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

Not only have Locke and Laura worked the same off-duty jobs together, they were teammates on the department's football squad. In the investigation of Van Buren's complaint, both officers were interviewed by internal affairs separately, a month apart. Like all officers investigated by IA, they were allowed to view the complaint in advance. Van Buren alleges this allowed them to coordinate their stories.

Laura and Locke declined to talk to New Times. Chief O'Brien recognizes the checkered history of both officers, but stresses they can still perform professionally. "The fact that an officer has had disciplinary problems in the past does not mean he is not a good officer," O'Brien says.


Van Buren watches the "missing" videotape featuring Thomas Laura on the walkie-talkie
Michael Steinbacher
Van Buren watches the "missing" videotape featuring Thomas Laura on the walkie-talkie

Detectives open a file, contained in a manila folder, every time a citizen files an internal affairs complaint against a Miami police officer. So many complaints have been filed against Laura and Locke that it takes two U.S. Postal Service crates to hold all the folders. "There must be 40 or 50 files for the both of them," says an IA employee, explaining why it took more than a week to prepare the files for public viewing. Some of the charges against the officers are minor accusations of discourtesy. One woman who had her purse stolen, for instance, accused Laura of ignoring her pleas for help so he could hold hands with his girlfriend. The manager of the Publix supermarket at 4870 Biscayne Blvd. asked that Laura not be assigned off-duty work at the store after he allegedly took an apple without paying for it. A whistleblower busted Laura for using his police squad car to attend a real estate seminar.

Several other internal affairs complaints are more serious. Among them:

•The mother of Laura's child alleged that on July 4, 1997, during a custody dispute, "Laura grabbed her left arm, grabbed her neck, and pushed her against a wall." She added that "she is in fear for her safety and that of their child."

•In August 1992 the owner of an Overtown grocery store claimed that after responding to a customer dispute, "Officer Locke, for no apparent reason, punched [the owner] in the eye." After being handcuffed the owner allegedly was pushed to the floor and kicked. He is currently suing the City of Miami and four officers, including Locke and Laura, for damages in excess of three million dollars.

•In April 1988 a man named Henry Stevens filed a complaint claiming that $60 disappeared from his wallet after he was arrested by Locke and Laura. Det. Willie Hill closed the case as inconclusive because "the facts ... were not sufficient enough to prove or disprove" the allegation.

•A man named Arthur Brown alleged that Ofcrs. Jeffrey Locke and Ariel Rojas stole $1100 from him during his arrest on August 7, 1990. The case was dropped because Brown couldn't be located for a follow-up interview.

•In March 1992 a woman named Lorene Milton alleged "that while being searched for a weapon by Locke, he lifted her dress in public and touched her inner thigh; and after she was in custody she discovered her gold chain missing." She did not follow up on the complaint and the case was closed with no action taken.

•According to Eduardo De La Cruz's March 1992 statement to IA "as he was driving home he was stopped by Officers Ariel Rojas and Jeffrey Locke. [He] also stated that the officers put him in the back seat of a police car and searched his vehicle. Mr. De La Cruz went on to say that he had $4000 in cash in the back seat of his vehicle in a paper bag. Mr. De La Cruz alleges that the officers took the cash. The officers then took [him] to his apartment and broke in, without his permission, using a crowbar. The officers then searched the apartment, came back to the police vehicle, and took [him] back to the original stop and released him." Evidence was inconclusive; although IA investigators found a crowbar in the trunk of Locke's squad car, they did not find any sign of forced entry at De La Cruz's apartment. When De La Cruz could not be located for follow-up questions, the case was closed with no action taken.

•Also in 1992 a man named Angelio Socorro alleged that after he got into an argument with Locke at the Baja Beach Club in CocoWalk, "his watch was taken and not returned to him." Locke was cleared of the charge because Socorro "never advised Locke that his watch was missing at the time of the arrest."

•In April 1993 a man named Charles Addison was arrested by Ofcrs. Ariel Rojas and Jeffrey Locke for possession of cocaine and for carrying a concealed firearm. According to the internal affairs complaint he subsequently filed: "He ... had in his possession at the time of the arrest the sum of $350. After being released from the Dade County Jail he came to the Miami Police Department Property Bureau to retrieve his property. Upon arriving he found out that there was only $112 in the Property Bureau, not $350. He claims that there is $238 missing." The IA detective couldn't locate Addison for a follow-up interview and the case was closed with no action taken.

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