer.
After Newt’s initial arrest as a juvenile, the State elected to “upfile” the charge to adult court. Newt
retained Fort Pierce Aggravated Battery Lawyer Jeffrey H. Garland as soon as he was arrested as a juvenile. By the time the case was upfiled, Attorney Garland had already interviewed witnesses and secured sworn statements of two eyewitnesses that Michael Hernandez attacked Newt, and that no hammer was used. The altercation occurred in a paved park area. The pugilists hit each other while on their feet, and the pair struggled while “rolling around” on the pavement.
As so often happens in situations like this, the primary witnesses were friends of the accused. The
State would assert that the testimony of these friends was biased in favor of the accused and would
not, therefore, be credible. In an attempt to find additional evidence, Attorney Garland obtained
copies of all police radio traffic resulting from the incident, as well as the 911-generated computer
Listening to over two hours of radio traffic disclosed another eyewitness. The substance of the new
eyewitness’s testimony – David Coleman – was described in the police radio traffic. However, the
investigating deputy neglected to mention David Coleman as a witness in his offense reports, and
the prosecutor never listed David Coleman as a witness.
Attorney Garland contacted Mr. Coleman by telephone, which was easily done, because the contact
information was included within the 911 documentation. Mr. Coleman was cooperative and helpful.
He provided the same information that he had provided to deputies who responded to Douglas Park
during this incident. Since Mr. Coleman was an “independent” witness, his credibility could not be
directly assailed by the prosecution. Indeed, the previous report to law enforcement would constitute
a “prior consistent statement” if the prosecutor were to assert that Mr. Coleman had confabulated
the story after the fact.
Attorney Garland was unable to secure medical records for the treatment of Mr. Hernandez, who had
been transported to Raulerson Hospital by Maranda Serrano. Such medical records are privileged
and could not be obtained without a court order. During depositions, however, Attorney Garland
was able to question Mr. Hernandez, Ms. Serrano and Deputy Cody Hurst (who had responded to
the emergency room) about the nature and appearance of the head injury. It was determined that Mr.
Hernandez had been treated and released with no serious injury. The lack of any serious injury to
the skull or brain appeared to be inconsistent with the assertion that there had been a hammer blow
to the head, nor was the description of the exterior point of supposed contact consistent with a
The defense investigation suggested that Mr. Hernandez was grossly intoxicated and became both
belligerent and aggressive over a parking issue. Mr. Hernandez was four years older, much taller
and much heavier than Newt. The defense concluded that Mr. Hernandez’s minor head injury came
from contact with the hard pavement as a result of the fight he started. Photographs of Newt showed
extensive bruising and injury to his face. By contrast, photographs of Mr. Hernandez showed
virtually no injury to his face.
The defense continued to monitor Mr. Hernandez’s activities. The defense discovered that Mr.
Hernandez was arrested on 2/8/14 for disorderly conduct in Okeechobee C ounty. The police report
stated that Mr. Hernandez’s face was “very bloody”, and that he was grossly intoxicated. According
the police report, Mr. Hernandez’s own sister made the following statement:
She said Michael is very intoxicated and when he gets drunk he acts like this. She
said all of the marks on Michael’s face are from himself. She said when he is drunk
and mad at a girl he beats himself up and acts crazy…[B]efore I arrived she tried to
calm him down but he was so out of control she could not do it. [She] said the reason
Michael is upset is because him and his girlfriend were arguing.
While Mr. Hernandez’s 2/8/14 disorderly conduct case was pending, he was again arrested on
3/25/14 for disorderly intoxication. According to this police report, Mr. Hernandez’s own mother
called the police, because he had been intoxicated and threatening to harm himself. The police report
describes the following circumstances where Mr. Hernandez was ultimately found:
The suspect was found in the roadway near the intersection of Highway 70 East and
SE Eighth Avenue (Okeechobee). The suspect was still incoherent and appeared
intoxicated as described above.
Due to the earlier incident and the fact, intoxicated and found in the middle of
roadway, he was arrested and transported to the Okeechobee County Jail…
Based upon the 3/25/14 arrest, the State moved to revoke bond in the earlier 2/8/14 arrest. To avoid
being held in jail, Mr. Hernandez plead no contest on 3/25/14. He was placed on probation with the
condition that he obtain a substance abuse and mental health evaluation and follow any
recommended treatment. He did not, apparently, benefit from the evaluations.
Just three days later, Mr. Hernandez again got himself arrested. According to the police report, Mr.
Hernandez had “almost got into a fight” at a bar. A friend brought Mr. Hernandez to his house
where they continued to drink. The friend later told police that Mr. Hernandez became increasingly
irate, because the friend had broke up the fight at the bar. The police report explains what happened
when the friend told Mr. Hernandez that he needed to leave:
[The friend] told Mr. Hernandez it was time for him to leave the property and that he
needed to call a ride to come and get him. Mr. Hernandez was making verbal threats
of shooting [the friend] and everyone at the house with his .38 pistol. Mr. Hernandez
came at him in an aggressive manner…the two wrestled on the ground for a bit…[the
friend] stated he held Mr. Hernandez on the ground and would not let go of [him] for
fear of him having a pistol on him…
[The friend] stated he calmed Mr. Hernandez down and finally let him get up and call
for a ride home. After Mr. Hernandez made the phone call he immediately punched
[the friend] in the face several times without warning.
When interviewed by police, Mr. Hernandez claimed that the friend “jumped on him for no reason”.
Mr. Hernandez blamed his friend entirely and denied punching him at all. The police did not believe
Mr. Hernandez and carted him off to the Okeechobee County Jail, once again, for processing.
When the prosecutor was confronted with Mr. Hernandez’s ongoing shenanigans, he elected to drop
all charges against Newt. The prosecutor could no longer base a prosecution on such an incredible
and violent witness. The nolle prosequi was filed on 4/17/14.
In serious cases, a good investigation never ends. The case against Newt was resolved because of
continuing efforts to monitor the activities of the key witness. The State was forced to drop all
charges against Newt, because it was obvious that the alleged victim had a continuing problem with
both fighting and drinking.