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Confusion led to a brief encounter between an armed Broward judge and police officers on Easter.
Broward Circuit Court Judge Ilona Holmes, her sister and her sister’s family says they were ordered at gun point by several Broward Sheriffs Deputies on Easter Sunday to come out of her sister’s home with their hands up.
It was no evening of peace for the Deerfield Beach family, who’d just finished dinner with friends and family, and sent extra Easter dinner to a needy family connected with their church. Then, at 8:20 p.m., police got a call about a possible burglary next door. But a bad address caused police to go to the wrong home.
“Do I feel safe?” asked Carmita Scarlett, the homeowner and sister of Judge Holmes. "No, absolutely not. No, no. So much confusion, so much anger. So much, almost like, resentment. You know, ‘you made the mistake and,’ I told them, ‘I'm the victim and you're upset with me?’”
The call to police said there might be a burglar inside 235 Southwest 4th Street. But there is no 235. Only 236 and 230.
Arriving police outside spotted someone inside 230 – Neville Scarlett was in the kitchen cleaning up the Easter dinner plates - and thought he might be the burglar.
He was not.
Moments earlier, the same person who called police also called the Scarlett’s to warn them about a possible burglar outside. Fearful, Carmita lowered the kitchen window shade. That’s when she heard someone hit the window with something metallic. She says she saw a gun pointed directly at her.
"There's a man with a gun and he's going to shoot me!!" yelled Carmita. “I thought it was the robber!" Her sister, Judge Holmes, came running to the kitchen. The judge carries a legal firearm and immediately pulled it out and held it in her hand.
"She said ‘Who are you!? What are you doing?!’ He said ‘this is BSO.’ She said, ‘this is Circuit Court Judge Ilona Holmes!!’” Carmita said.
"'I'm the owner of this home. I'm Carmita Scarlett. Why are you at my home?’ I kept saying that. They said ‘put your hands up and come outside,'" she said.
Judge Holmes, perhaps borrowing from real life conflict she sees in her own courtroom, immediately cautioned deputies that she was armed so there’d be no misunderstanding.
"They said, ‘Come out with your hands up!’ She said, ‘I am Circuit Court Judge Ilona Holmes. I am armed.'"
They all slowly went out through a side door. “She was putting the gun down. They yelled, ‘put the gun down! Put the gun down!’ Right there, the cop had his gun pointed at her.”
Judge Holmes, surrounded by deputies with guns drawn, slowly put the gun on the grass, announcing it as she went. She was holding a cell phone in the other hand. When she began to place that on the ground, police began yelling.
"When she went to put that down, they yelled, ‘Get away from the gun!’ She said ‘everybody calm down. I'm putting my cell phone down’."
At that point, a higher-ranking deputy recognized her and called on his team to lower their guns, according to Carmita.
“The one that first recognized her, he picked the gun up, opened it up, took the bullets out, he started giving her a speech: ‘Judge Holmes, you know, these guys may not know who you are. I know who you are. This could have been so different.’ And my sister said, ‘everyone of ya'll know me. Ya'll been before me’.”
Oh my, what an Easter Sunday Carmita had. She and her husband and granddaughter have seen stuff like this on TV and never believed it. "There's no way that cops would really - because I've never had a run in with the cops - really go in and do stuff like that," she said.
And now what does Carmita believe?
"Oh God.” She buries her face in her hands.
It was a communication meltdown from the beginning. The neighbor across the street originally called police to say she thought there was a burglar in the home of Pastor Brown across the street because the caller thought she saw lights going on and off. Instead, police went to the house next door, the Scarlett's home.
Judge Holmes, one of the very few black judges in Broward County, saw justice from a whole new perspective. Tuesday night she was in her courtroom conducting a late–running trial and would not comment.
Judge Holmes has hired former U.S. Attorney and old friend Kendall Coffey, who says they're concerned about what happened but won't say whether she is considering legal action. He cautioned against reading too much into the fact that she brought him in to represent her and field questions while she’s in trial.
A BSO spokesman wouldn't comment Tuesday night but did confirm the timeline, address and original burglary call. Police in South Florida often say they routinely must make certain people confirm who they say they are before lowering their weapons.
But Carmita was downright angry. Remember the man outside her kitchen window who pointed a gun at her? Still wearing her pajamas and footies, she approached him afterward. “I said ‘you had a gun pointed at me!’ He said ‘because I felt threatened.’ I said ‘threatened how?'"
She said other officers explained to her that they have families, too, and they want to make it home alive each night. But she says they did so in a condescending way, lecturing her as if she’d done something wrong.
“I know no one apologized, OK? And, to me, if you want to make amends for something, you want to make peace, you apologize, you shake, you leave, you say ‘I'm sorry,’" she said. "And, you know, the cop that had his gun on me, he said ‘well, I was fearing for my life.’ I said ‘really! You were fearing for your life? Really?’ He said ‘forget it - I'm out of here.'"
Carmita says she just wanted someone that night to apologize.
Reporter Elgin Jones of the South Florida Times assisted with this story.