Teen accused of taking tot released from home confinement

Early this month, Edwin McFarlane was like any other Central Florida teenage boy looking forward to summer break and hoping to make his high school football team.

Now the 14-year-old is at the center of a national debate: Should his arrest for taking a 3-year-old girl out of a West Orange Burlington Coat Factory have happened? The case has captured the attention of national news groups like HLN and Fox.

In the 15 days since his arrest, though, his case took off on a tangent as controversies often do when they get politicized, draw major media attention and raise concerns about a potential injustice.

This week, people close to the investigation leaked details about McFarlane's disciplinary record in school. Word surfaced that he underwent a "stress test" and was deceptive with investigators. Then, on Thursday, McFarlane's school record was brought up again during a hearing in front of Orange Circuit Judge Thomas Turner.

The fact that the prosecution said the teen had 18 school-based disciplinary referrals, including three for sexually related incidents, and suspensions, did not influence Turner's decision to release McFarlane from home confinement.

"I'm going to put him on straight release," Turner said after hearing the referrals, which were not detailed or explained in court.

Assistant State Attorney Teri Mills-Uvalle said bringing up the teen's school disciplinary history was relevant because the judge was deciding confinement. She said the state would have preferred that the teen remain on home confinement while the charging-decision process continues.

The decision on whether to charge McFarlane with felony false imprisonment could come by the middle of next week.

While the Orlando Sentinel typically does not name juveniles charged with crimes, the paper is naming McFarlane because he and members of his family have appeared on national television shows and, earlier this week, he appeared at a news conference with his lawyer.

When the state prosecutes a juvenile, Mills-Uvalle said, "We look at not only the facts of the case and what the evidence is, we also look at what's going on in this kid's life."

Checking into school disciplinary records in such cases is a normal part of the process, she said.

Mills-Uvalle, however, was not sure which agency collected the school disciplinary records or whether Turner reviewed those documents before lifting home confinement.

It also was not clear when these issues at middle schools in both Orange County and Lake County occurred.

Local defense lawyer Jeanette Dejuras Bigney, whose practice is mostly composed of juvenile cases, said school disciplinary records can be considered when judges make decisions about confinement and sentencing.

But in reality, she said, "Very rarely is the school record brought up. It's not typical for them to do that this early in the proceedings. I'm surprised."

A defense attorney for the boy disputed whether the three school incidents were sexually related but also gave few details. McFarlane was not charged in the incidents.

Mills-Uvalle said she could not talk specifically about the school referrals, including whether the behavior was predatory in nature. When pressed about whether those issues would come up later on if charges are filed, Mills-Uvalle said they would probably not.

"Anything that happened at school is probably not relevant to the charges if we are able to file some for the Burlington Coat Factory [incident]," she said. "Although they are exceptionally relevant to whether he should remain detained."

She added that the state wants "to make a fair and just decision" in this case.

Whether or not McFarlane is charged, some damage is already done: The world would not know about McFarlane, his arrest or his school problems if he had not walked out of the West Colonial store with that little girl on June 10.

McFarlane told investigators he thought the girl was lost and was going to help her find her mother. He walked out of the store with her, he said, because he thought one of three women who had left the store might be the child's mother.

When they did not recognize the child, he walked her back toward the store and that's when her mother came running over and picked up her child, according to an investigative report. McFarlane at that point went back in the store and continued shopping with his own mother.

But by that time, someone in the store had called the authorities. Deputies arrested him because they said he confined the girl against her will and did not have permission to take her outside the store.

On June 17, McFarlane and attorney Natalie Jackson appeared on "Good Morning America." That's when Jackson called on the State Attorney's Office to drop the case and the Sheriff's office to expunge his arrest record.

Since holding a news conference this week, Jackson has refused to answer questions. On Thursday, she dodged reporters as they followed her outside juvenile court. McFarlane did not appear in court.

One week earlier, just before McFarlane and Jackson appeared on "GMA," one of the officers involved in the teen's arrest found himself under review.

"GMA" ran a segment focusing on the law enforcement record of Orange County Sheriff's Sgt. Richard Mankewich, who was involved in McFarlane's arrest but was not the primary deputy on the case.

It keyed in on some controversial cases from Mankewich's past. They include a 1997 allegation of racial profiling and the 2004 shooting death of an unarmed man in Parramore during a police chase.

A judge later ruled Mankewich's traffic stop was illegal. And a grand jury cleared Mankewich in the shooting.

Some in the law enforcement community questioned why Mankewich's history was raised.

"I'm not sure how that was germane to the events of the day," Orange County Sheriff's Office spokesman Jim Solomons said. "The preceded that interview with an exposé on Rich. . . . Personally, as a consumer of TV news, I was surprised."

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said this week his deputies did nothing wrong when they arrested the boy and that the decision to charge him now rests with the State Attorney's Office.

Anthony Colarossi can be reached at acolaross@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5447.

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