In 2013, Yellow Cab driver, Michael Brandt was charged with leaving the scene of an accident with a fatality regarding the death of Bernard Williams, 62, who, according to reports, was laying intoxicated in a southbound lane of South Federal Highway in Dania Beach. On April 15, the case was dismissed and Brandt’s lawyer, criminal defense attorney Robert Malove applauded prosecutors for dropping the case that had upended the life of an innocent man.
“All of the evidence didn’t add up, the wrong person was arrested, and the real perpetrator is out there,” said Attorney Malove, Brandt’s attorney.
Prosecutors believe they could have proven their case until there was a change in the hit and run law. In February the Florida Supreme Court ruled in a Palm Beach County case that the hit-and-run statute now requires a defendant to know beyond a reasonable doubt that he/she struck the victim. Before, prosecutors only had to prove that the accused “knew or should have known” he/she hit a human being.
After the Florida high court sided with the appeals court decision, Hussein El Rashidy, a prosecutor at Broward County State Attorney’s Office, said “When I came into my office on March 2 and found this new case law on my chair, I thought, boom, immediately, this is going to have an effect on the Michael Brandt case,” said Rashidy, “and we can no longer prove this case based on the new law.”
Brandt had been working as a cab driver for five weeks when the accident occurred. “He is a local Joe, an average person who was no match for the criminal justice system,” said Malove, hired to defend Brandt by the Chabad of South Broward, where Brandt is a congregant. “They were trying to shoehorn an innocent guy into a conviction.”
Broward Sheriff’s Office traffic homicide investigators said that surveillance videos showed a similar vehicle driving through the intersection of South Federal Highway and Southwest 12th Street at the time Williams was hit, but when examining the taxi, there was no damage consistent with a crash, and a motion-sensitive video camera on board was not activated. Detectives found human tissue and Williams’ DNA on the undercarriage of the taxi and a paint chip on Williams’ chest they said matched paint missing from the vehicle’s bumper.
“The physical evidence detectives say links Brandt’s cab to the crime is not there,” Malove said. “The paint chip found on the victim’s chest during the autopsy does not match the pattern of paint flaked off of the bumper, and has on it a primer which the taxi’s paint does not.” Malove dismissed the DNA found underneath the taxi as “so minuscule that anybody who drove through that area after the accident had taken place could have easily gotten splash-off.”
Malove questioned why detectives didn’t hunt for other vehicles that might have driven through the intersection that morning so they could be inspected for damage more consistent with running over a man in the street. In an email to news reporters at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Malove later added, “I believe that if there was any evidence whatsoever to prove that Mr. Brandt knew or should have known that he had struck Mr. Williams, the state wouldn’t have dropped the case.”
Rashidy admitted that “There are definitely factual issues the state would have had to overcome at trial, like any case.”
For more information on this case read the Sun Sentinel article.