The One That Didn't Get Away

Overheard in traffic court last week: Dismissed. Dismissed. Dismissed. Guilty. Dismissed. Dismissed. Dismissed.

Most of the dozen defendants sitting in county courtroom 2-1 this past Friday had cause to celebrate. Though they had been cited by Miami Beach police officer Ambrose Sims for speeding, Sims urged Judge Allan Atlas to dismiss their tickets because of their "good attitudes." The defendants were so grateful they invariably approached Sims to thank him personally.

Not Maria Otero. When her case was called, she stalked to the front of the courtroom and glared at Sims, whose affable smile sank into a grimace. That the two had a history was obvious, and not just from their chilly staring match. There were also the extensive notes Sims had prepared.

On April 14, he had pulled over a gray station wagon on the Venetian Causeway. According to his radar gun, the car was going 49 mph, 19 mph over the posted speed limit.

The driver, Maria Otero, immediately identified herself as the wife of Metro-Dade police Lt. Robert Otero. "Do you know him?" Sims recalls her asking.

"No," he remembers answering. "I don't. And it's not relevant in this situation." Before writing her a citation, he called for a backup officer, who arrived a few minutes later. "It was clear to me that Ms. Otero was upset by my response and I wanted another officer around just in case," explains Sims, a fourteen-year veteran who has busted speeders on the Venetian for the past year.

Sims says Otero made a call on her cellular phone and attempted to get him to talk to whoever was on the line. "She told me it was her husband and he wanted to talk to me," Sims remembers. "I said, 'Well, I don't want to speak with him.' And since she had kept the phone line open, I added, 'I consider this offensive and very unprofessional.'"

Maria Otero hung up the phone. She initially refused to accept Sims's citation but relented when he explained that the alternative was that he place her under arrest. "Before she left, she told me, 'You're going to be sorry you ever saw my face,'" Sims says.

An hour later, Maria Otero called Miami Beach's internal affairs unit to lodge a complaint. She conceded that she had told Sims she was married to a Metro-Dade officer, but said she did so only to reinforce the fact that she knew traffic rules. She alleged that Sims responded, "I can't stand Metro police officers. You're going to get a ticket for sure."

Internal affairs Lt. Anthony Pizzo felt the complaint wasn't serious enough to warrant a full investigation, so it was assigned as an informal inquiry to Sgt. Joan Donnelly, Sims's immediate supervisor. After interviewing Robert Otero, however, Donnelly referred the matter to her superior, Capt. Steven Robbins.

"Robert Otero informed me that he wished to have Officer Sims charged with official misconduct and wanted a formal investigation conducted," Robbins noted in an April 30 memo. "He based his request on the allegation that Sims wrote on the front of [the] citation 'Speaking with Lt. Otero (husband) on a cellular phone.' Otero felt this was a violation of Florida Statute 843.17 A publishing name and address of a law enforcement officer, a first-degree misdemeanor. Otero went on to advise that he had contacted an attorney and inferred [sic] he will be filing a lawsuit."

Pizzo dismissed this more serious allegation after consulting with prosecutor Russ Killinger of the Dade State Attorney's Office. "The statute says that the name and address have to be published maliciously," notes Killinger. "In this case, it doesn't seem like Sims was being malicious. He was covering his butt."

The investigation regarding Sims's allegedly rude behavior, nonetheless, continued. In June and July, taped statements were taken. Maria Otero now quoted Sims as telling her, "I don't care if you're the fucking chief of police's wife or the mayor of Miami Beach's wife." Sims's behavior was so belligerent, she claimed, that she feared for her safety.

Robert Otero said he overheard Sims make the profane comment before his wife hung up the cellular phone.

But Ernest Febbraio, the backup officer Sims called to the scene, reported that Sims was at no time rude or intimidating.

"Ms. Otero's complaint lacks credibility and corroboration," concluded Capt. James Scarberry, the investigating officer. "[It] appears to be vindictive in purpose."

Sims agrees. "See, there's an unwritten rule among police officers, which is that you don't give other cops or their relatives tickets. But I don't go by that. Anyone who's more than fifteen miles per hour over the speed limit is going to get a citation," he says.

"There are some cops that will not write other cops, or their relatives, tickets," notes Sgt. Joan Donnelly, Sims's supervisor. "It's called professional courtesy. But Ambrose doesn't give anybody a break. I don't think Ambrose's own mother would get a break."

Maria Otero declined to comment for this story, as did her husband. "I don't like this business of one police officer trying to drag another through the mud," Robert Otero explains.

Sims was so incensed about the Oteros' complaints that he attempted to file a complaint against Robert Otero with Metro-Dade's internal affairs department. "They wouldn't even open an investigation," Sims scoffs. "They said Lieutenant Otero was not responsible for his wife's actions. I said, 'What about the fact that they [both] concocted lies about me?'"

This past Friday Sims got his revenge in court. After hearing from both Sims and Otero, Judge Atlas found Otero guilty of speeding and levied a fine of $90, plus $45 in court fees, then went back to dismissing the charges against the remaining defendants, based on their winning attitudes.

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