Legislature agrees two former PBC students can be paid for horrific injuries

Two former Palm Beach County high school students – one who was horrifically injured when a tire exploded in his shop class at Seminole Ridge High School – are poised to get money from the School Board to pay for their injuries.

Dustin Reinhardt holds his dog Deedee while visiting his home in Loxahatchee in 2014. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

In a lopsided vote of 117-2, the Florida House on Wednesday gave the final nod to an unusual bill that directs the School Board to pay Dustin Reinhardt $4.7 million for injuries he sustained in the 2013 explosion in his auto shop class. Now 20 and living in an assisted living facility, Reinhardt lost an eye and suffered severe brain damage in the accident. He has already received $300,000 from the school district.

The bill also allows the School Board to pay $790,000 to Altavious Carter, who broke his neck in a 2005 traffic accident caused by a school bus driver. Carter, now 25, was a 14-year-old freshman basketball standout at the former Summit Christian School when the crash occurred.

Altavious “Tae” Carter before he enrolled in Eckerd College in St. Petersburg in 2013. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

Since the Florida Senate passed the measure 31-5 on Monday, the bill is  headed to Gov. Rick Scott for his approval.

In Florida, the Legislature must approve any payments over $300,000 before government agencies can pay people who are injured by wrongdoing. The measures are known as claims bills.

In addition to awarding money to the two young men, the Legislature also ordered the Florida Department of Children & Families to pay $3.75 million to Victor Barahona. He was was found near death in a van along Interstate 95 in Lake Worth in 2011. Both he and his 10-year-old twin sister, Nubia, had been sprayed with pesticides. Nubia Barahona didn’t survive.

Officials at DCF admitted ignoring years of evidence of severe abuse and neglect at the children’s Miami home. The adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, are awaiting trial on murder and attempted murder charges.

Former Florida Sen. J. Alex Villalobos, a lawyer who now works as a lobbyist, persuaded the legislature to combine what had been two separate bills into one measure for Reinhardt and Carter. In his 25 years of watching the legislature, he said he has never seen it combine two claims bills. Without it, he said it is likely Carter, who in 2010 was awarded $1 million for his injuries by a Palm Beach County jury, would have been forced to wait yet another year.

Attorney Brian Denney, who represented Carter, said he was pleased the bill passed both chambers. But, having waited seven years, he said he wasn’t celebrating until Scott’s signature is affixed to the measure.

Carter, who also played at Grandview Prep, earned a college scholarship to play basketball. But, medical experts said, the injuries he suffered will force him to have additional surgery as he ages.

With two days left in the legislative session, a former Wellington youth, identified only has C.H.M, is still waiting to see if the legislature will pass a bill that would allow him to recover $5 million from DCF. A jury in 2013 agreed the state child welfare agency was negligent when it failed to warn his parents that a foster child they brought into their home was a predator.

The money is to help C.H.M. deal with psychological problems he suffers as a result of being sexually assaulted by the foster child, also the victim of horrific abuse.

This year appears to be a good ones for claims bills. In some recent legislative session, none have been approved.

 

Ocean Ridge Vice mayor headed to trial on gun, resisting arrest charges

Former Ocean Ridge Vice Mayor Richard Lucibella will stand trial in April on felony charges stemming from an October incident where he allegedly fired a gun and scuffled with police officer after getting drunk with one of the department’s lieutenants.

Circuit Judge Charles Burton set an April 10 trial date for Lucibella, whose attorney, Marc Shiner, declined to waive his right to a speedy trial in a hearing early Tuesday.

Lucibella, who resigned from office last week, is facing charges of resisting arrest with violence, firing a weapon in residential or public property and using a firearm under the influence of alcohol. He was released from the Palm Beach County Jail in October after posting a $3,000 bond.

According to arrest reports, an Oct. 22 call around 9 p.m. brought police to the 5700 block of Old Ocean Boulevard, north of Woolbright Road, after reports of gunshots. Officers checking the area found Lucibella, 63, outside his home sitting on patio chairs alongside Ocean Ridge police Lt. Steven Wohlfiel, the report said.

Though the report describes both men as “obviously intoxicated,”  an officer said it was Lucibella who became “belligerent and cooperative,” poking an officer several times in his chest and winding up with a black eye by the time he was in custody.

Shiner has since said that the arresting officer in the case used excessive force, and that Lucibella’s injuries also included three broken ribs and a loss of consciousness after the arresting officer allegedly slammed him face first into the ground.

Ocean Ridge Police Chief Hal Hutchins said his office is conducting an internal investigation, but on Wohlfiel, not the arresting officer. Wohlfiel is one of two lieutenants in the department who report directly to the chief. He has been reassigned as the investigation continues.
Lucibella, 63, is the CEO and director of Accountable Care Options, a Boynton Beach-based group of physician-directed organizations.

Clarence Shahid Freeman gets 3 years’ prison in extortion of schools chief

Openings in the extortion trial of Clarence Shahid Freeman, a longtime Democratic Party operative from Boynton Beach area, who is charged with trying to use an anonymous letter alleging sexual relations with school employees to blackmail then Schools Superintendent Wayne Gent for about $1 million for various people and programs.
Openings in the extortion trial of Clarence Shahid Freeman, a longtime Democratic Party operative from Boynton Beach area, who is charged with trying to use an anonymous letter alleging sexual relations with school employees to blackmail then Schools Superintendent Wayne Gent for about $1 million for various people and programs.

Clarence Shahid Freeman, the onetime community activist and local Democratic Party operative convicted this spring of trying to extort a former schools chief, was sentenced Tuesday to three years  in prison and two years’ probation.

Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley handed out the punishment for Freeman, 65, at the end of a sentencing hearing in the case surrounding Freeman’s February 2013 quest to get then-superintendent Wayne Gent to settle a grievance with a schools employee and meet two other demands in exchange for making sexual misconduct claims against him disappear.

“I went about it the wrong way, not intending to hurt anybody,” Freeman told Kelley before his sentencing, adding: “I probably didn’t take the right steps tin going about it the way I did, but I pray that everyone involved would forgive me, and I pray that God would forgive me.”

Before he was sentenced, Freeman essentially told Kelley his life’s story, chronicling his rise up from poverty and prison to become a local community leader. He said he approached Gent about an anonymous letter against him because he didn’t want the school district to be blindsided and embarrassed when it was released.

Assistant State Attorney Marci Rex, who asked Kelley to give Freeman five years in prison, said Gent and other high-ranking school officials named in the letter did feel blindsided. Rex also asked Kelley to reject Freeman’s claims of remorse, saying Freeman continued to lie to investigators about the extortion plot even after he was arrested.

A number of Freeman’s supporters, including four of his siblings, his two children and other community leaders, asked Kelley to give Freeman another chance – something they say he’s done for many in the Palm Beach County.

In his May trial,  jurors took less than 20 minutes to convict Freeman of one count each of threat or extortion and unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior. Though the charges were punishable by up to 30 years in prison, the minimum recommended sentence for Freeman under state sentencing guidelines fall just shy of three years.

Much of Freeeman’s four-day trial centered around law enforcement recordings of conversations in February 2013 between Freeman and Gent, who was then the superintendent of Palm Beach County Schools.

Freeman asked Gent to arrange a $895,000 settlement for maligned schools worker Brantley Sisnett, move the location of a charter school and implement an after school reading program that had long been Freeman’s pet project.

In exchange, Freeman promised to make go away an anonymous letter whose writer purported to be a schools employee who accused Gent of sexual misconduct and a series of elicit affairs with black female subordinates.

Kelley heard form a number of Freeman supporters before sentencing him. Among them was Jaime Zapata, a member of the Palm Beach Archdiocese who said Freeman helped him with underprivileged children.

Local Pastor Emmanuel Jenkins and Iona Mosely, city attorney for Fort Pierce, both said he organized efforts to appreciate local law enforcement officers and other “unsung heroes” in the community.

His longtime partner, Connie Barry, said Freeman has had to be put on medication for high blood pressure and diabetes since his incarceration in May, conditions he hadn’t suffered with previously. Barry asked the judge to sentence Freeman to probation and house arrest.

“This has been a devastating experience for him and for me, and I know Shahid will live the rest of his life as a man of good character,” Barry said.

When it was his time to speak, Freeman told the story of his poor upbringing, and how he grew a passion for helping others through education after a chancellor in the New York school district took him in an personally tutored him after he was forced to drop out of school for two years to help support his family.

He also talked about how he was one of the first black students to integrate schools locally and how that led to encounters with racism. In 1974, he was convicted of an armed robbery in Hillsborough County, and said others there helped him get released early in 1979.

Rex said Freeman also has misdemeanor convictions for child abuse, marijuana possession and petit theft.

As far as the incident with Gent, defense attorney Charles White pointed out several times that Freeman, whatever his methods, did what he did to help others.

“It wasn’t sophisticated, it was stupid,” White said, urging Kelley for a sentence below the 34-month minimum recommended sentence. He asked instead for house arrest and asked that community service be a part of Freeman’s sentence as well.

In the end, Kelley rejected Freeman’s request to go belowe the minimum sentence, but said he didn’t think Freeman deserved five years in prison.

Six months after Corey Jones death, family seeks answers

By now, Clinton Jones Sr. said Monday, he thought he would know whether the police officer who shot and killed his son Corey six months ago would face criminal charges.

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(Palm Beach Post staff)

Instead, prosecutors have told him that they are still in the end stages of a three-agency investigation into former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja, the plainclothes officer who was still on probation when he had the deadly Oct. 18 encounter with the stranded 31-year-old motorist.

“I would think that by now they would have had enough time to do whatever they needed to do,” Clinton Jones, Sr. said Monday during a rally outside the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office. “We’re going to keep fighting for justice, though, and we need all of you to fight with us.”

In the shadow of officer-involved shootings like the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and others, Jones’ case has garnered little national attention since the first few weeks after news broke of the popular professional drummer’s death.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg has urged the public to remain patient as his office, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI complete their investigation.

Jones’s father, his brother C.J. and others say they understand the investigation takes time, but in the meantime they struggle with unanswered questions surrounding Corey Jones’ death.

C.J. Jones, who said his daughters have built a deep resentment of police since their uncle’s death, made an appeal to law enforcement.

“We need the good cops to step up,” he said. “We need the good officers to come up, and help us get rid of these bad ones, so we can all protect the community together.”

Raja told investigators after the shooting that he was forced to fire on Jones because Jones came at him with a gun. Jones’ newly purchased gun, for which he had a permit, was found at some point between his broken down car and where his body came to rest.

Raja fired his gun six times, hitting Jones three times. Ballistics reports show Jones’ gun was never fired.

Attorney for Trump campaign manager no stranger to controversy

West Palm Beach attorney Scott Richardson, who was tapped Tuesday to represent GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s campaign manager on a battery charge, is no stranger to high-profile cases.

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Defense attorney Scott Richardson (front) in court in 2014 with John Goodman during the polo mogul’s trial for DUI manslaughter.

Throughout his career, which began in 1978 as a prosecutor in the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office, the 62-year-old registered Democrat has represented priests accused of stealing from the collection plate, cops accused of killing suspects and politicians behaving badly.

Most recently, he was a member of the defense team for John Goodman when the Wellington polo mogul in 2014 – for a second time – was convicted of DUI manslaughter in the 2010 crash that killed engineering graduate Scott Wilson.

Those who have known the defense attorney, whose courtroom style is more professorial than dramatic, said they weren’t surprised Richardson, along with former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey, were hired to represent Corey Lewandowski on a battery charge.

“He’s a great lawyer, an exceptional trial lawyer and he’s extremely ethical,” said defense attorney Michael Salnick, who shares his longtime friend’s love of the law, baseball, the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson. “He’s an excellent choice to represent this man.”

Lewandowski turned himself in at the Jupiter police station Tuesday morning and was given a notice to appear on a misdemeanor battery charge in connection with allegations made by Michelle Fields, a former reporter for the online Breitbart News Network. At a March 8 press conference at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, the 28-year-old Fields claims Lewandowski manhandled her when she tried to ask Trump a question — a claim Lewandowski denies.

Richardson, often working with Salnick and former Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer, built his career representing cops accused of crimes. One of his most headline-grabbing cases was in 1991 when he and Krischer represented West Palm Beach police officers Glen Thurlow and Stephen Rollins in the beating death of Robert Jewett.

Despite an autopsy that showed Jewett’s injuries included a broken neck, nine broken ribs, a bruised lung, a puncture in his heart and blood-filled testicles, jurors cleared the officers of any wrongdoing.

In 2005, he worked similar magic for Delray Beach police officer Darren Cogoni in the shooting death of 16-year-old Jerrod Miller at a school dance. Taking the calculated risk of allowing Cogoni to testify before the grand jury, the panel cleared the rookie officer of wrongdoing.

He also represented the Rev. John Skehan, a longtime priest at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach. Admitting he stole from the parish from 2001 to early 2006, the 81-year-old priest pleaded guilty to grand theft over $100,000 and received a 14-month prison sentence after police said he embezzled as much as $8 million from the church.

When Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe was elected in 2008, he sought to shore up the office by hiring Richardson. McAuliffe created a special position for Richardson as his chief counsel, earning praise from underlings. A big part of Richardson’s job was to train young attorneys – part of what McAuliffe called his desire to build a prosecutorial force of  “national caliber.”

When McAuliffe unexpectedly quit the job before his term was up, Richardson returned to private practice.

Richardson, who is famously tight-lipped with the press, wasn’t immediately available for comment. Years ago, when asked why he counted so many police officers as clients, he explained that he enjoyed bursting misconceptions people may have about cases that received enormous attention in the press.

“I enjoy being able to present the facts within the rules governing the admissability of evidence and oftentimes overcoming initial misconceptions about the guilt or innocence of the officer,” he said.