Ocoee, FL – A Florida police officer will be sentenced in March for shooting at, and missing, an armed man during a domestic disturbance call.
On the night of Feb. 8, 2016, the 911 dispatcher told police officers from the Ocoee Police Department (OPD) that they were responding to a domestic dispute on Belhaven Falls, and that a woman was being held against her will.
The victim was supposed to be dressed in black and waiting out front, but there was nobody outside the home when police arrived at the address. So responding officers knocked on the front door.
The man who came to the door at the residence was carrying a 9 mm Glock that police could see through a window.
OPD Officer Stephanie Roberts was nearest to the door, and yelled at the man twice to put his gun down. Instead, he appeared to raise it up in front of him.
Fearing for her life, Officer Roberts fired her weapon two times, and retreated.
OPD Officer Carlos Anglero, who was the next closest to the door, provided cover for Officer Roberts and two more Ocoee police officers who had arrived to back them up.
He discharged his weapon four times while conducting a shoot-and-cover maneuver they’d been trained to do at the police academy for just this sort of situation.
“I was in fear for the lives of my fellow officers and myself,” Officer Anglero told Blue Lives Matter. “I didn’t know at the time who shot first – but I knew guns were being discharged.”
He said that after Officer Roberts fired at the suspect, the officers began retreating from the doorway.
“I’m telling them to take cover, and they’re retreating, and then the gentleman comes back to the door, and at that point, I fired four rounds at him. I thought I hit him,” Officer Anglero said.
Fortunately, no one was struck by any bullets because, 20 minutes after police retreated, the dispatcher radioed them to say she’d given the officers the wrong address.
The Winter Garden dispatcher, who also dispatches for Ocoee police, sent them to a house on Belhaven Falls, instead of to Bent Grass Avenue, where the 911 call originated.
She had misspelled the street name as “Bend Grass” and couldn’t find it in the system, and the caller was unsure of exactly where she was. So the dispatcher triangulated the call and took her best guess, sending police to the wrong house on Belhaven Falls instead.
But the dispatcher didn’t warn responding Ocoee officers that she was uncertain of the address, and everything happened very quickly after the homeowner came to the door with a gun.
Officers Roberts and Anglero, on the other hand, were each hauled before a grand jury to determine whether their decision to shoot had been justified.
The prosecutor assigned to the case, Assistant State Attorney Deborah Barra, was none other than the right-hand woman of notorious Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala, whose previous refusal to bring the death penalty against cop killers resulted in Governor Rick Scott reassigning a number of death penalty cases to other state attorneys.
In the death penalty case, Ayala sued, and the court ruled against her, saying that her refusal to seek the death penalty "embodies, at best, a misunderstanding of Florida law.”
Despite her best efforts, Barra failed to get an indictment on Officer Roberts, because the grand jury believed the officer feared for her life when she shot at the armed man.
However, on Oct. 20, 2016, the grand jury did indict Officer Anglero, who’d fired a split second after Officer Roberts.
“It didn’t make any sense,” said James Smith, Officer Anglero’s attorney.
“Nobody was hurt. Officer Anglero had no history of complaints – why would you prosecute a model police officer?” Smith asked.
An eight-year veteran of the Ocoee police who served most of his time in undercover narcotics, Officer Anglero had received awards for Officer of the Quarter, Crisis Intervention Officer of the Year, Best Instructor for the Citizens Police Academy, and two nominations for Officer of the Year.
But Barra did prosecute Officer Anglero, and she did so aggressively.
“There’s an agenda to be hard on police,” Smith said.
The prosecutor told the jury that Officers Anglero and Roberts were a couple at the time of the shooting, and argued that Officer Anglero’s judgment had been clouded because he and Officer Roberts were dating.
Despite the fact that Officer Anglero had never been in trouble before, and that he was, in fact, a firearms instructor who had taught other officers the shoot-and-cover strategy for retreating from just this sort of scenario, Barra made it all about the relationship when she presented her argument to the judge and jury.
“He does not get to decide whose life matters most ... and create actual harm to the Lewis family,” she said.
Officers Anglero and Roberts were not partnered, but had both been sent to the same call in separate police vehicles on the night of the incident. The officers had worked together in the past, and police officials in their department were well aware of the relationship between them.
Jurors ignored Officer Anglero’s attorney’s argument that the Ocoee police officers had been told they were arriving at a domestic altercation, and that the situation was ratcheted up the minute the homeowner answered the door with a gun.
The trial lasted less than two full days, and the jury returned a guilty verdict in two-and-a-half hours on Jan. 4, for shooting into an occupied dwelling. A felony with a potential 15 year sentence.
“I could not believe in any shape, form, or fashion that any jury would convict him,” Smith said. “I still struggle to try to understand what this jury was thinking.”
Judge Kim Shepherd, who had just returned to the bench after serving a 90-day suspension for lying about her qualifications on her campaign materials, scheduled Officer Anglero’s sentencing for March 27.
The conviction carries a possible sentence of one to 15 years, and the prosecutor told Smith she intends to go for the maximum.
“Nobody was hurt, and she wants this decorated officer to do prison time,” Smith said.
Given Ayala’s office reputation for having a bias against police the decision to allow her office to prosecute Officer Anglero has come into question.
“I’m confident that the judge in this case will recognize the significant mitigating and extenuating factors, and will come to the conclusion that someone who faithfully served the citizens of his town for several years should not have his life ruined because of the mistakes of a dispatch clerk,” Smith said.
Supporters of Officer Anglero just launched an online petition calling for the judge to set aside the jury’s guilty verdict for the wrongly-convicted man based upon her independent review at sentencing.
Alternatively, Shepherd could withhold adjudication, meaning the police officer would not be left with a felony conviction on his record.
Blue Lives Matter reached out to the Florida governor’s office for comment, but had not received a response at publication time.
The governor could issue a full pardon to Officer Anglero, even before his sentencing date arrives, Smith said. Or he could commute the sentence so that Officer Anglero would not have to do any prison time.