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.

Trial Set for Cop Accused of Beating Teen for No Reason


An Orlando police officer accused of beating a teenager will go to trial Thursday on criminal charges.

Officer Dante Candelaria faces several charges for an incident with a 19-year-old Bryan Payne in February 2011. Video of the incident shows Candelaria beating the teen and throwing him against a wall.

WFTV has learned that charges against Candelaria have been upgraded because he rejected a plea deal. That means he is now charged with battery and false imprisonment with a weapon.

Payne said he was waiting for his girlfriend outside an Orange County Shool when Candelaria tossed the teenager and punched him in the moth several times for no apparent reason.

Payne said Candelaria then slammed him up against a brick wall and handcuffed him.

“I’m scared of this man,” Payne said.

If convicted, Candelaria faces 16 years in prison.

“I believe he would’ve got away with it had there not been no video that day. I believe that’s the only think holding him accountable for his actions. It has to stop. The police need to stop having that chest up or that one-up on society when they’re just like everyone else.”

Candelaria is no longer patrolling the streets, but he is still on the job working at the Orlando Police Department headquarters in property and evidence.

During depositions, Candelaria’s supervisor testified that Payne was a documented member of the gang Friends For Life or FFL. The supervisor said Candelaria, an officer in the gang unit, was trained to “react a lot quicker” because he’s been “shot at” and “received death threats” from suspects.

However, Payne denied being in a gang.
But WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said none of that matters. He said criminal charges against police officers are rare and jury convictions don’t come easy.

“We as citizens still want to support law enforcement,” Sheaffer said. “We really don’t want to believe that they act outside the scope of their authority or abuse their authority.”

Candelaria’s trial is expected to start Thursday morning.

The last Orlando police officer to be charged with a violent crime was in September 2010.

Brandon Loverde was accused of groping a nursing mother outside Club Firestone where he worked as an offduty security officer.

Laverde pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, and he resigned from the department.