A Brotherly Imbroglio

Hialeah police chief Rolando Bolanos has two sons on the force. Both are being investigated for violent behavior.

On October 12, 1998, Hialeah police officer Rolando Bolanos, Jr., filled out an arrest report on case 98-42048. It states that 63-year-old Valerio Gonzalez entered the station soused and turned himself in for drunk driving. Bolanos administered a Breathalyzer test, read Gonzalez his rights, and locked him in a cell.

Bolanos charged Gonzalez with driving under the influence. But he had not seen the man behind the wheel of the car, which would have invalidated the arrest under Florida law.

By the next shift the arrest report and the case number had disappeared from the files, say three fellow Hialeah policemen who wouldn't give their names. They claim someone illegally concealed the incident to protect the 26-year-old Bolanos from the mistake. The reason, according to the officers: He is the son of Hialeah Police Chief Rolando Bolanos, Sr. One of the policemen even purloined documents to show to New Times. Two references to the DUI arrest on one document were slathered over with Wite-Out and Gonzalez's name was crossed out on a log sheet. "It's wrong," one of the officers fumed. "It's unethical."

Of course it was also illegal for the officer to steal police files. But he and his colleagues are desperate to expose the Bolanos family's allegedly unethical actions.

Rolando Jr.'s lawyer Sam Rabin maintains that despite the arrest documents, Gonzalez was never charged. The drunk man was allowed to sleep off his stupor at the station. A department spokesman couldn't even find the case number in the computer system. Although the truth is elusive, one thing is certain: There are crippling divisions inside the police department of Miami-Dade County's second largest city.

The Gonzalez bust is only the latest problem for the Bolanos family. The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office (SAO) is investigating a claim that Rolando Jr. and his brother Daniel Bolanos, age 22 and also a Hialeah police officer, methodically pummeled a 23-year-old welder this past November. Yoel Pacheco says he was trying to break up a fight when the brothers arrested him, drove him to an abandoned parking lot, donned gloves, and beat him bloody. Though police charged Pacheco with resisting an officer with violence, the SAO declined to prosecute.

Pacheco's lawyer Alan Soven contends his client is not alone. He told New Times recently that eight other men have complained that one or both Bolanos brothers beat them without provocation. Soven says he plans to sue the city on behalf of all nine.

Among Soven's clients is Cairo Gutierrez, an unemployed Nicaraguan, who complained that Rolando Bolanos, Jr., and another officer clobbered him in May after a traffic stop. "That day, they tried to kill me," says Gutierrez, who was charged with battery against a police officer. His case is pending.

Another man, Jorge Bustamante, a former Peruvian policeman, told the Miami Herald this past December that the brothers beat him so badly he has still suffers from blurry vision. He asserts the pair dragged him from a hotel bar because he argued with a bartender. Police charged Bustamante with battery against a police officer and resisting a police officer with violence. The case is pending, according to Bustamante's lawyer Bernard Butts.

Chief Bolanos and his sons, all of whom have received numerous commendations, declined to comment for this story. Rabin, Rolando Bolanos, Jr.'s lawyer, says his client is a hardworking and aggressive police officer. "I don't believe there's any evidence he or his brother committed any crimes," he adds. Michael Band, Daniel Bolanos's lawyer, refused to discuss specifics of the accusations against his client.

Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez's only comment on the probe was this statement faxed to New Times: "Presently both the state attorney and the Hialeah Police Department Internal Affairs are conducting an investigation. Since Chief Bolanos cannot supervise the internal affairs investigation, I have assumed that responsibility."

To many inside and outside the Hialeah department, the brothers' employment has been flawed from the start. Most of the critics won't go on the record, fearing reprisals. The three officers who met with New Times allege that Chief Bolanos often intervenes on his sons' behalf. They question that behavior, citing the state's anti-nepotism law, which requires public officials to avoid hiring, managing, or giving special treatment to their relatives.

The officers provided a memo the chief sent to two lieutenants this past April, requesting "on a personal note" that they monitor Daniel Bolanos before he gets "himself hurt or somebody else." The memo clearly violates the intention, if not the letter, of the law, according to the critics. It also indicates the father was concerned about his son's behavior before the first brutality complaint surfaced.

None of this surprises FIU political science professor Dario Moreno. "This shows how the Martinez political machine works," he says. "Bolanos has been one of Martinez's most loyal lieutenants. It's a machine that rewards friends and punishes enemies. The appearance is that Martinez is repaying the chief's loyalty [by hiring his sons]."

Adds one of the anonymous officers: "This investigation into the chief's sons, this is not surprising to any of us. Everybody was saying, 'Hey, these guys get into a lot of fights.'" As a result, he contends, other officers don't want to work with them. If one of the brothers does something illegal, other officers are scared to report it to superiors for fear the chief will retaliate.

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