ORLANDO – Robert Lee Pringle knows how difficult it is to be a convicted felon, trying to reestablish himself in this community after nearly four years in a Florida prison.
“It’s very challenging,” he said.
He also knows what it feels like to be described by law enforcement as a “large black male.” That description, he said, left him standing in a motel room with a gun pointed at his head.
“I was scared,” he said. “I did fear for my life. I had a gun at my head. It was said in that room, ‘We’re going to blow your head off.’ “
Pringle, who lives in Eatonville, said he’s confronted this impression for years: that his large frame, strong build and dark skin make him looking ominous, even threatening, in the eyes of some people – including police.
“You see somebody my size, a big black guy, you think you have to do something,” he said. “When you’re big, you have people who say ‘Hey, he’s big, let’s try him.’ It’s my size, also my tattoos. You’re stereotyping me.”
Pringle was arrested on Wednesday and charged with possession of ammunition and a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of cocaine with a weapon, and removing the serial number from a firearm. He was booked in the Orange County jail.
Later that night, during an interview with Freeline Media, Pringle said he was innocent of the charges, and was guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time – and, he added, of having a criminal record and trying to get his life straightened out in a society that doesn’t much believe in second chances.
“It’s like a big X on your head,” he said, adding that his criminal record, he fully presumes, was the only reason he got arrested in the first place.
“I look for the cops to save me, not to put my life in jeopardy,” he said. “I did feel threatened.”
Pringle, who just turned 23 on Aug. 5, has had, by his own admission, trouble with the law long before Wednesday’s early morning arrest. In 2008, he pled no contest to numerous felony charges, including robbery, theft, attempting to elude law enforcement, driving with a suspended license, possession of 20 grams of marijuana, and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon against a law enforcement officer.
“I’m not a guardian angel,” he said.
But he also insists that he doesn’t belong back in jail, simply for attending a party at a motel on Orange Blossom Trail. His conviction in March 2008 got him a four year prison sentence, and he just got released last month, when he returned to live with his family in Eatonville.
“I’ve been out four weeks, and I haven’t had any altercations with the law,” he said. “I have a construction job. I have been to church. My family loves me. I did community things at the Boys & Girls Club. Prison taught me a lot. You don’t do four years and then get out and carry guns.”
He’s facing a serious charge. Convicted felons who carry firearms are committing a second degree felony. A felony conviction strips individuals of certain civil rights, including the right to purchase or own a firearm. The law dates back to the Gun Control Act of 1968, passed by Congress in the same year that U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated.
If convicted, Pringle could end up in a federal prison for a minimum of two years.
Pringle strongly denies the allegations, though.
“I never had any weapons on me,” he said. “The weapon was found under the bed. The room wasn’t in my name.”
According to the police report, deputies got a call about a fire in the room, and responded to the motel. The report states that when the officers entered the room, they noticed a “large black male“ run to the bed and toss something under there. The officers later removed a 40-caliber firearm and two pieces of crack cocaine from under the bed. The serial number had been removed from the firearm.
But Pringle said he never tossed anything under the bed.
“That’s not the case,” he said. “I was in a bad place at a bad time. I had no weapon in my possession.“
Pringle said he went to the hotel to meet women, and didn’t bring either drugs or a weapon with him. He also said it makes no sense that police officers, rather than firemen, would show up for a fire.
“There was no fire rescue, no ambulance,” he said. “No one in the room called about a fire.”
Pringle said the only things he had on him were two cell phones, his wallet, and $75 in cash. He thinks the fact that he is – as described in that police report – a “large black male” is what really got him placed under arrest.
“They try to use my past to try to pin something on me – it’s foolish,” he said. “They come in and say, ‘Pringle is a convicted felon, let’s take him.’ I was lied on, and there was nothing I could do.”
Despite the arrest, Pringle said he still has dreams of a great future, including ambitions about writing music.
“I’m into music,” he said. “I’m an artist.”
But if the charges against him get dropped, he plans to leave Orange County, saying he no longer feels safe here as a “large black male” in the eyes of the law.
“I’m looking for another county,” he said. “What I am going to do is leave this county. I don’t feel safe here knowing what the police did to me. That’s why I want to leave here now, I don’t want a cop to take my life because of my size, and because he says ‘It’s a big black man.’ “
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