Jury finds Orlando Cop Not Guilty of Roughing Up Teen

A jury Friday night took a little more than an hour to find an Orlando police officer not guilty of shoving a teenager to the ground, punching him and illegally detaining him and his girlfriend.
Dante Candelaria, 39, then a member of the department’s gang unit, was charged with two felony counts of false imprisonment and one count of misdemeanor battery.
“I can start walking with my head up now without the ridicule of the public,” Candelaria after the verdict.
The case began Jan. 28, 2011 when Candelaria — who was awarded a state medal of heroism for saving a grandmother from an apartment fire in 2005 — tried to pull over the brother of Emilie Rodriguez, then 15. The brother, Juan Rodriguez fled.
To try to find Juan Rodriguez, Candelaria approached Emilie and her boyfriend, Bryan Payne, then 17, Assistant State Attorney Steve Foster told the jury Thursday.
Emilie testified that as she left a convenience store on Semoran Boulevard, Candelaria yelled at her to stop, told her to sit down, pointed his gun at her and asked where her brother was.
“He had no right to point his gun at a 15-year-old girl and order her to get down on the ground just because he wanted to know where her brother was,” Foster told the jury.
Candelaria eventually let Emilie go, and she walked toward nearby McCoy Elementary School. There, she saw Candelaria confront Payne, she said.
Payne, now 19, testified that Candelaria “blindsided” him as he sat on a bench at the school about 9 p.m., yelled at him, slammed him into a wall, punched him, handcuffed and searched him. Video corroborated most of Payne’s testimony, Foster said.
But defense attorney David Bigney said that nothing in the video suggested Candelaria committed a crime. In his closing argument, Bigney said Emilie’s testimony that Candelaria pointed his gun at her was not credible.
He also said Candelaria had a right to detain Payne because Payne admitted trespassing on school property. The state argued that sitting on a bench in a public area is not trespassing. Bigney further argued that other officers saw no signs that Payne had been punched.
Candelaria, who has been on desk duty while waiting for the criminal case to be resolved, said he hopes to return to patrol. Police Department procedure is to conduct an internal investigation first, Bigney said.