Thursday, January 03, 2008

More On Haitian Family's Mass Chimpout At Wellington, Florida Mall - They May Have Tried To Incite A Riot

A subsequent story published January 1st, 2008 by the Palm Beach Post on the Haitian family who chimped out at a Florida mall when cops tried to arrest one of them sheds some light on why 20 sheriff's deputies, two canine units, and a police helicopter showed up. Some have questioned the deployment as excessive force.

The scene that preceded the arrival of more than 20 sheriff's deputies and a helicopter at the Mall at Wellington Green to arrest a family of six last week was a chaotic concoction of pushing, screaming, scratching, kicking and cursing that nearly resulted in multiple tasings, law enforcement records show.

A sheriff's report released Monday suggests the number of patrol cars on hand to arrest members of the Leger family could have topped 30. A police helicopter and at least two canine units also were present, according to eyewitness accounts. The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office continued to defend it's show of force.

"Officers do respond, and they respond in mass," Capt. Greg Richter said. "It's always better to have more officers than you need." According to the reports, deputies arrested 20-year-old Frantz Leger, a Florida State University business sophomore, without a disturbance after a security guard recognized him in the mall's food court around 7 p.m. and notified deputies.

The police version: In the food court's parking lot later, however, police insist his relatives then arrived and attempted to stop his arrest. Marthe Leger, Frantz's 50-year-old mother, pushed two deputies to block them from arresting and tasing her nephew who had allegedly assaulted a deputy during the fracas, according to an arrest report. She also is accused of kicking and attempting to pull away from a deputy during her arrest. Her husband, Joseph, 52, threatened to kill deputies and later began to scratch and kick during his arrest, records show. Their daughter, Samantha Leger, an 18-year-old Florida A&M University accounting major, reportedly screamed and cursed at a congregating crowd and attempted to push past an officer. The three refused to leave the mall's parking lot after warnings, the deputies' reports stated. [Ed. Note: It was Samantha's screaming at the crowd that provoked concern about the possibility that she was trying to incite a riot; this tends to justify the massive police response.]

On Friday December 28th, Sheriff's Lt. Jay Hart said the Leger family pelted deputies with Pepsi bottles; however, the reports available so far do not refer to such an incident. The Leger family's version differs.

The Leger family's version: First, they say Frantz Leger was approached in the mall's parking lot while he was in a separate car already leaving the area. The family said it only asked questions about his arrest and deputies responded by threatening family members. "I told them this is racist," said Marthe Leger, who, along with her family, is Haitian. "That is why they really got mad." They say an officer yelled for deputies to arrest the family just as they were entering their car to leave the mall. [Ed. Note: Maybe she'll think about that next time she's tempted to play the race card to get out of trouble.]

Marthe Leger said she was punched multiple times in the face by a deputy as she was trying to photograph the melee with her cellular phone. She had a visible bruise on her left cheek Saturday. Joseph Leger said he was punched in the back of the head. The Leger family claims they were confused as to how all of this trouble spawned out of a pair of droopy jeans.

As previously posted, here's a recap of personalities and charges: In addition to Frantz Leger being charged with trespassing, the other five members of the family were charged as follows:

The father, Joseph F. Leger (pictured above left), was charged with trespassing, resisting an officer with violence, assault with intent to commit a felony and assault on a law enforcement officer. Released on bond.

The mother, Marthe J. Leger (pictured above left), was charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, resisting an officer with violence and two counts of battery on an officer. Released on bond.

Their daughter, Samantha (pictured above left), 18, a Florida A&M University student, was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting an officer without violence, trespassing and simple assault on an officer. Released on personal recognizance.

Frantz Leger's cousin, Alain Oidge, 19, was charged with trespassing, resisting and officer without violence and disorderly conduct. Released on personal recognizance.

Another cousin, a 16-year-old juvenile who was not identified faced a battery charge. Released on personal recognizance.

For four of them, it was their first time behind bars in Florida. Marthe Leger was arrested in 1994 on larceny and robbery charges; and Alain Oidge was arrested in October on charges of fraud, driving while his license was suspended and resisting an officer without violence.

On Monday, the mall waffled back and forth - at times contradicting the sheriff's office and the Leger family's accounts - on why its security personnel initially banned Frantz Leger in August from entering the mall. "The reason he was trespassed the first time was because of his behavior when he was asked to raise his pants," mall spokeswoman Rachelle Crain said. Sheriff's officials initially said it was for the low-riding pants.

Less than a half hour later, though, she backtracked on that statement. "I really don't have all that info," Crain said. "I'm really not able to speak accurately to that. I really don't have that documentation. Anything I would tell you would be my opinion." The mall now is declining further comment and instead referring the media to the sheriff's office. Elsewhere, in places like Louisiana and New Jersey, local officials have not been shy about barring and criminalizing sagging pants. Opelousas, La. declared it a misdemeanor to wear pants too low. Violators face a $500 fine and possibly jail time. Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas Masters also is collecting signatures to end the practice there.

It was mall security, according to official accounts, that raised the dress code inquiries about Frantz Leger. But the mall's own "Rules of Common Courtesy," which he reportedly violated, are vague. The rules suggest enforcement may be at times arbitrary and capricious when it comes to dress code violations. The only references the rules make to dress code is that shirts and shoes are required, and that there is a ban on clothing with vulgar, obscene or sexually explicit language.

There also is an exclusion of "disorderly or disruptive conduct of any nature," more specifically though referring to obscene language or hand gestures and running in the mall. Most shoppers Monday, however, said they were unaware of the dress code. Placed obscurely near mall entrances in 8 1/2 by 11" picture frames, the rules are barely visible from a few feet away.

Readers who have commented to the Palm Beach Post stories have overwhelmingly expressed approval of the police response. TNB gets short shrift in Wellington.

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