Sheriff Jerry Demings is keeping silent as outrage builds over his department's arrest of a 14-year-old boy, whose only crime was trying to reunite a lost toddler with her mother.
"The sheriff is holding back,'' says department spokesman Capt. Angelo Nieves. "It's not a refusal to talk. He's letting the information run its course.''
Well, then, here is some more information he can watch run its course.
On Tuesday I wrote how the boy, Edwin, was in a Burlington Coat Factory store on West Colonial Drive with his mother when he saw a 3-year-old girl by herself. One huge misunderstanding later, he was arrested and charged with abducting her.
I since have talked to several people about the case, including Edwin's mother, Mildred Roman. (Edwin has a different last name.) Here is her account of what happened:
She said that when she entered the store with Edwin, they saw three women leaving. One paused a moment to look around before exiting. When Edwin saw the toddler by herself, he thought the woman might have been her mother and was looking for her.
"Everything happened so quickly,'' Mildred said. "I didn't have time to stop and think. I reacted and walked behind him.''
Edwin and Mildred should have called a store employee. For that mistake, they would pay dearly.
Capt. Nieves disputes Mildred's account, saying a store surveillance video doesn't show her talking to Edwin. But the video that has been released shows a narrow view of the store entrance.
The video shows Edwin leaving the store, with the girl walking behind him. Mildred said she was nearby, though she can't be seen in the video. About 30 seconds later, she appears, following Edwin and the girl outside.
She said Edwin took the girl into the parking lot, where the three women were getting into a car.
Edwin said none of them responded to the girl when they saw her, so he began to head back. The girl's mother then came hurrying out of the store. Mildred said she took her child and said, "Thank you."
Edwin and Mildred followed the mother and girl back into the store and resumed shopping.
What did the mother of the girl say? In her statement to detectives, she said she was shopping when she "looked away for about minute and don't see my baby.'' A shopper told her that a man had taken the girl out of the store. She ran outside and retrieved her daughter from Edwin in the parking lot.
The statement said the mother wanted to press charges. Monday, the Orange County Sheriff's Office told me she did not press charges.
I contacted the mother, and she refused comment.
Deputies were summoned by a store employee. Mildred said detectives questioned her but not Edwin. They then led him out of the store in handcuffs, in front of television cameras, and took him to the station.
There, detectives asked Mildred for permission to interview Edwin. She granted it, assuming they would interview him as they interviewed her. Instead, she said they interrogated him while she waited for six hours in a room by herself.
"They wanted him to admit he wanted to kidnap the little girl,'' Mildred said her son told her.
Nieves said detectives questioned Edwin "extensively and for a long time,'' later quantifying that to two sessions totaling 93 minutes.
I understand the need to take these cases very seriously, and that detectives have to be thorough.
But once it became obvious that Edwin meant well, the detectives should have called it a long day and sent him home. Instead, they charged him with "false imprisonment'' because he "did not have permission from the victim's mother to remove the victim from the store.''
They latched onto a technicality to save face.
"I can't even imagine this being false imprisonment,'' said Olga Telleria-Khoudmi, who is the lead attorney for the juvenile-crime division of the Office of Public Defender. "That's ridiculous. I mean, seriously.''
Mildred said that Edwin broke down when detectives told him they were going to arrest him. Edwin has never been in trouble before. His goal is to get his grades up so he can get a scholarship to Lake Highland Prep to play football. He is 6 feet, 2 inches tall, weighs 300 pounds and wants to be a wide receiver.
Edwin is scheduled for a court appearance on June 24.
Even if charges are dismissed, the arrest will stay on Edwin's record. That could hinder him from getting a job, getting into a university or even getting into an apartment.
Sheriff Demings could fix that. Under state law, an arrest that is "made contrary to law or by mistake'' can be expunged from someone's record if the head of the arresting agency admits the mistake.
Demings should do that. He also needs to send Edwin an apology and a commendation for trying to do the right thing.
Demings must decide if he is in charge of the department or if he is just a passive observer who stands by while his detectives go about destroying the life of an innocent 14-year-old boy.
This isn't law enforcement. It's child abuse.
Mike Thomas can be reached at 407-420-5525 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun