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

"I went to see a doctor later," Van Buren expounds. "He said I have a multiple contusion laceration on the left wrist or right shoulder, with something neurological on the right side. He referred me to Golden Glades radiology for x-rays and -- it's hard to read this guy's writing -- it looks like skull or scalp multiple something contusion to the cervical spine or something or other."

For the short time he appears on camera during the arrest, Officer Laura is merely standing next to Van Buren, asking him to sit in the police car.

VAN BUREN'S CREDIBILITY

Van Buren may have gotten fuzzy about more than just his head wounds. In an interview regarding the Panthers tickets incident, a detective asked Van Buren if "anything like that ever happened to you before where you had tickets taken away from you?"

Van Buren paused to think for a full ten seconds. "Probably," he finally admitted before pausing again. "I think maybe on several occasions. One specific occasion I can remember and I can remember several occasions not so clearly where somebody wanted to take my tickets and I refused and went inside the game."

Van Buren needn't have labored so strenuously in search of an example. At the very time of the interview he was in litigation against the City of Miami concerning 41 tickets to a football game at the Orange Bowl, tickets a police officer had confiscated from him in 1993. After the arrest Van Buren was acquitted in court on charges of vending without a license. Van Buren filed suit to recover the face value of all 41 tickets. He eventually won that lawsuit and the city paid him $1544 for the tickets plus legal costs.

ROSEN'S CREDIBILITY

Van Buren says he looked at the tickets the moment he received them from Steve Rosen. "I looked at them right away," he remembers. "I saw that they were in section 240, row T, and we talked about what lousy seats they were. [Rosen] asked what I expected at the last minute, and noted that I was still getting the best deal in town."

Van Buren's wife Shawn reports a slightly different story: "Things happened so fast," she says of the arrest, "Dave didn't even open the envelope."

Chief O'Brien wonders if Van Buren was unknowingly slipped bogus tickets. The man who could clear up things a bit declines to discuss the case. "This happened three years ago," says Steve Rosen. "I don't want to get involved."

Rosen was just as reluctant to speak to the internal affairs bureau. In a tape-recorded sworn interview with Det. Willie Hill, Rosen claimed ignorance of any details of Van Buren's arrest. Hill expressed skepticism.

Hill: You have to realize it's kinda unusual if you had a client or friend or anybody ... to just disappear and not want to see what's going on. You just walked [away].

Rosen: The gentleman [Laura] told me to leave and that's what I did. I left.

Hill: You didn't notice any other actions then by the officer or anyone else that occurred?

Rosen: No, sir.

Hill: Did you see the wife filming the arrest then?

Rosen: No.

Hill: [Did you] see a video camera at all?

Rosen: No, I didn't.

Like Van Buren, Rosen has a record of arrests for scalping and vending without a license; Laura told IA investigators that he's arrested Rosen several times himself. Rosen, though, has never once been arrested for selling bogus tickets, and has no convictions on his record. "I tell the truth," Rosen announced to internal affairs, begging to conclude the interview. "And that's all I say, you know?"

THE POLICE OFFICERS' CREDIBILITY

Any issues of trustworthiness regarding Van Buren and Rosen are at least matched by the mixed reputations of Thomas Laura and Jeffrey Locke. The personnel files of both officers are stocked with commendations; both have earned officer-of-the-month awards. But both have also been reprimanded for lying. Locke, a fifteen-year veteran, was recommended for termination from the force in 1990 for lying to a lieutenant about a telephone conversation, a recommendation that was later rescinded by the city's civil service board.

He was again reprimanded in 1995: "Officer Jeffrey Locke has, on several occasions, demonstrated a complete disregard for his duties and responsibilities as a Miami Police Officer," wrote Sgt. Frank Pichel. "He has lied and shown disrespect towards his supervisor and has solicited state employees to render false information in an attempt to conceal his untruthfulness. Despite numerous attempts to correct his misfeasance, Officer Locke continues to demonstrate contempt towards his supervisor, departmental orders, and rules and regulations."

In this case it was recommended that Locke be suspended for 120 hours. He sued the city. In a 1998 settlement in which he admitted no wrongdoing, he was suspended for only twenty hours and received his promotion to sergeant.

In 1991 Laura, who joined the department in 1981, was arrested, suspended with pay, and charged with perjury in an official proceeding for lying after another officer allegedly hit a bar patron in the face with handcuffs. He was never prosecuted and was returned to active duty.

In 1993 Laura was disciplined again concerning an off-duty job in Coconut Grove. According to the reprimand, the incident involved a familiar co-worker: "Officer Laura clocked in Officer Locke's time card that evening at approximately 19:07 hours even though Officer Locke was not present and was not scheduled to work the off-duty job until 22:00 hours."

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