John Kurtz, the Orlando Copwatch founder who was facing six years in prison for battery on a law enforcement officer, was acquitted of that felony charge last week.
But he was convicted of resisting arrest without violence – even though the officer testified he was not resisting – proving once again that Florida has an unethical and unconstitutional habit of dishing out resisting arrest convictions without underlying charges to justify the arrest in the first place.
And I’m still not clear on what the judge stated about Kurtz’s missing video camera, the one that was confiscated from him, never to be seen again, which would have proved he never physically pushed the cop. Nobody who attended the trial has been able to explain that to me (and yes, I’ve been asking).
In fact, it was surveillance footage from a security street camera shown in court that showed jurors Kurtz did not attack Orlando Police Officer Adam Gruler.
But despite all that, Judge Alan Apte still sentenced Kurtz to 30 days in jail along with one year probation, indicating that he didn’t seem to keen on upholding any shred of legal objectiveness in the courtroom.
Kurtz sights that the prosecution during closing arguments and judge during sentencing, say that when Kurtz approached the scene with his camera and told the officers “calm down, I am filming you” that act by itself was interfering , obstructing or opposing a police officer, and thus, the form of resisting arrest without violence. Kurtz insists that this form of free speech is absolutely protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as Article I, Section 4 of the Florida Constitution. This is specifically upheld by the US Supreme Court in case Houston vs. Hill, 1987, and Florida Supreme Court Case, Florida vs. Saunders, 1976, as well as other case law. These rulings have never been overturned.
Kurtz’s trial is an extreme version of my trial stemming from my first arrest for photographing cops in Miami.
I was acquitted of disorderly conduct and refusing a lawful order but I was also convicted for resisting arrest without violence.
Judge Jose Fernandez, a former police union attorney, sentenced me to a year probation as well as anger management classes. He had also allowed improper evidence into the trial despite my attorney’s objections.
Just to put these sentences into perspective, a Chicago judge sentenced a cop to two years probation and no jail time for beating up a female bartender and a male patron in a bar, both incidents which were caught on video. There are many more examples of cops receiving lighter sentences after being convicted for violent crimes.
Kurtz’s probation will require him to stay 100 feet away from all police officers, which means he won’t be able to participate in Copwatch for that period.
I served my entire probation, during which I was arrested a second time for taking photos of cops, which could have landed me in jail for a year on a probation violation.
But I eventually reversed the resisting arrest conviction in an appeal I prepared myself because I was unable to afford the $10,000 for an appeal lawyer (at the time, I didn’t have nearly the readership I have now, so a donation drive would have been futile and I was already in debt for having fought the case to begin with).
In my appeal, I proved Judge Fernandez allowed improper evidence to be introduced when he allowed the prosecutor to use my blog against me and paint me as a cop-hater, which is how I got myself arrested (I didn’t launch it until after my arrest so it had no relevance on the arrest).
So that nullified the probation violation.
I also proved that Fernandez violated my Constitutional rights by issuing me a harsher sentence than sought by the state on the basis that he was upset that I had maintained my innocence throughout the trial.
Kurtz states on Orlando Copwatch that Judge Apte seemed to take a disliking to him, which was one reason he handed him a harsh sentence.
“Dozens if not hundreds of people go through the Orange County Courthouse everyday with charges of and similar to resisting arrest without violence, these people get nothing more than ‘a slap on the wrist’” Kurtz said.
“In the multiple plea deals I was offered, jail time was never mentioned, in fact my last plea offer didn’t even include probabtion and this is when I was charged with a felony, as well as resisting arrest without violence. Now that I have been found not guilty of a felony and all I have is this little misdemeanor, which is the first charge of my life, Judge Apte stuck me in jail for 30 days and a year probation. Judge Apte made it clear that he was annoyed that I wasted the courts time by excercising my right to trial instead of accepting the plea offers and he wants to punish me for it. It is that simple”.
After I had won my appeal, the cop who arrested me in the second incident, Miami Beach Police Officer David Socarra (pictured above), never showed up to court on two seperate trial dates, which lead to that single charge of resisting arrest without violence to be dismissed.
Kurtz is also planning to appeal his resisting arrest conviction and should have a good chance of winning.
He is asking for donations to hire a lawyer, which he estimates will cost between $10,000 to $15,000.
I recommend Kurtz read through this article where he will find my appeal brief, the state’s answer brief and my reply brief, which might help him and/or his attorneys in preparing a successful appeal.