The Van Buren File

From deep within the Miami Police Department comes a convoluted tale of sketchy videotape, allegations of official misconduct, and two tickets to the Stanley Cup finals

Chief of Police O'Brien, who has recently brushed up on the case, clarifies that when Laura saw Van Buren stuff the tickets in his pants, the officer had no idea they were bogus tickets -- if that's what they were. "Trying to put the elements together into a fraud charge was never a viable alternative," the chief says.

THE CREDIT CARD STATEMENT

According to the internal affairs report, Van Buren did not provide a copy of his American Express credit card statement proving purchase of the tickets, even after several requests. "Not providing a receipt of the alleged transaction is a clear indication that both Mr. Van Buren and Mr. Rosen have been less than truthful in their statements," the report notes.

The "missing" videotape shows Van Buren resisting arrest, followed by postincident closeups of the damage inflicted upon his wrist and hairline
The "missing" videotape shows Van Buren resisting arrest, followed by postincident closeups of the damage inflicted upon his wrist and hairline

"That's bullshit!" Van Buren shouts when informed of the report's contention. "We gave them two sets of copies! That's an absolute total fucking lie! You can quote me on that. I handed them right to [then-] Major O'Brien, right in his hands. Miguel sat in his office and we handed them the paperwork right there. We put it in his hands."

O'Brien denies ever receiving a copy of the American Express receipt in question. "That's absolute bull," he says, echoing Van Buren. "I was the commander of internal affairs. As a major I wouldn't receive evidence. I literally wouldn't get handed stuff."

Attorney Miguel de la O had no problem providing New Times with a copy of the American Express statement. It records that on the day of the game, June 8, 1996, Van Buren purchased tickets from Prime Tickets & Tours for $130. The statement does not say how many tickets he purchased or for what specific game. A handwritten sales receipt from Prime Tickets included in the internal affairs file states that Van Buren purchased two Panthers tickets on June 8 for $130. In a sworn statement, Steve Rosen told internal affairs investigators that he sold Van Buren two tickets to the Panthers game, in either section 204 or 214 (he couldn't recall), and in either row T or V. The tickets, he said, were part of a package that included dinner for two at Cisco's Cafe in Virginia Gardens.

"We went over [to internal affairs] voluntarily," de la O explains. "We went over there. They didn't contact us against our will. Why would we not give them that stuff?"

THE VIDEOTAPE

A small segment of the arrest was captured on videotape by Van Buren's wife. The brief footage consists mostly of Van Buren standing in front of Thomas Laura's police car while Laura orders him to sit in the back seat. At one point Laura whispers something in Van Buren's ear, prompting Van Buren to command his wife to turn off the camera.

According to Van Buren's lawsuit, Laura whispered that he was going to take the camera and "shove it up [his wife's] ass." As noted in the internal affairs file, Laura says he told Van Buren that taping was fine with him because it was Van Buren who was "acting inappropriately."

In the internal affairs report, Van Buren is chided for failing to provide a copy of the videotape to the police department. As with the American Express statement, Van Buren insists he gave internal affairs a copy of the tape -- not once but twice. "They called me up and told me they lost it, so I gave them another copy," he says. "Then they called me up again and said they had lost that one too."

Van Buren claims he gave the first copy of the tape directly to William O'Brien. The police chief denies receiving a copy.

The videotape in the internal affairs file, the funny tape of suspicious witnesses that detectives probably still talk about at parties, is not a tape of the arrest. In his statement to IA, Officer Laura said he hoped the arrest tape would be found because it would completely exonerate him.

That's probably because ...

THE RODNEY KING TAPE IT AIN'T

In his sworn and tape-recorded initial complaint to internal affairs, Van Buren detailed how he was beaten to "within an inch of [his] life." At one point he explained how Laura and at least one other officer assaulted him.

"All of a sudden," he recalled, "I'm just lying across the back of the police car.... I may have blacked out or just gotten fuzzy or something because all I know is I was being hit in every direction. It started from behind and all of a sudden it was from the side and the front and on top." Van Buren claims to have been punched in the thigh and struck in the head with a club more than ten times.

Yet his main piece of evidence, the videotape of the arrest, does not support his allegations. Besides the scenes of his actual arrest, which show no violence, Van Buren is seen on tape the day after the incident. No head wounds are visible. The most severe injury is a handcuff raspberry on his right wrist. The internal affairs detective noted in his report that after being arrested and taken to jail, Van Buren was not admitted to Ward D, the security ward of Jackson Memorial Hospital where injured prisoners are treated.

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