Miami attorney Antonio F. Valiente whose client, Florida corrections officer Terrance Reynolds, is expected to begin standing trial early next week | Photo courtesy of Antonio F. Valiente
Prosecutors in the case of a Florida corrections officer accused of assaulting two detainees in 2017 are taking the testimony of another officer involved in the incident who pled guilty, rather than the defendant who maintains his innocence, the Miami attorney defending the officer said during a recent interview.
"My guy just, flat out, did not do this," Antonio Valiente, attorney for corrections officer Terrance Reynolds, said during a Florida Record phone interview. "This other guy admits to doing it and is already in prison."
Prosecutors did reach out to Reynolds but no plea deal can come from being not guilty, Valiente said.
U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Cooke | stu.edu
"They come to me and they ask me if my client did this and I say, 'No, he didn't do anything, he didn't do any of this,'" Valiente said. "What kind of a deal is he going to get for that? He isn't going to get anything."
Reynolds was offered a plea deal early on, but didn't take it, Valiente said. Instead, Reynolds now faces a five-count federal indictment that could land him in prison for decades. His trial is expected to begin Monday before U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Cooke, on the bench in Florida's Southern District.
Valiente, an American University Washington College of Law graduate admitted to the bar in Florida on June 18, 2010, practices criminal law at Valiente Law, P.A., in Miami.
"They have a prosecutor from D.C., from the civil rights division, coming down to prosecute this case," he said.
The U.S. Justice Department announced in December a federal grand jury indictment against Reynolds, then 28. Reynolds was alleged to have conspired with former sergeant Brendan Butler "to physically assault and intimidate youthful offenders for conduct perceived by the officers as disruptive or disrespectful," the DOJ said in its announcement.
The indictment stemmed from an alleged incident in March 2017 in which Reynolds and Butler ordered three inmates, who had been separated from the general population for their own protection, into a mop closet where the two officers allegedly assaulted one of the prisoners with a stick and their fists while the other two stood nearby. The indictment also alleged that Reynolds and Butler assaulted one of the other two inmates the following day "to punish him for talking about the previous day’s assault and for being disrespectful," the DOJ announcement said.
"Both of these assaults caused bodily injury to the victims," the announcement said. "Reynolds is also charged with making false statements to the FBI about his whereabouts on the dates of the assaults."
Butler, who was Reynold's supervisor and admitted to the assaults and causing the altercations for which Reynolds was indicted, pled guilty in May of last year to conspiracy to commit civil rights violations and was sentenced to 24 months in prison. Butler reached a plea deal in exchange for his expected testimony against Reynolds, who faces five counts in the indictment.
"After he [Butler] testifies he'll be eligible for a rule 35 motion, which is a motion that's filed after you've been sentenced so that you are resentenced," Valiente said. "Basically the government goes in and tells the court what a great help you were in prosecuting this other case and that you should be resentenced to something lower than what you already received."
If found guilty, Reynolds faces a statutory maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.
Butler could be released within weeks after he testifies against Reynolds, Valiente said.
"Who decides whether he testifies truthfully?" Valiente said. "It's the same people who are going to give him that benefit after he testifies. What more incentive could a person have to color their testimony exactly the way that the government wants?"
Similar cases involving the practice of "honey bunning," in which state correctional officers encourage juvenile inmates to beat other detainees in exchange for honey buns, candy bars and even iced tea, have received much attention in Florida in recent years. In one such case, Miami detention officer Antwan Lenard Johnson currently is under indictment for allegedly ordering a brutal attack on 17-year-old Elord Revolte at the Miami-Dade Juvenile Detention Center in August 2015 by more than a dozen other detainees.
Revolte, whose beating was captured on a detention center camera, died of his injuries the following day. Johnson entered a not guilty plea in federal court last May to charges of conspiracy and depriving Revolte of his rights while incarcerated.
"These cases got a lot of publicity," Valiente said, adding that those prosecutions have a lot of validity but they cast a dark shadow on his client's case.
"My guy is getting lumped in with them just because he's a corrections officer in a Florida facility and he works with youthful offenders," Valiente said.
In some ways, Reynolds' case is like any other federal criminal case, Valiente said. "You have the unlimited resources of the United States against you."
Those resources, in Reynold's case, include a prosecutor who specializes in civil rights cases against law enforcement and correctional officers, he said.
By contrast, Reynolds' resources are limited.
"He's not a wealthy person, he's a corrections officer," Valiente said.
Butler's expected testimony likely will present unique difficulties in the case against Reynolds.
"It's not that often that you get the person who is the sort of master mind, the person who orchestrated, the person who commits the crime, really being the main witness against your client," Valiente said. "It's almost reminiscent of following orders in 'A Few Good Men.'"
Despite the difficulties in the case, Valiente said he's "optimistic" about the outcome.
"Always hope for the best," Valiente said. "What do I expect the outcome to be? I hope it will be a favorable outcome. I think, whoever you might ask, be it on the defense side or on the other side, this is by no means a typical slam-dunk case that the government usually tries."