NORTH PORT, Fla. -- As we first reported yesterday, accusations of a wild party that led to one officer being arrested and another taking his own life to avoid prosecution may not lead to criminal charges after all.
The incident stems from a March house party in North Port attended by multiple on- and off-duty police officers. The hostess of that party claims uniformed Officer Ricky Urbina and off-duty Officer Melanie Turner handcuffed and sexually assaulted her.
The scandal has rocked the North Port Police Department and the community. But now there’s speculation that the charges against Officer Turner may soon be dropped, a development that has some people wondering if the justice system isn’t fundamentally flawed.
"Really it’s a creditability contrast between two people,” says Andrea Flynn Mogensen, the attorney representing the victim in the case. “When a person says they've been victimized by another person, there typically are not witnesses to that event."
According to the incident report, officers Turner and Urbina handcuffed the victim and led her to the master bedroom where they allegedly assaulted her. Urbina committed suicide after being alerted to the fact that he was about to be arrested and charged, which left just Turner and the victim as the only people who know what really happened. It’s a situation that has led some to speculate that the State Attorney's Office could be about to drop the charges.
It’s a move that Mogensen says should not be decided on by the State Attorney.
"That’s the type of circumstance that should go to the jury, so that the people of this community could make a determination which fact to rely on and whether or not a conviction serves justice," Mogensen says.
But legal quandaries like this are not uncommon, and prosecutors often debate whether or not to press charges.
"There is a defense of consensual contact, and the problem that you have is overcoming the initial claim of consensual contact, so there is some inherent problems with that,” says Sarasota defense attorney John Torraco. “How do you actually convince a jury that the acts were not consensual?"
Torraco says that inherent doubt means it’s a judgment call for the prosecution to decide whether or not to take the case to court.
"The standard for a police officer to arrest [is one thing] and the standard to convict is beyond a reasonable doubt, so there is a very wide difference between the two and it’s a prosecutor’s duty to decide if they can actually bring the charges forth," Torraco explains.
We reached out to the State Attorney's Office for comment, and while they wouldn't comment on the status of the charges against Turner, they reiterated that they are conducting a thorough follow-up investigation. They also said a decision on whether the charges will be dropped will be made in one to two weeks.