Policing the Police

An investigation into complaints about police use of excessive force confirms what many citizens already believe: Cops cover for cops

In photographs included in the internal affairs file, Negrete's chest looks as if it has been rubbed against a giant cheese grater. And his injury is only one aspect of his complaint. As he lay outside the car, he said, an officer walked by and kicked him in the face. He also alleged that police officers had taunted him and his wife about being indios, or Indians, a racist reference to Ecuador's indigenous population. "I told him, 'I'm not an Indian, I'm a human being just like you. I haven't done anything wrong,'" Negrete recalled in his interview with investigators.

More than twenty witnesses, including eighteen police officers, gave statements to internal affairs investigators. "None of the officers or supervisors interviewed could explain how Mr. Negrete received the 'road rash' to his chest area," the internal affairs report noted. Negrete's injury was not mentioned in the paperwork filled out by the officers, although they did document injuries received by the officers: a hurt finger and a head laceration.

"None of the officers interviewed acknowledged anyone using derogatory language or making fun of the fact that the Negretes were 'Indios,'" the report continued. "None of the officers interviewed acknowledged seeing any officer kick Mr. Negrete while he was on the ground."

Chief Bolanos reviewed the report and ordered the officer who had arrested Negrete to forfeit ten hours of accrued leave. "Officer Michael Vesely was responsible for [the] prisoner in his custody," Bolanos wrote on the last page of the report. Bolanos also ordered a twenty-hour suspension for the lieutenant in charge, but agreed to revoke the punishment after the lieutenant protested that it was unfair.

"The assignment of discipline hours is extremely arbitrary," Bolanos explains. "It depends on how much I am offended at the time I get the package in front of me." The chief says he also considers how much public outrage was generated by the case, as well as other factors.

In sustaining the accusations against Vesely, Bolanos ticked off a list of departmental policies the officer had violated -- regulations regarding use of force, custody of prisoners, and reporting of injuries. He did not, however, cite Vesely or any of the other officers for being untruthful, even though the report called their veracity into question.

Vesely, in particular, insisted he did not know how Negrete was injured. He acknowledged arresting Negrete, hog-tying him, and carrying him to his car, but said he was fuzzy about subsequent details, particularly who exactly moved Negrete so Vesely could change his tire.

"Officer Vesely stated he does not know what happened to Mr. Negrete from that point on because he had his back to Juan Negrete," the report emphasized. "Officer Vesely did not remember whether fire rescue personnel treated Mr. Negrete or not, even though he stated Mr. Negrete was only ten to fifteen feet away from him while he was changing the tire to his unit."

Other police departments are more aggressive about enforcing policies requiring officers to tell the truth. In recent years, the Miami Police Department and Metro-Dade Police Department have disciplined officers for lying to internal affairs investigators.

In June 1994, Nestor Garcia, a 29-year-old Miami police officer assigned to the crime suppression unit, was found to have violated a department order requiring employees to be truthful. A year earlier, Garcia had arrested a pretty Nicaraguan woman named Jasmine Solorzano. He claimed that Solorzano had gotten too close to the scene of an accident. (Adjudication on the charge was withheld.)

On January 10, 1994, the 25-year-old Solorzano, a clerk at Miami Beach's South Shore hospital, was arrested again. A neighbor saw her breaking into the apartment she shared with her boyfriend (she didn't have a key) and called the police to report a prowler. When Solorzano was brought to the police station, Garcia's patrol partner happened to be working in prisoner processing. He radioed Garcia, who rushed over.

In the version Garcia later provided to investigators, he claimed Solorzano initiated contact. "She wanted to know if I could help her out," Garcia asserted in a sworn statement. "She didn't know why she was being arrested and [wanted to know] if there was anything I could do, 'cause, you know, I had arrested her in the past and I guess since I had treated her so friendly last time, she wanted to know if I could show her the same courtesy." Garcia said that Solorzano became hysterical when he refused to help her and that she then tried to hit him with a clipboard.

Solorzano's statement varied significantly. She said that Garcia entered the holding cell on his own initiative. "He told me, 'Do you know why you are here? Because you were a bitch.'" Solorzano said Garcia left the cell, then came back and told her to go to the prisoner processing room.

According to the internal affairs report: "She stated Officer Garcia again began calling her 'bitch' and 'whore' and also stated, 'What do you want me to do, take off my uniform and fuck you?' Ms. Solorzano stated she became angry, stood up from the chair, and told Officer Garcia that he had no right to talk to her that way. She stated that Officer Garcia stood up from his chair... and stood directly in front of her, face to face. Ms. Solorzano stated she then pushed Officer Garcia in the chest to get him away from her. Officer Garcia reached over and slapped her on the left side of her face, causing redness and minor swelling." Garcia denied to internal affairs investigators that he slapped Solorzano.

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