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'Abduction' case -- where are Sheriff Demings' promises for reforms?


Jerry Demings was going to be the new sheriff in town, a spit-and-polish administrator who would reform the good-old-boy network that built up under 16 years of Sheriff Kevin Beary.

"There's a bully mentality that's permeated the agency for years," he said during his 2008 campaign. "And, I think, it's time for a change.''

Voters agreed. Demings won a landslide victory over John Tegg, a 20-year department veteran who had strong support from deputies and their union.

In his victory statement, Demings promised "to leave no stone unturned'' in making the Sheriff's Office the best law-enforcement agency in Florida.

So my question is this: When?

Demings is embroiled in what looks very much like an oldie-goldie controversy from the Beary era. It's almost as if the old sheriff never left.

Department detectives busted a 14-year-old boy June 10, claiming he tried to abduct a 3-year-old girl from a Burlington Coat Factory. They cuffed him, paraded him in front of television cameras, interrogated him at length and charged him with false imprisonment.

The boy, Edwin, said he simply was trying to help the girl find her mother. The misguided attempt led him outside because he thought the girl's mother had just left the store.

It turned out the mother still was in the store and had lost track of her daughter while shopping. When told Edwin took her daughter outside, she retrieved her.

Unfortunately, the cops were called, and Edwin now faces a felony charge. The absurdity has become a national story.

Judging from my mountain of e-mail, people from Australia to New York to the Czech Republic all seem to understand this was nothing more than a misunderstanding.

Now if only Sheriff Demings and his sex-crimes unit could figure that out as well.

Demings refuses to talk as his department succumbs to national ridicule.

By now, even Sheriff Beary would have figured it out, called a press conference and apologized to Edwin while shedding some of his famous crocodile tears.

Demings simply hides behind misleading statements that his department puts out about the evidence. If this is typical of how detectives make decisions on arresting people, it's pretty frightening.

The evidence cited by the Sheriff's Office is the store surveillance video. The department says it refutes the claim by Edwin's mother that he told her he was going to look for the girl's mother and then walked out of the store.

The department sent me an e-mail saying the video shows Edwin "never made any contact or walked over to her regarding a notification.''

But for that to be true, there would have to be uninterrupted video of Edwin from the moment he saw the girl until he left the store.

There is not. The video comes from different cameras, with each picking up Edwin at a different point in the store.

You see Edwin approaching the girl. You then see them walk off camera.

You don't see them again until they suddenly appear on another camera that is tightly focused on the store entrance.

In other words, there is a significant gap in the video.

This certainly doesn't prove that Edwin talked to his mother, Mildred Roman. (Edwin has a different last name.) But it hardly proves he didn't talk to her. In fact, it is in perfect accord with Mildred's story.

She said she was off to the side of the front door — out of camera range — when Edwin walked by her with the girl. That's when she talked to him, she said.

The camera that picked up Edwin leaving also picked up Mildred leaving from the same direction 30 seconds later. This also backs up her story.

I asked the Sheriff's Office about this and received a response late Friday: "We are conducting follow-up in regards to this area of the video, for additional clarity if it is available," Capt. Angelo Nieves said.

When asked what "additional clarity" the department is seeking, Nieves said detectives were going to contact Burlington to make sure there wasn't more video.

When does this end?

At what point does Sheriff Demings recognize the "bully mentality'' that still exists under his watch?

When do we get the professional department he promised?

Mike Thomas can be reached at 407-420-5525 or

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