September is not shaping up to be a banner month for the Coconut Creek Police Department. One of the department's officers has been busted in a sex sting of a Boca Raton Asian massage parlor. But James Yacobellis isn't a stranger to trouble.
Barely mentioned in most of the recent coverage are the past allegations of bad behavior Yacobellis was able to duck while still keeping his $87,000 job. And in one instance, the officer was even accused of threatening a suspect by putting him in a bathtub, turning on the facet, and pointing his taser.
According to a close-out memo from the State Attorney's office, on August 15, 2011, Yacobellis and other officers responded to a house to investigate some possible stolen items. The family who reported the crime immediately blamed another family member's boyfriend for the missing stuff. At one point in his investigation, Yacobellis took the suspect into a bedroom for a one-on-one. According to the suspect, from there the officer steered him toward the bathroom.
The suspect "Blake Robinson gave sworn testimony advising that Officer Yacobellis had him get into the bathtub, activated and pointed the taser at him, threatened him and placed him in fear," the memo stated. Another officer on the scene told investigators "when he knocked on the bathroom door, Officer Yacobellis had his tazer down at his side with the laser beam emitting."
"None of the facts with respect to Blake Robinson and the bathroom incident were included in Officer Yacobellis' report." And yet the State Attorney's office failed to move forward with any charges. "[T]here were conflicting accounts among the witnesses as to whether he actually pointed the taser at the suspect or merely took it out for his own protection against a larger individual."
But the taser incident wasn't even the only 2011 complaint Yacobellis was investigated for. On June 16, the officer was involved in a traffic stop. Two guys had just bought some weed and were smoking it in a car when they spotted a police car nearby. They took off, the police car pursued; Yacobellis eventually made arrests. But, as the State Attorney close-out memo states, "Officer Yacobellis wrote in his police report that he activated his emergency lights and siren (to justify the arrest for Fleeing and Eluding) but the vehicle did not stop."
The suspects in the case claimed no lights and siren were activated. "[B]oth witnesses admitted that they were under the influence of cannabis at the time of this incident and both denied seeing any police lights or sirens."
Should be an easy problem to figure out, right? Because all police cars have dash cams, right? It turned out there was no video of the pursuit. According to the memo, the dash cam should have gone on when the emergency lights were activated.
"The fact that no video existed for the police chase when it was designed to record if emergency lights were activated, seemed to indicate that either the lights were never activated contrary to what was reported by Officer Yacobellis, or the camera malfunctioned." Investigators went so far as to send the camera system to the manufacturer to see if it had malfunctioned. "The company reported that the camera was working correctly," the close-out memo notes.
Still, Yacobellis wasn't criminally charged (in part apparently because while the camera system was at the manufacturer, no one took thorough notes of who was in possession of the system when, leaving the evidence open to a possible suggestion of tampering).
As the Sun-Sentinel pointed out, between October 2011 and February 2013, Yacobellis was on paid leave while these allegations were being investigated. He was still drawing a $87,000 a year salary. After the leave, he was hit with a two-week unpaid suspension. In nine years, Yacobellis was involved in six additional internal affairs investigations.
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.