| October 14, 2011 | 12:29pm
Support the independent voice of South Florida and help keep the future of New Times free.
Days after recommending that two former West Palm Beach police officers who repeatedly kicked a handcuffed suspect in the head should not face felony charges, the prosecutor handling the controversial case resigned from the Palm Beach State Attorney's Office.
Assistant State Attorney Danielle Croke submitted her letter of resignation on September 12, informing her boss, State Attorney Michael McAuliffe, that she would be leaving in two weeks. Ten days later, Croke wrote a memo recommending that charges of conspiracy to commit official misconduct against former officers Louis Schwartz and and Kurt Graham be dropped -- and they were, immediately. Eight days later, Croke was gone. But many questions remain about her decision.
Caught on police surveillance video in 2008, the beating of robbery suspect Pablo Valenzuela sparked
public outrage. As Valenzuela lay on the ground in a parking lot, the cops could be seen kicking him so hard that he lifted off the ground. Afterward, Graham allegedly lied to his superior about the incident.
Schwartz's single kick in the head appeared to be in response to Valenzuela attempting to bite the officer, Croke wrote in her memo. His use of force was "questionable and inappropriate" yet brief.
It was Graham who kicked Valenzuela with such force that the man's body lifted off the ground. This kick was "purposeful, intentional, and gratuitous," Croke wrote. And when the suspect stood up, the video shows a third officer repeatedly punched Valenzuela in the face.
However, Graham had no prior battery convictions, and Croke said Valenzuela's injuries were not severe enough to prove aggravated battery beyond a reasonable doubt. And although Croke alleged Graham lied to his superior about the beating, his "false statement" was not put in writing, so she said he could not be charged with official misconduct.
So Graham, who resigned from the force shortly after the incident, was allowed to plead guilty to one count of misdemeanor battery. He paid a $600 fine and has to take an anger management class. All charges against Schwartz, who was fired shortly after the beating, were dropped.
It's unclear why Croke decided to modify the charges in the case three years after the beating occurred. She could not be located for comment.
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.