DADE CITY — A jury found former Florida Highway Patrol Capt. Greg LaMont not guilty Tuesday of the alleged crime that cost him his job with the FHP in the first place.
That should make the state of Florida think twice about trying to keep LaMont from reclaiming his job, said defense attorney George Angeliadis.
"He is very excited and looking forward to getting his job back," Angeliadis said. "This is just the first hurdle. We've got one more to go."
The jury of five women and one man took about 35 minutes to acquit LaMont of a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief stemming from a 2006 traffic stop on a Pasco stretch of Interstate 75.
LaMont, 46, was accused of a road-rage-like behavior, of striking a motorist's car, denting it, and yelling at the driver "are you brain dead?"
The driver, who was stopped for speeding, pulled over halfway on the median, halfway on the roadway. More vehicles pulled over as a result of the traffic stop, jurors learned, and a rear-end crash resulted minutes later.
LaMont spent 26 years on the force and commanded troopers in Pasco, Hernando, Citrus and Sumter counties.
But he was fired last year after an internal investigation into that 2006 traffic stop. That also led the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office to file the misdemeanor charge, which carries up to a year in jail.
LaMont appealed his dismissal to the Public Employees Relations Commission. Two things could happen next, his attorney said.
LaMont could enter into negotiations with the state to let him get his job back, or he'll have to make his case in front of a hearing officer.
But Angeliadis said that at that hearing, the state would have to re-use evidence and witnesses that didn't sway the jury in the criminal case.
"I just hope they'll think twice before flying these witnesses back down at an administrative hearing," the lawyer said.
Angeliadis believed that the jury had the most trouble with the testimony of Hussein Atris, the Michigan motorist who said his car was struck.
The lawyer said Atris couldn't recall key details of that Sept. 3, 2006, day, like what color LaMont's undercover cruiser was (it was green) or even the color of LaMont's FHP uniform (it was beige).
Atris and his girlfriend told authorities they didn't realize his car had been damaged until they got to Georgia. But LaMont's lawyer noted that the couple had stopped at a Florida rest stop before crossing the state line.
"I think that gave them an opportunity to fabricate this whole situation," Angeliadis said.
In his closing, Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia tried to convince jurors the victims hadn't concocted their story.
"Is this their way at getting back at Capt. LaMont for writing a traffic citation, which they paid?" the prosecutor asked jurors. "Folks, this would have to be a very elaborate conspiracy theory to pull this thing off."
Angeliadis, who did not want LaMont to comment after the verdict, questioned the resources the state poured into the case against his client.
Garcia is one of Pasco's most senior prosecutors, more used to murder cases than county court. The victims had to be flown in from Michigan. And half a dozen troopers spent two days waiting to take the stand.
"The state of Florida has cost taxpayers thousands of dollars prosecuting a misdemeanor," Angeliadis said. "It's just a complete waste of resources and taxpayer money."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727)