A Broward judge has overturned a jury’s guilty verdict against an Aventura police officer accused of hunting down and illegally detaining two men he accused of stealing his wife’s cellphone last May.
David Delgado, 30, was found guilty in December of two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of false imprisonment and one count of battery. At a hearing last week on a defense motion for a new trial, Broward Circuit Judge Gary Farmer overturned the verdict, declaring Delgado not guilty and dismissing the case.
It prosecutors appeal, as is likely, and win, Farmer granted the motion for a new trial, meaning Delgado would have to be tried in front of a new jury.
Delgado’s legal troubles began in May when his then-girlfriend, a valet at the Aventura Mall, left her phone in a vehicle used by two musicians who were performing at a festival in Bayfront Park.
Investigators and prosecutors said the men made arrangements with the valet to return her phone the following day. According to the defense, the men had already reneged on a promise to return the phone to the valet’s cousin at the festival.
Delgado tracked the men down using the device’s “find my phone” feature.
According to a police report, Delgado found the men in the parking lot of a Pompano Beach apartment building, where he pulled his gun out and ordered the men to return the phone, handcuffing one of them and threatening to shoot if they did not comply.
On the stand at his trial, Delgado said he was performing a citizen’s arrest but decided not to pursue it once the phone was returned. He never gave the two men his name, nor did he call the Broward Sheriff’s Office to the scene.
“He told them,” said Delgado’s lawyer, Johnny McCray. “He knew that if he had them arrested it could ruin their lives.”
Under cross-examination at trial, Delgado told prosecutor Justin McCormack that his main goal in finding the men was to retrieve the phone. McCormack portrayed Delgado as a rogue officer who took the law into his own hands.
Defense lawyer Johnny McCray argued that McCormack improperly referred to Delgado as a rogue officer and said “absolute chaos and lawlessness” would ensue if others were to act as Delgado did. McCray cited a legal rule prohibiting prosecutors from encouraging jurors to “send a message” with their verdicts, though the Broward State Attorney’s Office defended the comment as legally proper and accurate.
Prosecutors also defended their characterization of Delgado as dishonest, citing a police report he wrote for the Aventura Police Department that glossed over the details of the incident. According to his report, the phone, which had been reported stolen, was recovered “without incident.”
Defense lawyers routinely ask judges to find their clients not guilty after prosecutors have finished presenting their case and again after both sides have rested. In most cases, judges prefer to let the jury decide — a jury’s acquittal cannot be overturned, but a conviction can.
Farmer has not filed an official order outlining his reasons for finding Delgado not guilty, but his decision can be reviewed by appellate courts.
“Prosecutors will review the transcript of the hearing and the judge’s written order as soon as we receive them and make a decision about how to proceed at that point,” said Paula McMahon, spokeswoman for the Broward State Attorney’s Office.
Rafael Olmeda can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4457.