State attorney blocked criminal investigation into Delray Beach police lieutenant – Palm Beach Post

State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s office short-circuited an outside investigation looking into whether a Delray Beach police lieutenantdefrauded taxpayers through a bogus domestic partnership and committed perjury, The Palm Beach Post has learned.

It’s the latest action taken by the state attorney’s office to benefit Lt. Nicole Guerriero.

The office prosecuted her ex-wife for cyberstalking despite no specific threat of violence and a police investigation dripping in conflict. Then his public corruption unit refused a request by the police department to investigate Guerriero over the domestic partnership.

This all comes to light as the county’s top law official, a Democrat, is said to be on the short list for the Biden administration to become the next U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. 

His office’s actions regarding Guerriero are memorialized in a 140-page case report from the state’s insurance detectives, who picked up the ball after Aronberg’s office refused to investigate.

State investigators suspected Guerriero of using the domestic partnership to put Charles Navarro, a West Palm Beach self-employed contractor who owed her money on the city’s health insurance plan.

More: Post investigation: Delray Beach police leveled criminal charge against top officer’s ex-wife

By putting him on the city’s taxpayer-supported health insurance, Guerriero freed up $470 a month for the contractor who needed to make interest payments on a home equity loan, in her name, of at least $50,000.

The state investigators wanted a search warrant to look at texts and emails between the partners, showing the nature of the relationship. 

But Aronberg’s office stopped them cold with a prosecutor claiming the investigators had “no facts that support the contention” that the domestic partners — legally akin to a married couple ‒ would be texting each other, the report stated.

Guerriero has friends in high places who have helped her in the past. Among them is Mary Olsen, her mentor and a former assistant chief of Delray Beach police. Olsen is now assigned to Aronberg’s office through the sheriff’s department as an investigator.

A Post investigation last year revealed that Olsen greenlighted a cyberstalking investigation into Guerriero’s ex-wife. She assigned one of Guerriero’s good friends to the case. 

Guerriero then caught another break when Police Chief Javaro Sims overturned the conclusions of an 18-month internal affairs investigation that the lieutenant committed six counts of “perjurious statements” in a sworn deposition. Perjury is a third-degree felony.

Guerriero received a 24-hour unpaid suspension for making one false statement about the domestic partnership. She is appealing.

When it comes to the lieutenant, all roads lead back to the contents of her cellphone, which was put into evidence in the cyberstalking case. 

The city of Delray Beach is using taxpayer dollars to fight a public records lawsuit seeking to pry loose the purple thumb drive holding the contents of the phone.

State Attorney spokesman Mike Edmondson dismissed the state’s efforts to obtain Guerriero’s cellphone information as “a fishing expedition.” 

But a copy of the search warrant application shows an extensive state investigation that builds a case for insurance fraud and perjury. 

It’s a tangled web of law and disorder, to be sure.

The Post obtained reports detailing the investigations into Guerriero through public records requests and sources. 

The outcome of twin investigations, one criminal, into a high-ranking police officer is just the most recent example of how the well-connected in Palm Beach County appear to enjoy a different justice system from the ordinary taxpayer.

“Palm Beach County has a long history of giving special treatment to public officials,” said Robert Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.

“It’s something that should make every resident mad. And it’s something that every resident should demand that it stop.”

Nicole Guerriero denies domestic relationship in legal proceeding  

West Palm Beach attorney Nellie King represented Guerriero’s ex-wife. who was charged in the cyberstalking case and subject to a temporary restraining order that kept her from her adopted child for two months.

King — the first vice president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers — has been the catalyst for the investigations into the lieutenant. The attorney says her aim is “law enforcement accountability and transparency in policing.”

“The State Attorney’s Office is shielding the release of evidence in this case, where a police officer, instead of the average citizen, is under criminal scrutiny,” King said.

King said Chief Sims has “lowered the standards for his department.” 

“The question for the community, particularly in this era of demand for law enforcement accountability and transparency, is whether this case demonstrates a failure of organizational leadership at the Delray Beach Police Department from the top down,” she said. 

After she questioned Guerriero in a sworn deposition in the ex-wife’s case, King notified the police chief about the domestic partnership and Guerriero’s statements denying the relationship.

The police department then in June 2019 asked the state Department of Financial Services to look into the domestic partnership and whether there was insurance fraud.

Surveillance by state investigators with the Division of Investigative and Forensic Services could not ever place the two partners together. They had trouble placing Navarro’s cars at Guerriero’s home. 

It wasn’t enough for Assistant State Attorney Ryan Kelley, who told the state detectives a year later: 

“There are no facts to support the contention that text messages between the target and Navarro even exist, much less that the ‘crime’ was even discussed.”

More: Read the search warrant application that the state attorney’s office called “a fishing expedition”

This would be akin to a married couple never texting or emailing each other, said a former FBI agent. 

“It doesn’t make sense to think you and the person you live with have no text messages,” said Jeff Danik, now a legal consultant. “Of course, there are going to be messages between the two. You start with that assumption.”

Jarvis, the Nova Southeastern University law professor, expressed surprise that Aronberg’s office rejected the investigators’ request. 

“It certainly seems like there was enough probable cause to go to a judge,” Jarvis said.  “Of course, it’s possible that a judge would have disagreed, but to flat out not try strikes me as rather odd given everything the investigators had discovered.”

Guerriero goes to assistant chief about ex-wife

Guerriero is a high-profile asset for Delray Beach’s police department. She served as the department’s spokeswoman, head of internal affairs and also worked the streets as an officer.

She also has in her corner  Olsen, the former Delray Beach assistant police chief who is assigned as a civilian investigator to the state attorney through the sheriff’s office. 

Guerriero went to Olsen when she wanted to prosecute her ex-wife — Bethany Fedorenchik Guerriero, an officer in the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department — for cyberstalking.

The Post’s investigation last year revealed Olsen tapped a close friend of Guerriero’s, Detective Stephanie Baker, to build the case. Olsen did not return a phone call or email seeking comment.

Fedorenchik — The Post is using her maiden name to avoid confusion — was charged in March 2019, but the case was dropped two months later. 

The internal affairs investigation “could not prove or disprove” that Guerriero weaponized the police department against Fedorenchik with Olsen and Baker.

In her ex-wife’s case, Guerriero turned over her phone to her own department in order to extract texts. The entire contents of Guerriero’s phone were downloaded and put on the thumb drive.

It remains in the possession of the police department.

It is the same thumb drive that state insurance fraud investigators wanted to see. It is the same thumb drive that the city of Delray Beach is fighting to keep secret in a public records lawsuit brought by King in August 2019.

The lawsuit contends that once the city downloaded Guerriero’s phone, it became a public record. King said Guerriero used her personal phone to conduct police business, also making it a public record. 

Once the thumb drive became fair game, Guerriero withdrew her cooperation with prosecutors on the cyberstalking charge against her ex-wife. Prosecutors then made a decision to no longer prosecute.

The lieutenant has said the thumb drive contained private information, such as medical or child care. Guerriero also said she never gave permission for all of the contents of her phone to be copied.

“I did not want that thumb drive to become a public record or a part of discovery,” Guerriero said, according to the IA report.

King said police have been using cell phone data as a dragnet for years to make criminal cases and a police officer shouldn’t be exempt.

A Post investigation in August 2018 found police in Palm Beach County were using a secret cellphone tracking device on residents to compile evidence in cases. The devices can see the complete contents of a mobile device. 

Jupiter police last summer used search warrants for phone and web cloud services to build a murder case against David Anthony in the death of his wife, Gretchen. 

But when it came to obtaining the contents of a police officer’s phone, Guerriero claimed she “has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

More: PBSO deputies use secret cellphone catcher to grab calls

And Aronberg had no problem keeping the contents of that phone a secret, even in the narrow scope of the insurance fraud investigation.

Guerriero did not respond to questions about this story, and Navarro 

 declined to comment. 

‘I find no merit … that she answered like a victim in fear’

The IA investigator’s finding that Guerriero lied under oath stemmed from when she was questioned by King in the cyberstalking matter. The lieutenant was asked about her relationship with Navarro.

Q: Who is Charlie?

A: A friend

Q Has he ever lived at your home?

A: No

Q: Never been a resident at your address?

A: No

 Q: So, in the time period we’re talking about, either when you met Bethany or through divorce and post-divorce, your testimony is you have not been in a relationship with Charlie Navarro?

A: Correct

A Palm Beach County 2006 ordinance defines a domestic partnership, in part, as one in which each party “shares his or her primary residence with the other.”

Guerriero, with the police department since 1999, told the IA investigator that she felt bullied and mocked by King when asked questions about Navarro.

The internal affairs investigator Lt. Scott Privitera didn’t buy it

“These challenges are posed to every police officer when they take the stand or when deposed, regardless if they are a victim,” he said. 

“I find no merit to Lt. Guerriero’s responses that she answered like a victim in fear.”

Chief Sims thought otherwise, though, in a Dec. 7 memorandum.

Sims did find that Guerriero provided “misleading information” about the domestic partnership in order to protect herself. He also states that it was in “direct conflict with the true intent of the domestic partnership agreement.

But he dismissed all of it by characterizing Guerriero as a victim of a grudge match initiated by her ex-wife. He said the former couple “are dedicated to mutual destruction of each other’s career.”

While Sims said Guerriero did lie about the domestic partnership, he added that “I do not believe she was being malicious with her misleading statements.”

He then distilled a 92-page IA report into one finding of making a false statement and handed Guerriero a 24-hour suspension without pay.

Jarvis, the law professor, found the discipline astonishing.

“Indeed, Sims seems to be condoning perjury by his department’s employees whenever they believe perjury is appropriate and are willing to suffer a slap on the wrist for engaging in it.”

Jarvis said no police department can serve the public guided by such a standard, “and any police department that uses such a standard should be disbanded immediately.”

Maria “Maki” Haberfeld, academic director of the NYPD Police Studies Certificate at John Jay College, said police chiefs frequently overturn the findings of the IA investigations but called Sims’ memo “problematic.”

“The discipline is disproportionate to the violation — lying during a deposition,” Haberfeld said. “The fact that it is a complex case or the fact that she lied to protect herself just does not add up.”

The Florida statutes don’t split hairs when it comes to perjury. The law states that anyone making a false statement in an official proceeding commits a third-degree felony punishable by a maximum five-year prison sentence.

The statutes also prohibit anyone from being certified as a police officer in Florida if that person pleads guilty, no contest or is convicted of perjury or false statement.

Dave Aronberg’s office: No harm since he never filed insurance claim

Aronberg’s office bristled at questions probing whether it was protecting Guerriero.

Spokesman Edmondson said when it comes to prosecuting law enforcement, Aronberg’s record speaks for itself. 

“Our prosecutors make decisions based solely on the evidence and the law, not the suspect’s profession,” Edmondson said.

Aronberg’s office provided a list of nearly 30 law enforcement officers charged with various crimes, including Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja, he said.

Raja was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the 2015 fatal shooting of stranded motorist Corey Jones, who was Black.

“That marked the first time a law enforcement officer in Florida had been found guilty of an on-duty killing in 30 years,” Edmondson said. 

In the Raja case, Aronberg was under tremendous pressure to act.

Palm Beach County’s Black community protested repeatedly over the shooting. At one point, protesters attempted to march to Aronberg’s condominium, but many were arrested. 

“There are officers out there all the time who are accused while on duty and in uniform who aren’t prosecuted at all,” said West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney Gregg Lerman. “They aren’t even looked at or presented to the grand jury.”

When it came to Guerriero and her domestic partnership, Edmondson said it’s the state attorney’s job to review search warrant applications and reject those that are legally insufficient.

“There was no evidence that the phone or text messages contained any relevant evidence of insurance fraud,” he said. “ASA Kelly concluded the warrant would be a fishing expedition that did not reach the standard of probable cause.”

It was all a moot issue anyway because Navarro never filed a medical claim, the spokesman said. 

“The only economic loss would come from a possible expansion of insurance coverage alone for someone who did not qualify, a minimal loss at best,” he said.

Delray Beach spent more than $600,000 of taxpayer money in the last fiscal year to provide health insurance for members of the police department.

“The City of Delray Beach pays a significant portion of the employee’s monthly insurance premium,” according to the search warrant application. 

Guerriero contributed about $90 every two weeks from her paycheck for her and Navarro — far less than the $470 the contractor was previously paying.

“So this means you can commit insurance fraud, but as long as you don’t have cancer, it’s OK. He is forgetting about the monthly premium,” King said.

“This is such a ruse. It’s just a game they are playing.”

Aronberg’s action also goes against the reputation he has cultivated as a lawman who takes insurance fraud seriously. His office won a national award in June 2018 from The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud for his work in cleaning up the sober home industry in Palm Beach County. 

Dave Aronberg ‘excels at everything he does’

The revelation that Aronberg’s office put the kibosh on a criminal probe into a law enforcement officer comes at a time he is under some welcomed scrutiny as a candidate for U.S. attorney.

“For David, it is something he has been interested in a very long time,” said Andre Fladell, a political powerbroker who has helped shape Palm Beach County elections for 30 years

“He is extraordinarily qualified. He has shown that he excels at everything he has done.”

Aronberg has worked hard to cultivate a national image. He earned accolades for exposing fraud in the drug recovery industry. These days he is a semi-regular on the Morning Joe news program on MSNBC.

He has enjoyed the overwhelming support of law enforcement and has straddled political lines, working at one time for Republican Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi as the state’s drug czar. He also was a Democratic state senator.

If appointed U.S. attorney, Aronberg would oversee prosecutors from Key West to Fort Pierce where police corruption cases could cross his desk.

Aronberg’s name might be in the mix, but The Miami Herald has reported that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is favoring a Haitian-American attorney Markenzy Lapointe of Miami.

State attorney office’s assists prosecution of ex-wife

While Aronberg’s office refused to cooperate with state investigators looking into Guerriero, it did assist the lieutenant in prosecuting her ex-wife for cyberstalking.

Olsen, then assistant chief, assigned detective Stephanie Baker, Guerriero’s friend, to the cyberstalking case. 

Baker’s child had playdates with the adopted daughter of Guerriero and Fedorenchik and is seen in photos on social media with the lieutenant.

Guerriero listed Baker on a temporary restraining order against Fedorenchik as a person who needed to be protected. 

When asked by King in the deposition how Baker could be chief investigator and a witness at the same time, Guerriero dared the attorney to take it up with Aronberg’s public corruption unit.

She did, and they refused to take it further.

Baker has said in a deposition that she was in communication with prosecutors

The cyberstalking case was lucrative for Baker. She made more than $5,000 of taxpayer money on overtime for making a misdemeanor case that didn’t stick. 

The IA investigation, though, exonerated Baker of all wrongdoing, finding she didn’t lie in her deposition, misappropriate overtime or fail to properly investigate the cyberstalking case.

Capt. John Crane-Baker, not related, was the detective’s direct supervisor but said he was kept out of the loop on the case. Baker communicated only with Olsen.

“I had felt this probably should have been sent out to a different agency,” said Crane-Baker, according to the internal affairs report.

“Either the sheriff’s department or the state attorney’s office, or another agency to handle this since it was involving two law enforcement officers.”

Olsen said at the time that the cyberstalking case began in September 2017 that she had approval from then-Police Chief Jeff Goldman to keep the investigation in house. Goldman did not return a phone message for comment.

The former assistant chief also said the cyberstalking case was handled in-house because Guerriero was a resident of Delray Beach.  

But so was Delray officer Timothy McInerney. When it was discovered McInerney used a fake name on a bill of sale for a vehicle, the investigation was farmed out to the Florida Highway Patrol. 

Aronberg’s office filed a perjury charge against McInerney and he was fired from his job. The IA officer who investigated McInerney was none other than Lt. Guerriero.

McInerney told The Post that again there seems to be a double standard.

“There has to be accountability for command staff just as it is for street-level patrol officers,” he said. “Any sort of major crime that happens within the department should be funneled out so there is no favoritism.”

Aronberg’s public corruption unit won’t investigate

King in May 2019 wrote to Chief Sims about the domestic partnership and her concerns about conflict of interest in the cyberstalking investigation. 

The police department reached out to Aronberg’s office’s public corruption unit to investigate the possibility of insurance fraud.

But then-Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes said he didn’t see that the allegations had anything to do with Guerriero’s performance in her official capacity. 

The public corruption unit investigates misconduct by government officials and bureaucrats who violate the public trust, according to the state attorney’s website.

Guerriero used an administrative assistant to notarize the domestic partnership agreement without Navarro present. 

After Aronberg’s office declined to investigate, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was contacted but that agency also declined to take the case.

Delray Beach police eventually referred the matter to the state Department of Financial Services.

Its insurance fraud division, though, closed the case in July 2019 after Guerriero produced credit card statements and plane ticket receipts for both her and Navarro. 

Nowhere did the initial investigators say they considered or asked Guerriero about her statements denying the relationship in a sworn deposition.

After The Post inquired about the investigation, the division reopened the case and assigned new investigators in November 2019.

The new investigators started building a case in what they saw as a “domestic partnership agreement which appeared to be fraudulent,” according to their report. 

Guerriero says relationship is ‘not a business deal’

Guerriero at first declined to be interviewed by fraud detectives. But she did make a point of saying, without being asked, that she did not personally know the previous investigators who had initially closed the insurance fraud case.

The lieutenant then told investigators how her ex-wife hampered her relationship with Navarro. “The goal in my life is to bring him into my family,” she said. “It’s just been derailed by this nonsense.”

Fedorenchik told investigators that Navarro had borrowed about $50,000 after Guerriero took out a home equity loan in 2005. It remained a stressor on her four-year marriage, she said.

When asked about the money she loaned Navarro, Guerriero said he was paying it back.

Guerriero said that entering into the domestic partnership was “not a business deal” and done to ensure there was someone to be her healthcare surrogate in case she was hospitalized. Guerriero is a cancer survivor.

However, investigators had trouble ever placing Navarro with Guerriero.

When they asked Guerriero why the domestic partnership wasn’t terminated since Navarro hadn’t stayed with her in months, Guerriero said, “This is not black and white. … It’s like a marriage. … You have ups and downs.” 

Navarro remained a ghost to state investigators as they tried in vain to track him down. They used traffic cameras to find his cars passing through intersections. They visited his work site and a West Palm Beach home that he owned.

The contractor met investigators in a Lake Worth Home Depot parking lot. He denied he owed Guerriero money ‒ contrary to the lieutenant’s statements ‒ but said he would take himself off the insurance.

Delray Beach would not confirm or deny Navarro was still receiving benefits. The domestic partnership is still filed with the Palm Beach County Clerk of Court.

Navarro said he paid for “groceries and stuff” to make up for not having to pay $470 for his own private health insurance.

“But I’m not going to leave Nicole,” he said.   

The narrative in the insurance fraud report didn’t include everything. The state’s main investigator, detective Michael deClaire of the Bureau of Insurance Fraud, supplied several revelations to the Delray police IA investigator.

When Navarro spoke to investigators at the Home Depot parking lot, the contractor could not remember his own address ‒ Guerriero’s residence, the detective said.

Investigators seek search warrant for what’s on the phone

Before asking for help from Aronberg’s office, state investigators received an affidavit from the director of human resources for the city of Delray Beach that said the city would not have accepted the domestic partnership agreement had it known all the facts. 

The two investigators went to Aronberg’s office in May seeking to obtain a search warrant for “text messages, emails, photos and videos” between Guerriero and Navarro on the thumb drive in the possession of Delray Police.

Assistant State Attorney Kelley suggested they draft a search warrant starting from 60 or 90 days prior to the inception of the domestic partnership.

A copy of the search warrant application received by The Post on Thursday outlined the evidence compiled by investigators, including Guerriero’s statements under oath, how the couple didn’t live together and the financial benefit of the domestic partnership.  

It also noted Navarro wasn’t involved in child care even though “Guerriero had said she, Navarro and the child were trying to be a family.”

“There is probable cause to believe Guerriero and Navarro conspired to and created and filed a false domestic partnership agreement,” Detective deClaire wrote.

The thumb drive “constitutes evidence relevant to proving that a felony has been committed.”

The probable cause application showed Guerriero was under  criminal investigation not only for insurance fraud but also for perjury. 

Kelley, though, told state investigators in June that he would not send the search warrant application to a judge for approval.

“Unless there are some sworn facts that can establish a nexus between the item to be searched and that it is more probable than not that evidence of the crime would be contained therein, a search warrant cannot be issued,” Kelley said.

As a result of Kelley’s refusal, the state criminal investigation stopped cold. Detectives filed the case under “insufficient evidence/no further leads.”

“It is possible, but cannot be proven at this time, that the formation of the domestic partnership agreement between Guerriero and Navarro was created for the purpose of Navarro gaining health insurance or other benefits from Guerriero’s employer, the city of Delray Beach,” their report concluded.

Expert on evidence: ‘At least look into it’

Denis deVlaming, an adjunct professor at Stetson University is an expert on the requirements of law enforcement and prosecutors to turn over evidence.

He said Aronberg was wrong to block investigators from gathering evidence. A search warrant for the phone’s contents doesn’t mean Guerriero was going to be charged with a crime, deVlaming said

“I mean at least look into it,” he said. “That is the type of thing that the governor may need to be contacted about.”

King put it this way: The county’s top law official refused to look into Guerriero’s domestic partnership as a matter of public corruption and then blocked another law enforcement agency from trying to investigate. 

“If the State Attorney will not hold law enforcement accountable, then the public has no faith officers who commit crimes, including lying under oath, will ever be held accountable,” she said. “That is big a problem given current public and political sentiment.”

jpacenti@pbpost.com

@jpacenti

THE PLAYERS

Nicole Guerriero, the Delray Beach police lieutenant 

She was once a high-profile public information officer and head of internal affairs. Friends of hers in the department got her ex-wife charged with cyberstalking. Guerriero turned over the contents of her phone in that case. She also filed an official domestic partnership with a man who owed her money, putting him on the city’s health insurance.  State insurance fraud investigators launched an inquiry into whether the relationship was bogus after she said under oath that she wasn’t in a relationship with him. The investigation didn’t get past Dave Aronberg.  

Dave Aronberg, the state attorney 

He’s been Palm Beach County state attorney since 2013 and is on the short list to become U.S. attorney for a territory that reaches from Monroe through St. Lucie counties. He is known for his aggressive prosecution of fraud in the addiction treatment industry. But in Guerriero’s case, his prosecutor found that there was no reason to believe that Guerriero and the man were texting or emailing each other, keeping insurance fraud investigators from getting a search warrant for the contents of her phone. Aronberg’s spokesman called it a “fishing expedition.”  

Charles Navarro, the domestic partner 

A West Palm Beach contractor who is the declared domestic partner of Guerriero. She put Navarro on her health insurance policy – an expense paid for by Delray Beach taxpayers.  

Nellie King, the ex-wife’s defense attorney 

 First vice president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, she got  Guerriero’s ex-wife’s cyberstalking case dismissed. King complained about the domestic partnership to authorities after Guerriero swore under oath that she and Navarro weren’t in a relationship.  

Javaro Sims, the Delray Beach police chief 

After an internal affairs investigation found that Guerriero had uttered “six perjurious” statements, he overturned the findings and gave her a 24-hour unpaid suspension for making one false statement.  

Mary Olsen, former assistant chief, Guerriero’s mentor 

She tapped another friend of Guerriero’s to investigate Guerriero’s ex-wife for cyberstalking. The ex-wife was charged, but the case was dropped. Olsen works now for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, but she is assigned to Aronberg’s office as an investigator. 

Bethany Fedorenchik Guerriero, Guerriero’s ex-wife 

 A Palm Beach Gardens police officer, she was charged by Aronberg’s office with cyberstalking over text messages with Guerriero. The case was dropped once Guerriero learned the contents of her cell phone was put into evidence. 

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After months of torture and imprisonment, Hamas told a Palestinian activist that he would only be released if he divorced his wife

rami aman palestine gaza

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Palestinian activist Rami Aman has said that he was forced by the militant group Hamas to divorce his then-wife in order to secure his release from a Gaza prison, according to the Associated Press.

Aman told the news agency that after months of pressure from Hamas officials, he eventually gave in to pressure and went ahead with the separation.

The demand that he divorce her is thought to be a move by the militant group to distant itself from Aman’s decision to engage in discourse with Israeli peace activists last year, AP reported.

His ex-wife is the daughter of a senior-ranking Hamas official, AP said. 

She has since been deported from Gaza, against her will, and Aman told the news agency that he may never see her again.

Read more: People are being unjustly kept in prison because of bad software. It’s yet another reason mass incarceration should be a national outrage.

Aman was imprisoned following a backlash against him for helping set up a two-hour-long Zoom chat between Israelis and Palestinian peacemakers, Insider’s Anthony L. Fisher reported in April 2020.

He was one of over 200 people on both sides of the Israel-Gaza divide who participated in the English-language Zoom chat initiated by Aman’s organization — the Gaza Youth Committee. 

Following a campaign on Facebook by a Palestinian journalist to shame those who attended and the subsequent social media outrage online, Aman was charged with the crime of “normalization” with Israel. 

His former wife was also arrested, the Associated Press reported.

After Aman’s arrest on April 9, 2020, he said that he was interrogated and tortured. He claims he was blindfolded, taken to a prison cell, and was forced to sit in a tiny child’s chair for days or weeks on end, according to AP.

He was referred to by his prison number, only allowed to remove his blindfold for bathroom breaks, and could only leave his seat to be interrogated or pray, AP reported.

During his imprisonment, a police officer reportedly told him that it would be “better” if he proceeded with a divorce. He resisted the request for months, AP said.

In August, an Islamic judge asked him whether he felt coerced into separation. Aman said yes but the judge, the activist told AP, refuted this. “How are you being forced? Do you see me carrying a gun?” he says the legal official told him.

Aman, 39, eventually signed divorce documents, expecting to be released, but remained imprisoned for two more months. 

“The deplorable treatment of Rami Aman by Hamas authorities reflects their systematic practice of punishing those whose speech threatens their orthodoxy,” Omar Shakir, Israel-Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, told AP.

His ex-wife, who has been deported to Egypt, confirmed to the Associated Press that she was forced into the divorce and wants to reunite with Aman. 

Aman is now banned from leaving Gaza and security officials are still holding onto his laptop, computer, and phone, the news agency said.

He is in frequent communication with human rights organizations, lawyers, and Hamas officials, AP reported.

But his priority is to be reunited with his lover.

“Now I have my personal battle: return to my wife,” the activist told the news agency.

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