Prosecutors say a Broward Sheriff's deputy lost his cool one day in 2011, ranting at a driver, calling her and her passenger "stupid Latins" and eventually making off with the woman's cellphone after he realized he was being recorded.
That man was Paul Pletcher, witness Selvin Guerra testified in court Tuesday as the ex-deputy's road rage trial got underway. Guerra, a passenger that day in the truck driven by Neyda Osorio, was the state's first witness in a trial expected to last all week.
Pletcher, fired by the Sheriff's Office in 2012, faces four criminal counts: burglary, battery, criminal mischief and petty theft.
Both sides agree that Pletcher pulled over Osorio on May 23, 2011. Off-duty at the time, Pletcher was armed and driving his patrol car.
The question for jurors is whether Pletcher, 39, committed the crimes of which he is accused, defense attorney Al Milian said in his opening statement.
Assistant State Attorney Deborah Zimet told jurors that Pletcher demanded Osorio turn over her cellphone once he realized he was being recorded.
Here's what happened, Zimet told jurors: Osorio put the phone in her purse, but Pletcher pinned her back with one arm and with the other reached inside her truck to grab her purse. Once Pletcher had the phone, he drove off and tossed the phone, broken into three pieces, out the window.
Plantation police were able to find the phone. An expert with the Broward Sheriff's Office was able to retrieve the recording from a microchip.
Zimet played the 22-second recording for jurors twice Tuesday.
In the video, Pletcher orders Osorio several times to turn over her Blackberry. At one point he says, "Give me the phone now or else you're going to jail."
Milian attempted to cast doubt on the state's case, telling jurors that police didn't find Pletcher's DNA or fingerprints on the phone because Pletcher didn't take the phone.
Milian painted a portrait of Osorio as a woman who has had two run-ins with the law since her encounter with Pletcher.
Osorio has been arrested twice in the past couple of years, Milian told jurors. One case was dropped and the other is pending. The nature of the charges was not disclosed to the jury.
"Paul Pletcher was acting that day in the authority given to him by the law," Milian said, advising jurors that Pletcher had a right to pull over Osorio for driving erratically. "Not until you get the whole story will you be able to understand what happened."
With the jury out of the courtroom, Zimet told Broward Circuit Judge Michael Usan that Milian was trying to make Osorio's arrests the focus of the case.
"Why? Because he doesn't have a defense otherwise," she said.
The trial is expected to resume Wednesday at 10:45 a.m.
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