The controversial Orlando case involving Noel Carter ended today with a sense of some justice, as Carter was able to walk freely out of the courthouse after the judge withheld adjudication. Most importantly, Carter will not be a convicted felon. Florida Statute vests judges with the authority to withhold adjudication, imposing a probation sentence, but not formally convicting the defendant of a criminal offense.
The packed courtroom emphasized the community unity surrounding the controversial case that left Carter – a man who was beaten, kicked, pepper sprayed and tased by Orlando Police Department officers downtown – the one being found guilty. From the beginning, the Noel Carter case exemplified the bad side of Orlando. However, the sentencing decision today provides a sense of encouragement, motivation and justice for Carter, his supporters and the greater Orlando community.
Carter said he was “very happy” as he stood with family and supporters and explained he was thankful to the judge for being honorable and merciful. Carter will get to keep the job he loves. He accepts probation and said he has learned lessons and grown from this situation.
“Thank you to all you beautiful and caring souls who packed the courtroom today,” civil rights attorney Natalie Jackson posted after the decision. Jackson helped organize members of the community to turn out to support Carter at the courthouse. “Judge O’Kane in her wisdom withheld adjudication. Noel Carter is not a convicted felon. Thank you judge and thank you God! Orlando community unity is awesome!”
Many community advocates and supporters remained on edge until the end. “We were praying for a merciful and just judge and we got that today,” said local attorney and advocate Josephine Balzac, who was emotional in the courtroom. “We really wanted justice to be served and we believe that Noel Carter got that as he was able to walk out of court with all of us today. This was a victory for the entire community.”
Phillip Arroyo, who is a soon-to-be law school graduate and was also in the courtroom for sentencing, is motivated by the judge’s decision to continue fighting for justice. “This case was truly injustice,” said Arroyo, who also mentioned the decision brought a tear to his eye. “But it proves community involvement works and I am more motivated to keep up the fight and to defend others who are still facing injustice in our legal system.”
That was a sentiment shared with others including community leader Lawanna Gelzer. “There are probably more ‘Noel Carters’ who did not get this kind of judgement and who remain stuck in our legal system than we can even imagine,” Gelzer said. “Locally, we still have a lot of work to do with the City of Orlando and Police Chief John Mina, specifically around the use of force continuum and preventing cops from being overly aggressive from the start of situations.”
Sadly, Carter is not Orlando’s first case of excessive force – there is an ongoing problem with excessive force and police brutality. A recap video of Orlando police brutality and excessive force, which highlights the Noel Carter incident, has now received over 5,800 views online.
“While it is incredible to see the advocates, supporters and community coming together for Noel Carter, the same can’t be said for a majority of minorities currently caught in our justice system,” Arroyo added. “We must keep up the fight.”
As prosecutors and Orlando leaders pushed to punish Carter after accusations of police brutality and the use of excessive force, the community rallied for justice. Assistant State Attorney Ryan Williams even argued during trial that officers showed restraint against Carter because they did not kill him. Williams was blasted by Carter’s defense team and supporters for his comments.
Defense attorney James Smith gave an impassioned plea on Carter’s behalf one last time today and it paid off. Attorneys Smith, Jackson, Pat Lawlor, and Kafi Kennedy Swanson all volunteered to work on Carter’s case because they felt it was the right thing to do. Carter’s felony charges have been dropped and he will be on probation for four years and community service.
“The judge recognized Noel Carter is a good man and a role model for his community,” Balzac added. “The judge understood Carter learned his lesson and that his life did not deserve to be ruined. There is still so much work to be done in our criminal justice system but this instills hope in the system and shows that we can make positive change.”