Osama’s Thug

Jose Padilla is (a) a punk; (b) a terrorist in training; (c) an unwitting pawn for Uncle Sam and al-Qaeda; or (d) all of the above

On October 8, 1991, Victor Lento and Brian Moril, who worked at a video store in Sunrise, were driving west on Oakland Park Boulevard toward Lento's house. The car belonged to Moril's girlfriend, and Moril had allowed Lento to take it for a quick spin.

As they pulled up to the intersection of Oakland and University Drive, a black Toyota Tercel cut in front of them and slammed on the brakes. "I cut the wheel back to the right," the 22-year-old Lento recalled in a deposition. "I started sliding. I let go of the brake. I got out of the accident, like, and we started arguing with the guy next to us."

That guy was Padilla. Wearing a New York Yankees cap pulled down low over his face, Padilla was driving his girlfriend's vehicle.

Padilla likely made his connection with Islam in South Florida
Padilla likely made his connection with Islam in South Florida

"What are you, crazy?!" Lento shouted.

Padilla stared at the men, blank-faced.

"What are you, crazy?!" Lento repeated.

Padilla lifted his hand and flashed a silver pistol.

"He's got a gun," Lento said.

"It's a .357," Moril replied from the passenger seat. "It's a .357."

The light changed. Lento stomped on the accelerator. Padilla quickly caught up to the men and passed. Wanting to get the Tercel's license plate number to report the incident, Lento and Moril followed the future terrorist. The two men watched as the Tercel traveled in a circle around a hotel parking lot and then entered an Exxon gas station. When Padilla was about to exit back onto Oakland Park Boulevard, Lento pressed down on the gas pedal and tried to cut him off. But Padilla turned the wheel and whipped around them. From about 25 feet away, Padilla lifted his weapon and pointed it toward the open passenger-side window at the pair.

"That's when he did it," Lento said. Bang! "I just went down."

Padilla sped away.

Lento and Moril looked at each other. They were okay. They looked around the car. No damage.

The pair called police. After they separately picked out Padilla's photo at the Sunrise Police Department, cops headed for the gunman's house. They arrived at 11:00 p.m. The five-foot ten-inch, 170-pound Padilla, dressed in a dark silk shirt and gray pants, was standing outside. He reached toward his waistband. The police officers rushed him and pushed him to the ground. Hidden beneath his shirt was a silver .38-caliber revolver with a cracked ivory handle. It was almost certainly the one he had fired at Lento and Moril.

A few days later, Judge Robert Tyson set Padilla's bond at $17,000. Tyson decided on the high amount because he discovered Padilla had not disclosed his juvenile criminal record — including the stabbing in Chicago.

Unable to pay the steep bond, Padilla spent the rest of the winter at the Broward Sheriff's Office main jail in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

He proved to be a high-maintenance prisoner. Around 7:00 p.m. on January 4, 1992, BSO Corrections Dep. Marc Albolino responded to Padilla's fourth-floor cell. The prisoner was screaming and kicking, so Albolino opened the door and entered. Padilla rushed the guard and pushed him in the chest.

"You don't know what I'll do to you," Padilla said.

After calling for backup, Albolino grabbed his assailant by the shirt and tried to sit him on the bed. Padilla began to push and wrestle with the deputy.

Corrections Dep. W. Keggler heard the radio alert and sprinted up the metal stairs. As he turned the corner toward the cell, he saw Padilla and Albolino struggling. He tried to help Albolino subdue the young man.

"Don't resist," Keggler kept saying. "Don't resist."

"I didn't do nothing!" Padilla yelled. "I didn't do nothing!"

The two men had trouble restraining Padilla, who was kicking and punching them. Then Dep. Thomas Trawinski responded to the emergency call. He later recalled in a deposition that, when he arrived, he was sure someone would die. The fight had moved outside the cell to the platform, near a railing. From there it was a four-story drop to the concrete floor.

"I was afraid we were going to go over the rail, because we were real close on the rail," Trawinski said. "And the second when he started kicking, it was very possible for one of us to go over."

Finally a fourth deputy arrived, and together the guards overpowered Padilla, placing him face down on the floor of his cell.

Four days later, on January 8, 1992, Padilla turned his aggression toward his court-appointed lawyer, Brian G. Reidy. He informed Judge Tyson during a hearing that he'd filed a bar complaint against Reidy and wanted a new attorney.

The transcripts of the case make Padilla seem dim and irrational.

"What's the problem, sir?" Tyson asked Padilla.

"He don't want to listen to nothing I have to say," Padilla answered. "He makes decisions without me. He don't tell me what he's going to do. He don't explain to me what he's doing. He makes decisions without me. He don't ask my family."

Reidy told the judge that Padilla was angry because he couldn't post bond. The amount was too high. "Against my advice, Mr. Padilla was reluctant to discuss his prior record with the court," Reidy told the judge. "Consequently the court raised his bond to $17,000. I think that's the real reason that he's filed this complaint against me."

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