On a busy holiday-shopping day last November, in a crowded parking lot near Fashion Square mall, Orlando police officers repeatedly shot an unarmed man.
Why? Officers said that suspected thief Rogelio Cortes was "ramming" a police car with his van.
"When somebody is ramming into a car, that's deadly force," OPD spokeswoman Lt. Barbara Jones said at the time.
Added Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent Danny Banks: "If you are going to attack a police officer, you can expect to get shot."
Now, however, there are serious questions about what happened.
And they're being raised by the FDLE.
According to the "Use of Force" investigation, the FDLE unearthed video evidence that contradicts the officers' claims that Cortes rammed their car.
To the contrary, the FDLE concluded that it was a cop car doing the pushing. The report cited surveillance video from the Target parking lot that showed Cortes' van "was pushed from behind, inconsistent with the accounts of witness interviews."
The "witnesses" were cops.
The 22-page report went on to say that, while officers claimed Cortes "floored the accelerator" and made his tires "squeal and spin," the evidence contradicted that as well.
The report cited "an absence of any acceleration marks created by the white mini van driven by Cortes," saying the only tire marks appear to have been created by the police vehicle behind him.
The FDLE says it notarized the report and gave it to both State Attorney Lawson Lamar and the Orlando Police Department on March 21.
Lamar's office said last week that it decided in June to take "no action."
The head of OPD's Internal Affairs said his division was still reviewing the matter.
Meanwhile, the man hospitalized after being shot five times — once through his stomach and another time through his arm — is still facing a charge of attempting to elude a law-enforcement officer with injury.
His trial is scheduled for November.
It all started Nov. 20 when a thief stole the credit card of the wrong guy: the husband of OPD Sgt. Rhonda Huckelbery.
Huckelbery began investigating her own husband's incident, discovered more victims were involved and the next day wound up at the Target, where two of the suspects had been spotted.
Cortes was not one of those suspects. But officers spotted him on the scene, "exhibiting a nervous demeanor" and later inviting the two suspects into his van.
That was when Huckelbery ordered a "takedown," and multiple unmarked cars surrounded Cortes' van. (Hucklebery was a passenger in the one that the FDLE later determined rammed Cortes' car.)
After Cortes' car started moving, other officers started firing.
Cortes faced a slew of charges — more than a half-dozen of them, ranging from attempted murder to fraud.
All but one of them were later dropped.
The State Attorney's Office said the fraud charges connected to the original credit-card investigation were "not suitable for prosecution."
Cortes' attorney, Tad Yates, said he's convinced authorities knew they had to dismiss most of the charges connected to the alleged "ramming" as soon as they saw the video of what happened.
"I am reluctant to speak about a pending criminal case," Yates said. "But I will say that my client and I are very thankful for the fact that a Target video camera recorded this incident."
The report also noted Cortes had several previous convictions on his record, though it didn't offer details or connect them in any way to this case. Yates said they were mostly property crimes.
The Orlando Police Department does a lot of good work. And this newspaper often highlights it.
In the past week alone, we've penned stories about the department's innovative pairing with Harbor House to try to prevent domestic violence and with other local departments and radio station 104.1 FM to get unwanted guns off the street.
But trust between the department and the citizens is imperative.
That's why new Chief Paul Rooney, who did not respond to a request for comment, needs to take this matter seriously. So does Mayor Buddy Dyer.
Citizens deserve answers. So do the shoppers who witnessed flying bullets in the middle of a crowded parking lot. So does the man who got shot.
No one has sympathy for criminals.
And anyone who thinks about endangering a cop's life should know darn well that such an action may well be their last.
But when state investigators are raising questions, those involved should be ready to answer — and provide accountability.
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