THE POLICE LIED TO HIM, ARRESTED HIM, AND THREW HIM IN JAIL
The names in this article have been changed at the request of those involved.
A Knock on the Door
Last December, a young Black man – just 19-years-old – heard a loud knock on his door. “Tony” worked a steady job and was a full-time college student at the local community college. He had never been in trouble before and now found himself face-to-face with two police officers telling him they wanted to search his house for drugs.
Tony was home alone at the time, and felt intimidated by the officers. They lied to him and said they had a warrant to search his home. He saw their guns and their badges and didn’t know what to do. “They were playing a psychological trick on me,” Tony recalled. It worked. He let them inside his house.
Tony chose to cooperate with the officers. They told him they received a complaint he was dealing drugs out of the house. Believing that being forthright with the police would help him, and thinking they would search his house regardless of his cooperation, he showed them he had only a small amount of marijuana.
Tony was handcuffed and detained on his own property. Then, all of a sudden, he was sitting in the back of a police car.
Sitting in a Cell
After finding only the small amount of marijuana that Tony presented to them, the police took Tony to the Broward County Jail. The young man who had never had contact with law enforcement prior to this day now found himself sitting in a dirty holding cell with hardened criminals.
His bail was set at $1,000. His mother “Kenya,” desperate to see her boy out from behind bars, paid the bail amount and posted for help on her social media pages. It was here on LinkedIn that FLJC found her and committed to helping Tony avoid a conviction.
The Florida Justice Center Steps In
Jonathan Bleiweiss, the founder and Executive Director of FLJC, contacted Tony’s mother and explained that he could get a lawyer for her son, absolutely free of charge. She says now, “I’m very happy that Jonathan contacted me because I was lost. I was kind of lost until he contacted me and put me in touch with a good lawyer that he trusted.” She explains that “Jonathan was able to confidently assure me that he would be there to help.” She recalls that she was set up with a lawyer “within days.”
Navigating the Process
Her experience with the provided pro bono (volunteer) lawyer allowed Kenya to breathe a sigh of relief.
“I really felt very confident having [the lawyer] by our side during the process. Going into the courtroom, I felt more confident having had the one-on-one consultation with him…. We were more prepared, basically. We knew what to expect. The lawyer was very knowledgeable and guided us well on what the process would be like and what to expect.”
The lawyer, who asked not to be identified for this article, specifically informed them about the advantages and disadvantages of pleading guilty. He advised them on the best route for Tony. His ultimate recommendation was Tony’s participation in a year-long diversion program called Drug Court that would keep him from serving any jail time. Upon his successful completion of this program, all charges against him will be dropped and his record will be clean.
“There are actually people out there to help you”
Six months after his arrest, Tony is doing great. He has been enrolled in the Drug Court program that his lawyer suggested. He is nearly complete with his associate’s degree and is looking forward to going to a university. He maintains steady employment. Tony is getting his life back on track, not allowing a mistake stand in his way of success. He refuses to let himself become another young Black man disenfranchised by the criminal justice system.
When reflecting on the lessons learned from his experience, Tony states simply: “It taught me a lot of things. How, basically, laws work. How things work. That there are actually people out there to help you.”