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State goes 1-for-3 in 2006 autograph case

Boston Red Sox fan Andrea Fahey says a Boston player accepted her ball to sign before the deputy interrupted.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Boston Red Sox fan Andrea Fahey says a Boston player accepted her ball to sign before the deputy interrupted.

LARGO — It was supposed to be a perfect weekend for lifelong Boston Red Sox fan Andrea Fahey and her family.

It was August 2006. The Red Sox were here for a series with the Devil Rays. Fahey's family, including her two children, got a room at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg, where the team was staying.

Fahey's 9-year-old son spent the weekend getting players to sign his baseball. Around check-out time on the last day of their stay, Fahey tried to get one more player to sign her son's ball.

Outside the lobby, she approached Manny Ramirez, one of the team's biggest stars. She handed Ramirez the ball and asked him to sign it for her son.

Within minutes Fahey — a substitute teacher and school nurse with no criminal record — was handcuffed in the back seat of a sheriff's cruiser. She was charged with a felony count of battery on a law enforcement officer — a charge with a maximum penalty of five years in prison. She also faced a misdemeanor charge of resisting an officer.

What happened?

Last week, a jury in the Pinellas criminal courthouse was asked to figure that out.

• • •

Deputy Danielle Baumgardner was working an off-duty detail at the Vinoy that day. In her written report, Baumgardner noted that her duty was to keep autograph-seekers away from players, even though the hotel allows players to sign autographs if they wish.

In the lobby that morning, Baumgardner saw Fahey's son approach Ramirez as he was checking out. The deputy told the boy no autographs. Baumgardner said Fahey grabbed the ball and approached Ramirez.

Baumgardner said she told Fahey no autographs, at which point Fahey yelled that it was only for her son.

Baumgardner escorted Ramirez outside. Fahey approached him again and shoved the ball into his hand, the deputy's report states. Baumgardner said she took the ball away from Ramirez and gave it back to Fahey, who thrust it into Ramirez's hands again.

Baumgardner grabbed the ball again. Her report says Fahey slapped her arm, knocking the ball to the ground. Fahey then pushed the deputy in the chest, the report states.

Baumgardner said she told Fahey she was under arrest and grabbed her arm. Fahey struggled. A security officer called another deputy from the lobby, who helped cuff Fahey.

The deputies took Fahey to a cruiser two blocks away. She struggled with them the whole time, the report states.

Baumgardner noted in her report that the scuffle caused a bleeding injury to one of her fingers that "continued to throb throughout the day."

Fahey was booked into the Pinellas County Jail and released after she posted $5,150 bail. Prosecutors filed formal charges a few weeks later.

At the time, Baumgardner had worked for the Sheriff's Office for about a year. Before that, she worked for seven years as a police officer in East Hartford, Conn.

She was accused of excessive force once; and of being rude or profane to citizens three times. A performance evaluation noted her weak points were "control at scene" and "frustration."

In 2001, she was charged with disorderly conduct after she allegedly punched her live-in boyfriend, a fellow police officer. At the Pinellas Sheriff's Office, she has received one reprimand for a conflict with a supervisor.

• • •

Fahey, 45, who lives in Sebastian, hired lawyer Steve Romine, of high-profile attorney Barry Cohen's Tampa firm, to represent her. She turned down plea deals from prosecutors that would have placed her on probation. She wanted to prove her innocence, Romine said.

On Tuesday, she went to trial.

Prosecutors had a challenge. Baumgardner is in the military and had been called to duty. She would not be able to testify at trial. Her absence also meant her written report was inadmissible.

Some of Baumgardner's testimony could have been used, but she didn't show up for a deposition before she left for the military, Romine said.

The prosecution summoned a Vinoy security officer and the fellow deputy, both of whom saw portions of the incident. The security officer testified that Fahey indeed touched Baumgardner's shoulders and wrist while trying to get her ball back, but he made no mention of a push. Under Florida law, even an unwanted touch can be considered battery, though Romine said Fahey had a lawful right to touch the deputy to get her ball back.

The fellow deputy backed much of what Baumgardner said in her report about Fahey resisting their efforts to handcuff her, though Romine did his best to discredit her testimony as covering for Baumgardner.

On Wednesday morning, Fahey took the stand and rebutted much of Baumgardner's report.

Fahey said Ramirez accepted the ball, but that Baumgardner snatched it out of his hand. Fahey tried to get it back, but Baumgardner kept moving it around — like a game of keep-away. She was trying to get the ball back.

Fahey said Baumgardner then told her she was under arrest for hitting a deputy.

She said Baumgardner twisted her arm around her back and handcuffed her in a way that caused pain. If she struggled, she said, it was to relieve the hurting.

She said the deputies left her in a sheriff's cruiser in the parking garage for more than two hours with no air conditioning or open windows. She later needed reconstructive surgery on her wrist because of what happened, she said.

• • •

After the prosecution rested its case, Judge Timothy Peters acquitted Fahey of the felony battery on a law enforcement officer charge.

Peters based this decision on arguments by Romine that Baumgardner wasn't acting as a police officer — but as an agent of the hotel — when she grabbed Fahey's ball; and that she had no legal right to take the ball in the first place.

"This situation here obviously got completely out of hand for all sides," Peters said.

With that charge dismissed, the jury had to decide if Fahey was guilty of two misdemeanors — battery and resisting an officer.

After just over an hour of deliberations, it returned with a verdict: not guilty of battery, guilty of resisting an officer.

Romine told Peters the verdict was inconsistent. How can someone be guilty of resisting an officer who is arresting her for a crime she did not commit?

But the jury had spoken. Peters agreed to withhold judgment against Fahey, meaning she can get the arrest record sealed or expunged, Romine said.

Peters fined Fahey $1,000 and put her on probation for one day. Fahey paid the fine immediately.

"I'm glad it's over," she said.

Sitting behind Romine at the trial was former longtime Pinellas Sheriff Everett Rice. Rice, a lawyer, now works for Cohen's firm. After watching the trial, Rice criticized the deputies.

"The cops were the ones who escalated the situation," he said. "When I was a cop working the street, we wouldn't arrest a citizen for resisting unless we were hurt — and many times in the hospital. These days they're arresting people for looking at a cop funny."

• • •

Neither the state nor the defense subpoenaed Ramirez.

But Romine said Ramirez told one of his investigators that he didn't mind giving Fahey an autograph and that he didn't understand why the situation turned sour. Ramirez also made it clear he didn't want to be subpoenaed, so the jury never heard that.

The jury also didn't hear this:

In September, on her son's birthday, Fahey found Ramirez again — this time at the Don CeSar Beach Resort.

She asked him to sign a baseball for her son. Ramirez didn't say anything, but he smiled like he remembered her.

And he signed the ball.

Chris Tisch can be reached at tisch@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2359.

State goes 1-for-3 in 2006 autograph case 08/16/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 22, 2008 8:30pm]

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