Broward News

Prosecutor Resigned Days After Dropping Felony Charges Against West Palm Cops

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.

McAuliffe has said Schwartz's attorney recently played him a slowed-down version of the video, which allegedly showed Valenzuela attempting to bite Schwartz. The Police Benevolent Union also asked McAuliffe to drop the charges in the case. This week, an ethics complaint was filed against McAuliffe, alleging that his office dropped the charges because McAuliffe wanted the support of the police union in his reelection bid. McAuliffe has said his decision was not political.

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab