Saturday, November 17, 2018
News Roundup

Sheriff says pre-arrest diversion works. A lawyer is challenging that.

On an April morning last year, a Toyota Camry was parked in Richard Bandelow’s reserved spot outside his Redington Beach apartment.

So Bandelow keyed the car’s hood, according to an arrest report.

Pinellas Sheriff’s deputies arrested the 55-year-old on a charge of criminal mischief. At the jail, he was referred to the county’s Adult Pre-Arrest Diversion program for people facing certain misdemeanor charges.

If Bandelow completed 24 hours of community service and paid up to $1,000 to the victim for car repairs, he would avoid having an arrest on his record.

But two weeks later, the Sheriff’s Office told Bandelow his APAD agreement was terminated. The repair estimate was now $1,700, making his criminal mischief offense a felony.

His attorney, Marc Pelletier, told the Sheriff’s Office his client was willing to pay the extra $700 if he stayed in APAD.

Bandelow was arrested anyway.

"They made a deal with him," Pelletier said. "He held up his end of the bargain and they did not."

Pelletier is challenging Bandelow’s case in Pinellas County court as the APAD program completes its first full year. According to Sheriff’s Office statistics released this month, 3,758 people were screened for APAD eligibility in 2017. Of those, 1,443 were accepted.

That brings the total of people accepted since APAD’s launch in October 2016 to 1,851.

The program is led by Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and lauded as one of the largest criminal justice reforms in Tampa Bay. It was created as a way to keep people, primarily first-time offenders, away from a criminal record and lessen the burden on the Pinellas court system.

Among some of the report’s highlights: The top three offenses were possession of marijuana, retail theft, and battery. In all, participants have completed nearly 24,874 community service hours and paid $17,553 in restitution.

"I think it’s extremely successful," Gualtieri said. "I think it has met expectations and that we have met what we set out to accomplish."

When asked about Bandelow’s case, Gualtieri said situations where participants are terminated because new details surfaced in their cases afterward is rare.

"We’re trying to make the best decisions we can with the information that’s available to us," Gualtieri said.

Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said he had only heard of one other similar situation. A woman enrolled in APAD for battery was later charged with a felony after police learned the victim was in the hospital with serious head injuries.

"Stuff like this happens when you have quick referrals being done by the Sheriff’s Office. I’m not being critical. That’s just the nature of the beast," Bartlett said. "Honestly, I don’t think you can work out those glitches."

Bandelow was originally facing a felony criminal mischief charge. Prosecutors later told Pelletier that they could downgrade it to a misdemeanor if his client enrolled in a pre-trial intervention program. If he completed it, they would dismiss the charge.

But that program included many more conditions than just community service and restitution, so Bandelow declined. Before his April arrest, Bandelow did not have a criminal record in Florida but was arrested in November in an unrelated felony case, records show.

Pelletier also filed a motion to have Bandelow’s case heard outside of the Pinellas-Pasco circuit. His reason: Chief Judge Anthony Rondolino is among the stakeholders in APAD, including all the Pinellas police chiefs, State Attorney Bernie McCabe, and Public Defender Bob Dillinger, who signed the program’s memorandum of understanding.

That motion was denied and Pelletier filed an appeal with the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which was also denied this month.

Among Pelletier’s other clients is Marilyn Okula, accused of shoplifting at Goodwill last April. In her arrest report, a deputy noted she didn’t qualify for APAD "due to prior criminal history."

According to the program’s criteria, participants can’t have a felony conviction within the past five years and a misdemeanor conviction within the past two years.

Okula’s last conviction was in June 2011. In court records, prosecutors said she was on probation until 2013. But the APAD agreement, Pelletier points out, doesn’t address probation at all.

Gualtieri and Bartlett said police have complete discretion in how they enforce the APAD criteria.

"It’s a privilege, not a right," Bartlett said, adding that the sheriff "is the gatekeeper and it’s as simple as that. It’s their decision."

During a recent meeting, APAD stakeholders discussed expanding the criteria after statistics showed that 62 percent of people who were screened weren’t accepted. Most were denied because they had a recent misdemeanor conviction.

But for now, the program won’t change.

"We’ve got it right," Gualtieri said. "We’ve got the right people in it and we’re not giving people bites at the apple who shouldn’t get it."

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] Follow @lauracmorel.

The end of the Bucs’ Dirk Koetter-Jameis Winston partnership

The end of the Bucs’ Dirk Koetter-Jameis Winston partnership

It's hard to imagine the head coach and the quarterback both back with the Bucs in 2019.
Updated: 3 hours ago
Sound-Smarter-Than-Your-Friends Guide to Buccaneers-Giants: How Tampa Bay can lose if it wins

Sound-Smarter-Than-Your-Friends Guide to Buccaneers-Giants: How Tampa Bay can lose if it wins

The Bucs are in a race, just not the one you hoped they would be in.
Updated: 4 hours ago
Football playoffs: Jefferson 34, Lakewood 23

Football playoffs: Jefferson 34, Lakewood 23

ST. PETERSBURG — Jefferson continues to prove that seedings don't matter in Class 5A. A week after upsetting top seed Hardee, the No. 8Dragons took down No. 4 seed Lakewood 34-23 in the region semifinals.Niko Duffey scored two first-half rushin...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Football playoffs: Bloomingdale 21, Palmetto 14

Football playoffs: Bloomingdale 21, Palmetto 14

VALRICO — In the offseason, Bloomingdale coach Max Warner told his players the goal was to play on Thanksgiving weekend.That left a lot of perplexed looks from the Bulls."They didn't know what that meant," Warner said.Bloomingdale had neve...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Football playoffs: Plant 39, Viera 18

Football playoffs: Plant 39, Viera 18

VIERA — Once again, the Plant Panthers proved they're the kind of team that can take a little momentum … and run you over with it.That was the case in Friday night's Class 7A, Region 2 semifinal as the Panthers rallied from an 18-10 halft...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Football playoffs: Seffner Christian 27, Carrollwood Day 16

Football playoffs: Seffner Christian 27, Carrollwood Day 16

DOVER – Isaiah Knowles connected with Christian Helms on a pair on 10-yard touchdown tosses as Seffner Christian defeated Carrollwood Day 27-16 on Friday, giving the Crusaders their first playoff win in school history. The win, a rematch o...
Updated: 9 hours ago

Sunday’s letters: Guardian ad litem advocates for neglected children

Sunday’s letters to the editor
Published: 11/17/18
Politics, practicality, price: Across Florida, rural students put off by perceived weaknesses of higher education

Politics, practicality, price: Across Florida, rural students put off by perceived weaknesses of higher education

In rural enclaves, practical-minded students are losing faith in the value of college. Many see it as an outright corrosive force and are frustrated by its outsize cost and perceived uselessness.
Updated: 5 minutes ago

Football playoffs: Nature Coast 17, Baker County 16

BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast, an easy winner most of its past 10 games, really never had the need to attempt a field goal this season. Nor did the Sharks need to throw much, despite quarterback Fabian "2 Fabe" Burnett possessing a talented arm.Bu...
Updated: 9 hours ago

Football playoffs: Admiral Farragut 40, Cambridge Christian 14

ST. PETERSBURG — Admiral Farragut's Courtney Eubanks came out for his first home playoff game ready to play.Early in the first quarter, Eubanks had an interception on defense and followed that play with a touchdown on offense as the Blue Jacket...
Updated: 10 hours ago