Monday, December 18, 2017
Public safety

Another police action caught on video, this time in Largo

LARGO — Police were called to Joanna Rivera-Molina's apartment in July because her 14-year-old daughter was accused of acting out and hitting her.

But when police arrived, Rivera-Molina, 41, questioned why one of the officers was searching her home. A Largo officer responded, "I'll be happy to leave and then you can deal with this s- - - by yourself."

Shortly afterward, Rivera-Molina herself was arrested on a charge of domestic battery for lightly pushing her daughter as the teen tried to leave.

Like an increasing number of police actions across the country, this one was caught on video. Rivera-Molina's 19-year-old daughter recorded the two-minute interaction on her cellphone.

Attorney Haydee Oropesa said Rivera-Molina should not be punished for merely asking why an officer was searching her home, and said the video helped show what really happened that day.

"Big Brother needs to be careful, because we're watching," said Oropesa, who posted the video on her blog, www.floridayoujudge.com.

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office reviewed the case and decided this week not to prosecute.

Asked about the video Thursday afternoon, a Largo police spokesman said he needed more time to review it before responding.

The incident occurred July 27 at Rivera-Molina's apartment on Clearwater-Largo Road. Her adult daughter called police to say that her sister was out of control and hitting her mother.

Near the beginning of the video, Rivera-Molina asks why an officer is going through her things. A male officer said no one was going through her things, the officer was doing a "protective sweep."

A protective sweep is when police do a quick look-through of a home for safety reasons. The possible danger that officers sometimes face is clear to anyone who remembers the St. Petersburg case of Hydra Lacy, who in 2011 shot and killed two police officers as he hid in an attic.

A U.S. Supreme Court case affirmed that officers can do protective sweeps, but they must have a solid reason for thinking a danger is present.

The video also shows the officers leaving the home. Rivera-Molina lightly pushes her younger daughter back when the teen tries to leave with them. At that point, the male officer says, "Ma'am, now you're going to jail because you committed battery … on your daughter in front of me."

Rivera-Molina was handcuffed and taken to the Pinellas County Jail, where she was released on her own recognizance.

She said in an interview that what initially bothered her was the officer searching her home without asking permission.

The comment about dealing with "this s- - - by yourself" bothered her even more, she said.

"He told me, basically, I'm going to walk away and not do my job," she said.

She said she was stopping her daughter from leaving with the officers because, by that point, she didn't trust them.

Contact Curtis Krueger at [email protected] or (727) 892-8232. Follow @ckruegertimes.

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