Sheriff Jerry Demings gave Edwin McFarlane an unexpected gift for his 15th birthday yesterday.
He gave Edwin hope that this whole tragic misunderstanding soon will be over and Edwin can get on with his life.
It will not be quick or easy.
Edwin has been publicly branded as a deviant who tried to snatch a little girl from a Burlington Coat Factory. It doesn't matter that it's total nonsense.
Imagine being 15 and going outside, going to church or going to friends' houses and knowing what everybody is thinking.
Imagine what going back to school in August will be like.
I have vivid memories of how cruel high-school kids can be.
This is only the short-term damage.
Google never forgets. So when a potential employer or a potential girlfriend searches "Edwin McFarlane," the whole sorry story will be reborn time and again.
Demings can help.
This arrest will remain on Edwin's record. Have you filled out a job application or tried to rent an apartment or volunteered to be a youth coach and seen this question: "Have you ever been arrested for a felony?''
Once you check yes, that's it.
The exoneration or explanation is meaningless. Well, I wasn't really trying to kidnap and molest that little girl. … What really happened …
It used to be that a wrongly arrested person had to go through a lengthy administrative hassle to remove an arrest record.
But the Legislature amended the process in 2006. Demings could simply issue an affidavit basically saying his department made a mistake. And that would be that.
The admission could not be used in a civil lawsuit against the department.
I asked Demings whether he would consider this.
"I can't put the cart before the horse,'' he said. "Let this process play out. I can't make a comment until Lawson Lamar decides what to do with the charges.''
Maybe the sheriff could throw in a letter to the boy, apologizing for the misunderstanding, apologizing for his detectives' dragging him out in front of television cameras.
"I would like to see him apologize on behalf of the sheriff's department for the way they humiliated my son,'' said his mother, Mildred Roman.
I don't think it's an unreasonable request. The letter could be laminated. And if this incident ever surfaces in Edwin's life again, he can have his ready-made explanation.
In talking to Sheriff Demings, he sounds like someone ready to help Edwin get on with his life as soon as Lamar comes to his senses as well.
You might think Lamar would run over and give Demings a big old hug.
Demings gave him the gift of a graceful exit.
Someone had to swallow a lot of ego and make a decision to end this train wreck. And Demings stepped forward.
"Based on the totality of the circumstances, I feel confident in asking the state attorney to discontinue charges,'' he said.
What does that say about what he now thinks of this case?
That Lamar didn't boot this case from the beginning stunned me. After watching the Sheriff's Office jump naked into a cactus patch, why follow?
In fact, the State Attorney's Office did more than follow. It invited reporters to a hearing last week andthen trashed this poor kid, using confidential school records to do it. I don't see how an elected state attorney can condone that kind of prosecutorial abuse.
Do you think Lamar's office would have treated the mayor's kid like this?
Lamar needs to take a hint from Demings and do his own internal investigation.
Yet his office simply says it has received Demings' request.
If prosecutors move forward against Edwin, it would be a first. The State Attorney's Office often drops cases the Sheriff's Office wants to prosecute. And here it would prosecute one that the Sheriff's Office wants to drop.
As much as I appreciate the "can you believe this?'' column fodder, it's time to cut Edwin some slack.
It's time to let him and his family begin healing.
Mike Thomas can be reached at 407-420-5525 or firstname.lastname@example.org.