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
Gerardo Loret De Mola had been working as a computer programmer for the Dade County Aviation Department for almost eight years when he was arrested by Miami Beach police officer Ron Shimko. De Mola says Shimko brutally beat him up because he is gay. In February the City of Miami Beach agreed to pay De Mola $80,000 to drop a lawsuit against the city.
But De Mola's quest for justice is far from over. Since the arrest he has been fired from his job and denied unemployment benefits. The 35-year-old programmer has gone into debt to pay legal fees and to prevent the bank from foreclosing on his condominium. Neither Shimko nor the other two officers present during the beating have been disciplined. The county has refused to reinstate De Mola, and last month a hearing examiner upheld the county's position. A last-ditch appeal is pending before the county manager.
"He was honest, and they used it against him," declares Terrence Smith, an attorney who represented De Mola at the hearing. "Here is a guy who was pretty much an upstanding character. People testified that he was a role model. But no one was listening. No one wanted to hear our arguments."
The basic facts of De Mola's arrest are not in dispute. On February 26, 1996, De Mola stopped at the municipal beach parking lot near 64th Street and Collins to eat Burger King take-out and watch the sunset. Meanwhile, Officer Shimko was watching De Mola. The area was "known for heavy drug use and illicit sexual activity," Shimko noted in his report; he also noticed that De Mola appeared to be behaving suspiciously. After ten minutes another car pulled into the lot. The driver approached De Mola on foot, spoke to him briefly, got inside De Mola's car, remained there for about a minute, and then left. De Mola started to drive away, but Shimko ordered him to stop, get out of the car, and prepare to be frisked.
"He put his hands behind his head, but refused to interlace his fingers and spread his feet," the report states. "I feared for my safety when I took the arrestee's hands, and he tensed his upper body and tried to turn around."
De Mola says that Shimko painfully yanked his hands and his hair, which was gathered in a ponytail. When he protested, Shimko threw him down. He says Shimko rubbed his face on the asphalt, doused him with pepper spray several times, severely twisted his ankle, and kicked him as he lay handcuffed on the ground. One of the other officers kneeled on top of him. Struggling to breathe because of the spray, De Mola asked for air. "He said, 'If you can talk, you can breathe,'" De Mola remembers.
The alleged physical abuse ceased only after a back-up officer called to the scene discovered AIDS literature in De Mola's car and pointed out the risk of infection. The officers had drenched him with so much pepper spray that in order to get away from him, De Mola says, the officers threw him in the back of a cruiser, unrolled the windows, and waited for the car to air out. But De Mola claims the verbal abuse continued. "They laughed at the photograph on my driver's license because I had long hair," De Mola recalls. "They said I must be a drag queen." Later, at the Miami Beach booking facility, De Mola says officers referred to him as a "faggot" and told him he had to sit on a bench because he would "contaminate" the cells. No one administered first aid, he says; only after repeated begging did De Mola persuade an officer to splash water in his eyes to alleviate the sting of the irritant.
De Mola was charged with resisting arrest with violence, aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, loitering or prowling, obstructing justice, and possession of cannabis. The last allegation was added to Shimko's report by a second officer, who claimed that a "warm marijuana cigarette" was found in De Mola's car. De Mola insists the cigarette, if it existed, was planted.
Distraught, De Mola contacted his supervisor in the aviation department, Maurice Jenkins, and told him what had happened. At the time of the arrest, De Mola was on short-term disability leave for a bronchial infection. He had been planning to go back to work the next day, but he asked Jenkins if he could take some extra time to recover from the attack.
"I saw him 48 hours after the arrest, and he was a wreck," recalls Jean-ne Carmichael, a psychotherapist who says she treated De Mola for post-traumatic stress disorder. "He was totally dazed and in complete shock."
Hoping to prove that he had not been smoking marijuana, De Mola asked his doctor to do a drug test. The results came back positive. But Marinol, a drug De Mola takes to combat the wasting effects of HIV, can cause misleading results: It is a synthetic version of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
A few days later Jenkins called De Mola. The county also wanted him to take a drug test. De Mola demurred. If he took the test, De Mola worried, he would have to explain that he was taking Marinol, and it would become obvious that he had HIV. De Mola has been infected since 1984, but he feared confiding his status to his supervisors. Over the years he has accepted criticism for excessive sick leaves and frequent tardiness, without explaining the reasons for his absences. Although he once revealed that his partner, who eventually died, had AIDS, De Mola's own diagnosis was a secret.