In some parts of Florida, police now have the authority to use their discretion when it comes to dealing with marijuana-related offenses—while in other jurisdictions, the average citizen can still be subjected to a law enforcement beat-down simply based on odoriferous accusations.
This is brutal reality that three Kissimmee teenagers experienced last week while waiting for a ride in downtown Orlando.
Reports indicate the teens had traveled into Orlando on Sunday evening to catch a mewithoutYou concert at The Social. After the show, Marlo Manzi, Jazmin Ahmed and Ryan Diaz—all 19 years old—sought refuge from the rain inside a residential parking garage to wait for their Uber driver to arrive. However, it wasn’t long before a city bicycle cop showed up to shakedown the teens because a resident reported that she could “smell marijuana” wafting into the building.
The officer, who has since been identified as Michael Napolitano, attempted to establish some semblance of probable cause by claiming that he, too, detected the odor of marijuana. Based on this declaration, Napolitano then told the teens that they were being detained for a search.
This is when the group of concert-goers began to suspect that their civil rights were at risk of being violated, leading Manzi to pull out his cell phone to record the incident, which struck a nerve with the officer.
Although officer Napolitano attempted several times to confiscate the phone, the three teens employed the strategies of a mean game of Monkey-in-the-Middle to maintain control of their property. Still, the officer persisted in stopping the recording.
“You are being detained right now ’cause you smell like marijuana!” Napolitano said, attempting to nab the cell phone that had been handed to Diaz.
It is apparent at this point in the video that the officer is angry and preparing to unleash a despicable wrath against the teens. Manzi obviously senses the situation is beginning to spiral out of control, and in hopes of bringing the encounter down to some level of civility, he empathizes with the officer.
“We’re being detained because it smells like marijuana, we understand,” Manzi said.
However, Officer Napolitano, still hell bent on shutting down the camera, doesn’t pay any attention to the peace offering, and tries, once again, to snatch the phone out of Diaz’s hands.
Manzi explained to Napolitano that he is not allowed to grab his camera, which is true in the state of Florida as long as the recording device does not prevent the officer from doing his or her job.
“Yes I can sir!” Napolitano shouted. “You do not understand how this works. You are detained. You do not run the show.”
Then, just as Diaz passes the camera back over to Manzi, Napolitano tackles Diaz to the ground and begins punching him repeatedly in the face. Even though a second officer emerges onto the scene to assist Napolitano in restraining the young man, Napolitano continues to hit him a couple more times.
In the end, police arrested all three teens and charged them with a variety of offenses from trespassing to battery on a law enforcement officer. But, and this is the kicker, no marijuana or paraphernalia was found during a search—the kids were clean the entire time.
If this incident would have taken place in Miami, the outcome may have been somewhat different. Officers there are now allowed to issue $100 fines to anyone in possession of less than 20 grams of weed. Had there been no pressure to take down a group of pot offenders, it is highly likely the scenario in Orlando would have been diffused without violence.
At the time this article was published, there was no word whether the Orlando Police Department plans to investigate officer Napolitano’s unsavory actions.