"The American criminal justice system is not a justice system. It is a money-generating system. All the deputies are revenue-generators for the county, nothing more." Mr. Michael Paul Cravatt to author, May 11, 2015.
In 2005 and again in 2008, the state legislature of Florida passed and amended Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, officially known as "Title XLVI Crimes, Chapter 776, Justifiable Use of Force."
On April 19, 2009, Mr. Michael Paul Cravatt was arrested by Escambia
County Sheriff's Office deputies for "two counts of Aggravated Assault
With A Firearm Without Intent To Kill," according to arrest report
ECSO09ARR008739 written by Deputy Sheriff August Aaron Busche.
law and facts are so straightforward that the first time the judge
heard the facts, he asked that the defense counsel file a Motion to
Dismiss. But, the reason the Sheriff's Office and the prosecutor
pursued these charges was to coerce a plea deal which generates income for Escambia County.
Unluckily for them,
Mr. Cravatt was determined to fight the charges and had the means to do
so, though he was represented by a Criminal Conflict lawyer who was determined to win.
Mr. Cravatt, who is taller than six feet, is a real character who has had more adventures than most people can even imagine. But, he also has character--if you know the Pulp Fiction reference. He's a libertarian at heart and could lean towards Rand Paul, if he were politically engaged, which he is not. He wears his hair short and looks like he could have been a surfer. He is a free spirit. He makes damn good money at his job and travels the world to apply his much-demanded skills. With his earnings he built his own house over a three-year period. In other words, Mr. Cravatt is a hard working, tax-paying, law-abiding resident of Escambia County.
And, the Escambia County Sheriff's Office deputies treated him like a criminal from the moment they first encountered him.
Florida's Justifiable Use of Force Law
Under the 2005 statute, a person could use force, but not deadly force, if that person "reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony." The 2005 law, Section 776.013(5)(c) defined a vehicle as "a conveyance of any kind, whether or not motorized, which is designed to transport people or property."
The 2008's Section 776.031 further provided for the use of non-deadly force when a "person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent or terminate the other's trespass on, or other tortious or criminal interference with, either real property other than a dwelling or personal property, lawfully in his or her possession or in the possession of another who is a member of his or her immediate family or household or of a person whose property he or she has a legal duty to protect."
In certain key respects, the arrest report written by Deputy Sheriff Busche is another act of creative writing with key details omitted. One key detail Deputy Busche left out was his initial statement to Mr. Cravatt: "You're in a world of shit." When Mr. Cravatt inquired as to why, the deputy replied, "For pulling a gun on kids."
Two kids? One Black "kid" had a rifle protruding from behind his back and was armed with a crow bar or long pipe, as well as a knife. The arrest report confirmed that the 17-year old, who had initially been seen on the roof of the Mercedes Benz, did indeed have a "small rifle style pellet gun...on [his] back." The second Black "kid" had a long pipe and a knife. One had been standing on the roof of the vehicle when Mr. Cravatt encountered them which gave him the appearance of being taller and older than he may have at first seemed.
Mr. Cravatt told me that once he had ordered the two youths to lay down on the ground, he realized that one was younger and smaller than the other. But, it is important to note that though Mr. Cravatt did unholster and aim his pistol at the two youths, he did not fire and he did not threaten to shoot them. He did not threaten to shoot them even after one of the youth's inquired as to what Mr. Cravatt would do if he got up and ran away.
For example, the arrest report initially described the incident taking place "at the residence" without ever explaining that Mr. Cravatt owned a half-interest in the residence. The other half was owned by his grandfather. In other words, Mr. Cravatt encountered the two youths destroying the windows on the Mercedes Benz on his own property.
The arrest report described the vehicle being damaged as "an abandoned vehicle." The vehicle was not abandoned, it was being stored behind the residence. In fact, his mom's boyfriend took old cars, restored and refurbished them, and sold them for profit. The vehicle in question actually belonged to his mother's boyfriend. The boyfriend had been notified of the vandalism by the next door neighbor. The boyfriend, being in Alabama at the time, notified Mr. Cravatt who arrived on the scene ten minutes later from his own residence.
The arrest report described the knives carried by both youths as "a pocket knife." Mr. Cravatt told me that they were "buck knives."
And, what the arrest report did not convey was what actually happened at the scene with the deputies, other than that Mr. Cravatt "advised [that] he did not wish to speak with this deputy." Yeah, and for very good reasons.
The arrest report does state that the two juveniles, which the arrest report listed as 17-years old and 12-years old, though Mr. Cravatt stated that he initially thought the 12-year old appeared to be about the same age as the 17-year old due to his height, "began to break the windows out of the vehicle."
In fact, Mr. Cravatt could hear them smashing the windows as he approached the rear of the residence from the street.
Had Deputy Busche and the female deputy on the scene not roughed up Mr. Cravatt and treated him as a criminal, they would have been told that this was not the first time that the property had been vandalized. Someone had stolen copper wire from the property; someone had burned the lumber stored to dry out that his grandfather had cut from logs; the windows of the school bus and the truck had been broken out; and, someone had tried to burn down the residence.
Roughing Up the Victim
When Deputy Busche first encountered Mr. Cravatt, his handgun had already been reholstered and was on his hip. Mr. Cravatt complied with the demand to drop the weapon by repeating the officer's command and slowly taking the weapon and placing it on the ground. The only object in his hand was his cigarette lighter which made the deputy especially nervous. He complied with the command to lay down on the ground.
At that point, Deputy Busche put his boot on Mr. Cravatt's neck and his handgun to his head. That is when he stated that Mr. Cravatt was "in a world of shit." At that moment, Mr. Cravatt realized that this was not going well for him and remained silent, except for giving very short answers to their questions.
When Deputy Busche initially handcuffed Mr. Cravatt, the handcuffs were so tight that his hands eventually turned blue. They had to be removed many minutes later and he had to be re-cuffed before he could be transported to the Sheriff's Office for processing.
After being searched while on the ground, he was searched a second time by a female deputy. The female deputy pulled Mr. Cravatt to his feet and kicked his feet to separate his legs. When Mr. Cravatt objected to being searched by a female deputy, a male deputy came over and kicked his feet even harder and forced his legs to spread wider. Mr. Cravatt, wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops, was given very near, a very physical full-cavity search.
Once Mr. Cravatt had arrived at the Escambia County Jail, a deputy found Mr. Cravatt's wad of bills totaling between $2,200 and $2,500; they immediately and loudly demanded repeatedly that he explain why he had that amount of cash. He told them the cash was his own and that he worked for his money. Actually, Mr. Cravatt, in addition to his regular well-paying job, on the side earns money buying antiques and other interesting stuff from people who want cash on the spot. You know, it is not illegal to carry cash--at least not yet.
After a deputy read Mr. Cravatt his Miranda rights, he was asked if he wanted to answer any questions. He replied, "No." At that point, he was placed under arrest.
By that time, his mother, who works for the Public Defenders' office, and his sister, who works for the Regional Conflict Counsel office, arrived at the scene and wanted to know why Mr. Cravatt was being arrested on his own property.
The female deputy intervened by placing a hand out to prevent his sister from advancing while with the other hand covered up her badge. His sister had asked that they identify themselves by badge number.
I thought that local law enforcement had to identify themselves and provide their badge numbers. But, not apparently under Sheriff David Morgan. His deputies can act like East Germany's Stasi or secret police.
Once Mr. Cravatt was in the squad car headed back to the Sheriff's Office, Deputy Busche told him that the deputies were going to charge the two youths. He said that though he could not question Mr. Cravatt, Mr. Cravatt was free to ask him anything he wanted.
Mr. Cravatt tested Deputy Busche's intentions by asking him a simple question: "Is this conversation being recorded?" The deputy replied, "No."
Mr. Cravatt jokingly told me that anyone who had ever watched an episode of Cops knows that every conversation in the squad car is taped. And, Mr. Cravatt recommended that everyone watch the videos, Don't Talk to the Cops Part 1 and Part 2.
And the two youths who were smashing up a Mercedes Benz with crow bars? They were driven home by the deputies. They were not charged.
In between the arraignment and the Pre-Trial conference, once Mr. Cravatt was in the hallway with his lawer, Sheriff deputies accosted Mr. Cravatt and forcibly took a DNA swab of his mouth. They were waiving a paper claiming that Mr. Cravatt was a "convicted felon" and that they had the right to his DNA. His lawyer told him to comply and she would get them to destroy the DNA swab.
The Sheriff's Office has never, to Mr. Cravatt's knowledge, ever destroyed that DNA swab that they took under false pretenses.
And, once the charges were dismissed and the judge ordered that his weapon and bullets be returned. The Sheriff's Office refused to give him his weapon and bullets all at once. They did give him his weapon and made him return the next day to retrieve the four bullets.
Petty. But, that's how Sheriff Morgan runs his office.
The Escambia Cash-Generating Machine
The charges against Mr. Cravatt were bogus, though serious. Mr. Cravatt was facing twenty years in jail for two counts of "Aggravated Assault With A Deadly Weapon Without Intent To Kill."
Mr. Cravatt was adamant that he was not going to accept a plea bargain deal. He began interviewing law firms and had settled on hiring two firms to represent him. He was prepared to spend up to $50,000 to keep his freedom. He eventually decided to be represented by a very sharp lawyer from the Criminal Counsel office. She was equally determined to win this case on the facts.
The prosecutor did offer a deal: plead guilty to improper display of a firearm, receive one-year probation, plus pay a fine.
Probation generates funds for Escambia County. Mr. Cravatt, and any defendant, has to pay court fees and fines. The probation officer is employed. The prosecutor does not actually have to try the case. The defense lawyers are paid and do not have to go to trial. Jurors do not have to be selected and hear the evidence. The deputies get an arrest. The Sheriff's Office gets a case closed with a conviction. For the county, it is a win-win-win all the way around.
For the defendant, it is a lose-lose-lose: lose your money, lose your job, and lose your reputation.
Though the "Stand Your Ground" law may have been mentioned by his lawyer, that law was not used to gain his freedom.
At the morning's arraignment, the judge asked if the defense was prepared to go to a Pre-Trial Conference that afternoon.
At that conference, the judge heard the facts from the defense lawyer while the prosecutor listened. After the presentation, the judge asked the prosecution if those facts were correct. With an affirmative answer, the judge instructed the defense to prepare a Motion to Dismiss. The prosecution then claimed that there were "new facts" in the case. What new facts, the judge asked. The youths were juveniles. The judge responded that those facts were in the arrest report. There were no new facts.
In other words, the simple facts of the case were so heavily in favor of Mr. Cravatt that the judge could not believe that Mr. Cravatt had been arrested and that the prosecution wanted to prosecute. The entire arrest and prosecution were bogus.
The Power of the Sheriff of Escambia County
Not only was the arrest bogus, but Mr. Cravatt never received the $500 he had to put down as the deposit on his bail. Worse, no lawyer in Escambia County or Santa Rosa County was willing to take his case to retrieve his money. No lawyer wants to tangle with the Sheriff of Escambia County.
When even lawyers are afraid to cross the Sheriff, you are not living in a justice system; you are living in a police state.
Oh, and the two youths? Mr. Cravatt had to demand four times, including once in a meeting with Sheriff Morgan, to have the two youths arrested for vandalism. Eventually, six months later, the youths were arrested and they were given $700 restitution for breaking all the windows in a Mercedes Benz, taking a knife to all the seats, and breaking all the taillights.
The Escambia County Sheriff's Office, like other police departments around the country, are revenue-generators for their county or city.
The deputies on the scene should have known the law and not charged Mr. Cravatt. Had they not treated him as a criminal and gathered basic facts about who he was and the property he was on, none of this story would be told today.
He was on his own property or property that he co-owned. He had not threatened to shoot anyone. He did not shoot anyone. He had a license for his handgun. He stopped a felony in progress--as allowed under Florida's Stand Your Ground law. He immediately complied with every command from the deputy sheriff. He never threatened the deputy. He answered all the questions asked, but did not give a statement.
But, the law does not really matter with Sheriff Morgan and his deputies. When asked to reveal their badge numbers, they cover them up. When they write arrest reports, they are exercises in creative writing. Even if you tell them that you are pregnant, they will body slam into the pavement. Be on your own property retrieving cigarettes from your own car and the deputies will fire 17 shots at you because in the words of Sheriff Morgan, they have "anxiety." His deputies enjoy intimidating residents they encounter--even residents who comply with every command given to them. And, even when residents comply, there is always, again, to use Sheriff Morgan's term, a "furtive" movement.
When Mr. Cravatt was complying with all the commands of the deputy sheriff he told me that he repeated every command and kept telling the deputy what he was going to do and what he was doing. Even a white, law-abiding, tax-paying resident of Escambia County cannot be sure they will not be shot by a deputy.
It is only a matter of when, not if, an Escambia County Sheriff's Office's deputy causes a fatal tragedy. And, the one, if not two, fatal tragedies they have already caused, they cover-up. But, that is another CJ's Street Report that I am working on.