By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
The local press, however, wasn't so delicate. The Miami Herald published numerous stories about the investigation.
Prieto was promoted to lieutenant that August.
Ironically, David Simmons, too, managed to evade scandal early in his career. In 1980 he was one of a dozen homicide detectives accused by two subordinates of using cocaine. Both his accusers had pleaded guilty to federal drug charges and were cooperating with prosecutors. When no other witnesses came forward, Internal Affairs cleared Simmons.
Those who reported to the Juvenile Investigations Bureau on October 14, 1993, were greeted by an unusual din: the whirring of the office shredder. Under normal circumstances, the shredder saw only occasional use. On this Thursday, though, gang unit detectives were stationed in front of the machine for hours, feeding documents into its mechanical maw.
A few days earlier Prieto had learned his bureau was slated for an administrative inspection. Hastily convening his command staff, he announced that he felt the inspection was his personal report card and said he wanted the bureau in tiptop shape.
But the bureau was, by most accounts, in disarray.
The main problem was a gargantuan backlog of case files. The paperwork, which dated back five years, had been shoved into boxes, which were stacked atop one another and now obscured most of one wall. Department rules called for such files to be reviewed annually, purged of any duplicate material, and sent to the records warehouse. With the inspectors due in a matter of days, Prieto was trying to clean up a mess that had been years in the making. To do so, he had gang unit detective Carlos Vazquez called in from home on an overtime basis to destroy files. "Vazquez joked that it was the easiest overtime he ever earned," recounts one eyewitness. "He and his buddies were so giddy from shredding they were snapping Polaroids of one another at work."
Simmons did not take part in the shredding. As a supervisor, and a compulsively neat one, he had taken pains to keep his squad's paperwork in order, and he ordered his people to steer clear of the proceedings. "We watched the rest of the bureau in this mass hysteria, with Prieto yelling and everything," recalls one detective. "But we had our shit together. So we didn't worry about it."
But in a way, Simmons would later contend, he was worried about it: Documents were being shredded when they should have been sent to storage; these were witness statements, original reports, photos of victims and suspects -- materials that could prove vital to later investigations. Officers, he alleged, also had been ordered to destroy equipment logs that revealed items which had been lost, and to replace them with new logs and bogus signout sheets that contained no notation of the lost equipment.
At the time, however, he said nothing. "I was faced with somewhat of a dilemma, weighing carefully the possible ramifications of reporting these acts," he explained during arbitration. "My primary concern was that the lowest ranking officers who were actually carrying out orders would receive the punishment for these acts, and not the superiors who ordered it."
Two weeks after the office cleanup, on October 27, 1993, Det. Denis Morales arrested a basketball coach at a community center who allegedly had sexually assaulted four children. Morales worked in Simmons's unit and was widely regarded as the sergeant's protege. Like Simmons, he earned glowing evaluations. And like Simmons, he was hypermeticulous, the type who tended to notice if the stapler on his desk had been moved a few centimeters. Around the unit, Morales was known as Spiffy II.
The day after the arrest reporters were clamoring for interviews, and Simmons and Morales were summoned for a meeting with Prieto, Heller, and Sgt. Robert Riker.
According to Prieto, Heller, and Riker, the powwow was short, and consisted of Prieto asking Morales whether he could be objective in an interview with the media. Morales, they recalled, stated he could not.
Simmons and Morales remembered the discussion somewhat differently. According to a reconstruction of the dialogue Simmons entered as an exhibit at his arbitration, Prieto opened the meeting by announcing, "Let me tell you guys at the start that I didn't want Morales talking to the media. I'm not going to get fucked like I did before, with someone giving them opinions and comments. You know how I feel about the media. I don't like cameras, and I don't like reporters. And I don't want any superstars in this bureau. This one time, and it's going to be the last time, I'll let you give the interview. But if you give one comment or opinion, I guarantee that you won't be working here any more."
At this point, Simmons and Morales recollected, they both said they wouldn't feel comfortable if Morales were to be interviewed.
Later that afternoon Prieto called Simmons and Morales back into his office. "I told them that they were going to be transferred. Just plain simple, just like that," Prieto said during the arbitration.
"The discussion revolved around Simmons's and Morales's inability to be objective in dealing with the media, which was contrary to the philosophy of Commander Prieto," recounted Heller, who was also present. "As a result, the commander stated that Simmons and Morales had been transferred."