It's a familiar sight if you follow the news in Central Florida: Someone accused of a crime is led in handcuffs through a gantlet of reporters and cameras into a patrol vehicle waiting to drive the suspect to the county jail.
Defense lawyers say these events are — at best — a way for police to show off a successful arrest at the expense of the defendant's presumption of innocence.
At worst, critics say, they're an attempt to entice suspects to say something on camera they'll later regret at trial.
However, both agencies regularly invite Orlando's news organizations, including the Orlando Sentinel, to attend prisoner transfers in high-profile cases.
"We do not condone and do not participate in the deliberate posing or parading of any arrestee," said sheriff's spokesman Capt. Angelo Nieves.
Said OPD spokesman Sgt. Jim Young: "We do not do perp walks."
'I want my lawyer'
Demetrius Patterson, accused of shooting a police officer while fleeing arrest, was led out of OPD headquarters July 23 in a hospital gown, hopping on his left foot due to a bullet wound in his right foot. He was immediately surrounded.
One reporter asked: "Why were you going to shoot a cop?"
"Get these cameras out my face," Patterson said. "I want my lawyer. I ain't did nothing. Period."
If that had been a police interview, Patterson's response would have signaled its end. Instead, reporters kept asking questions until the patrol-car door closed.
According to Orlando defense lawyer Lyle Mazin, whatever a suspect says to a reporter is likely to be admissible in court — and potentially damaging.
"The most simple statement can annihilate a defense for a defendant," Mazin said.
Said David Fussell, another Orlando defense attorney: "It's a way for law enforcement to circumvent the defendant's Fifth Amendment rights. ... To me, it's an abuse of process."
Patterson didn't incriminate himself on camera. Others have. Hours after he carried out a shooting spree at the Gateway Center building in downtown Orlando, Jason Rodriguez was asked by a reporter why he did it.
"They left me to rot," Rodriguez said of his former employer there. Prosecutors later used that statement to counter Rodriguez's insanity defense.
Perp walks don't "always end up completely respecting the defendants' right to be presumed innocent in a manner that I wish it did," State Attorney Jeff Ashton acknowledged.
However, he added: "The public and the media don't generally give people the presumption of innocence anyway."
When Richard Barnes Sr. was arrested in Orlando last month, accused of shooting his girlfriend to death inside her Sanford insurance office, reporters began asking OPD's spokesman whether he was planning a perp walk.
"Perp walks are unlawful," Young replied in a mass email. However, two hours later, he sent another email, inviting reporters to police headquarters to watch Barnes' transfer.
Perp walks are not illegal, but OPD and the Sheriff's Office nevertheless don't acknowledge conducting them.
Young says his agency sends invitations to news outlets for transfers "as a courtesy to the media," because they are conducted in a secure area not generally accessible to the public.
Nieves, of the Sheriff's Office, gave an opposite explanation: OCSO transfers suspects in a public area, so reporters who want to watch "from an area the public is allowed to stand are free to do so," he said.
Both agencies have virtually identical policies, which say agency personnel "shall not deliberately pose any person in custody for photographing or [video recording] by representatives of the news media."
OPD's policy also prohibits in-custody interviews unless "the accused has agreed to such a request."
Media organizations are only invited to a small percentage of transfers by local police agencies, most often in cases that have already attracted news interest.
Many high-profile suspects aren't walked: James Robert "Bob" Ward, the Isleworth millionaire accused of killing his wife in 2009, was not. He was later convicted at trial.
Nor were Durick Ingraham, accused of fatally shooting 18-year-old Dino Cannon outside Club Limelite, and OPD Officer Roderick Johnson, who was accused of rape. Ingraham is awaiting trial; Johnson was acquitted.
Ashton said there is nothing illegal or improper about perp walks, and the information they yield is sometimes useful.
Police, he said, "want the public to know that they're doing their job and that they quote-unquote 'got the bad guy'… and I don't blame them for putting that out there."
Orange-Osceola Public Defender Bob Wesley called perp walks "a vestige of an earlier time" and an act of public shaming: "It's a bully tactic to show everybody … I've got 'em. Look what I've got."
In the modern age of high-profile cases, the images can become prolific, replayed each time there's a development in the case — and potentially poisoning the jury pool, critics say.
Ashton said that in his experience, perp walks don't typically harm the process of finding a jury or trying a case.
"Thirty or 40 years ago, there were so few of these types of crimes that it stuck in people's minds, but today, regrettably, this stuff has become so common that it gets lost in everything else that's going on," he said.
Still, that's cold comfort for those ultimately acquitted, notes Mazin: "Forever and always now, someplace in the deep mines of the Internet, there will be video of this guy walking the perp walk."
Another commonly cited criticism of perp walks is the potential for security and safety concerns.
This week, when the Sheriff's Office transferred Erica Pugh, whose boyfriend allegedly killed Deputy Sheriff Jonathan Scott Pine, reporters and photographers crowded Pugh, asking accusatory questions as deputies asked them to stay back.
"NEVER have we allowed such actions, and I specifically asked everyone to keep their distance," sheriff's spokeswoman Deputy Ginette Rodriguez wrote in an email to Orlando's news outlets afterward. "This is also a security issue for the arrestee, reporters, and deputies alike."
Rodriguez said it was unlikely the Sheriff's Office would alert the media to a prisoner transfer "in the near future due to what transpired here today."
Wesley, whose office represents Pugh, called that "a good first step."
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