An accomplished Army veteran, military police officer and federal agent will face a jury beginning Monday on three counts of aggravated assault with a firearm despite conflicting accounts of events.
Angel Echevarria, a deputy U.S. Marshall, is facing charges stemming from a road rage incident Sept. 7, 2013, in Boca Raton, Fla.
The Sun Sentinel reports Echevarria is charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a firearm in the case involving three alleged victims: A Pompano Beach man, his then 2-year-old son, and the man’s brother.
Echevarria, a Department of Homeland Security special agent with the Federal Protective Service, pleaded not guilty and blames the other driver. Echevarria’s next court date is June 16; he’s free on $15,000 bail. If he goes to trial and gets convicted, he’s facing a 20-year minimum mandatory prison sentence according to Florida’s 10-20-Life law.
A member of the U.S. Marshals Florida Regional Fugitive Task Force, Echevarria claimed he fired his service weapon at the other car in a justifiable use of deadly force. The agent said the other driver, Alla Juma, 28, pulled out a gun, and then, Juma’s car hit Echevarria and was about to strike the agent’s wife while fleeing the mall lot.
Unlike many road-rage incidents, this one escalated quickly past the typical obscene gesture exchange.
According to the Sentinel, instead, it was just the start of a confrontation involving the off-duty federal agent, who was driving his Honda Pilot with his with his wife, Elvia Lopez, and their five children, ages 3 to 14.
Juma was in a Toyota Camry with his brother Mahde Juma, now 20, and Alla Juma’s toddler son in the back seat.
Defense attorney Bruce Lehr, in a reply to the prosecutor, argued undisputed facts show “it is clear that Agent Echevarria, who was engaged in a lawful activity, was in fear for his safety, the safety of his wife, their five young children … and others in the immediate area.”
Yet in a March 30 order, now-retired Circuit Judge David Crow denied Echevarria’s request to dismiss the charges and grant the defendant immunity from prosecution under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, reports the Sentinel.
The judge found the evidence presented at two days of hearings in January supports the victims’ version of events, and the defendant hadn’t proved “a reasonable person would conclude that deadly force was necessary to prevent immediate death or great bodily harm.”
However, Judge Crow noted that substantial conflicts in witness testimony ultimately could lead to Echevarria’s acquittal.
“It may very well be that at the time of trial the State will not be able to carry its burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the Defendant did not act in self defense,” Crow wrote. “However, those issues are questions of fact for the jury at trial and not this Court upon a Motion to Dismiss.”
The Sentinel provides a breakdown of the case, including the competing views offered by the prosecutor and the defense:
The prosecutor said Juma was trying to move from a center lane to the right lane so he could turn into the Town Center mall and pick up his wife, who worked at the Nordstrom department store. Echevarria’s SUV was in the right lane and “either intentionally or inadvertently” prevented Juma from entering the lane. Juma accelerated and cut off Echevarria, who responded by honking his horn and accelerating toward Juma’s car. The Juma brothers both showed Echevarria their middle fingers, according to the Sentinel.
The Sentinel reports defense attorney Lehr argued Juma cut off his client’s car, and the Jumas “flicked him off.” But those actions caused Echevarria’s SUV to crash into the rear of another vehicle, and Echevarria’s wife immediately called 911, twice, to report it, Lehr told the judge in a January pleading. Echevarria asked the other driver to enter the mall lot so they could exchange information, and his wife told the 911 dispatcher they would try to locate the Camry that had cut them off. The car that Echevarria hit on Glades, and that car’s driver, has never been identified, according to court records.
According to the prosecutor, Echevarria then disregarded the 911 operator’s instructions to meet officers outside Macy’s, and instead located Juma, who was double-parked in front of Nordstrom’s east entrance. Echevarria, “aggressively blitzing his car to the victim’s car,” parks his Pilot nose-to-nose with the Camry, the prosecutor told the court. Next, he said, the agent stepped outside the car without displaying his badge or dressed in uniform, yelled and pointed a .40-caliber handgun at the frightened Jumas, according to the Sentinel.
The Sentinel reports as Echevarria rushes toward the Camry, Echevarria’s wife jumps out of the Pilot and slaps the hood or windshield of the Camry. The Jumas “are now in fear for their lives” and Juma reverses his car a bit, and then pulls out to the left to clear the Pilot, the prosecution wrote. After Juma’s car then hit Echevarria’s wife and knocked her to the ground, Echevarria fired, striking the rear driver’s side of the Camry. “This reckless discharge causes shoppers in the parking lot to duck behind cars and dive for cover,” the prosecutor continued. Juma drove to his home in Pompano, called his wife at the store, and she called 911.
The defense offered a totally different account of what happened after Echevarria pulled up to Juma outside Nordstrom, which is the heart of the “Stand Your Ground” claim. The defense says Echevarria got out of his SUV and announced his was a police officer while drawing his weapon. The agent “was immediately met with force — a loaded handgun pointed at him, his wife and five young children,” the attorney argued, adding that while Juma denied pointing his gun and initially denied even having a gun, police later located it under the driver’s seat of the Camry.
The Sentinel reports as Echevarria walked toward the car, “Mr. Juma’s response was to use his vehicle as a deadly weapon,” Lehr wrote, adding that the Camry first hit the agent and then his wife, causing injuries to her knee and stomach. Echevarria aimed his weapon at the tire of the Camry “to prevent his wife from being run over,” the attorney contended, calling it a clear case of self-defense warranting a dismissal of the charges.
The Sentinel reports Boca Raton police arrested Echevarria 20 days after the incident. Investigators noted there was a “time lapse” between the moment Juma cut off Echevarria and the shooting.
“Echevarria had no lawful purpose to confront the occupants of the red Toyota, armed with his duty weapon while off duty, in plain clothes, and in his personal vehicle,” the arrest report said.
Juma then said he was happy justice was served. He will be the star witness at Echevarria’s trial.
“If you’re a federal agent … you shouldn’t act like a Rambo,” Juma told the Sentinel after the agent’s arrest.
Lehr said he could not comment about his client’s current job status.
In Judge Crow’s order, he explained surveillance video from the mall and testimony from a shopper in the parking lot serve to dispute Echevarria’s and his wife’s statements that the agent fired at Juma’s car in an attempt to stop it from hitting her.
The defendant shot at the car as it was speeding away, Crow found.
The judge also wrote that he didn’t believe Juma grabbed or used his gun during the confrontation, noting neither Echevarria nor his wife ever told police or a 911 dispatcher that Juma raised a pistol at them.
Echevarria’s attorney the Sentinel he can not discuss the judge’s order, which still allows a jury to hear all of the Stand Your Ground self-defense arguments.
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