By Chuck Strouse
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
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But Casas and Cuevas didn't ignore Wolosz. They counseled her that she had a moral obligation to come forward. And they were right in doing so. When Wolosz expressed reservations about reporting the problem internally, they recommended she go to the State Attorney's Office. They were right in doing that as well. If they hadn't made that recommendation, they would have been derelict in their duty.
Being right isn't always popular, though, and in this instance Casas and Cuevas's actions ultimately embarrassed their chief. If Chief Hood had any sense of honor, he would have swallowed his pride, acknowledged his department had made a mistake in fostering the perception that St. Amand was politically protected, and moved on. Instead the chief has loudly announced that his ego is more important than his honor.
The internal affairs investigation of Casas and Cuevas has been a witch hunt. The vengeance with which the department has gone after them, particularly Cuevas, raises the possibility that other, even more insidious motivations may be at work. Hood may be using the Wolosz-St. Amand episode as a pretext for ousting Cuevas, who for years has been an irritant to the department's good ol' boy clique.
Cuevas joined the North Miami Police Department 25 years ago. He was just twenty years old then, and was the city's first Hispanic officer. To his credit he persevered amid the racism that marked the department then and which lingers today. (Last year seven black police officers, St. Amand not among them, filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.) As a sergeant Cuevas is the highest-ranking Hispanic on the force. He claims the department refused to consider him for promotion to lieutenant in 1996 because of his ethnicity, and so he too filed a complaint with the EEOC. He subsequently sued the city; that case is pending.
From 1988 to 1995, Cuevas was president of his department's police union. As someone who fought for the rights of his fellow officers, he frequently clashed with the top brass. Now, in helping Wolosz, Cuevas has given his superiors a cowardly excuse to come after him.
In the case of Casas, the department seems equally petty and vindictive. The 34-year-old Casas has been on the force five years. Most recently she was assigned to the anti-drug DARE unit, working with local school children. This past summer, shortly after her role in helping Wolosz became known, she was abruptly transferred out of the unit. Casas not only loved working for DARE (something her supervisors knew), but apparently she also was quite good at it.
"She was wonderful," says Jorge Garcia, principal of Natural Bridge Elementary, one of the schools with which she was involved. "She worked well with the kids and the teachers. I have nothing but positive things to say about her." Adds Karen Anderson, a sixth-grade teacher at the school: "She was always there for the kids. Anything she could do to help them, she would. And the kids loved her. She had a really good rapport with all of the kids. They really bonded with her."
Removing Casas from the DARE program in July was not just shortsighted; it was also an act of deliberate cruelty. At the time, Casas's mother was dying of cancer. Working weekdays with DARE allowed Casas to care for her on the weekends. Her department superiors knew this as well.
Once she was removed from DARE, Casas no longer had Saturday and Sunday free, so she was forced to hire additional help for her mother. More than the money, though, the schedule change cost Casas time she could have spent with her mother, who died three months later, on November 2. (Neither Casas nor Cuevas were permitted to speak with me while they are under investigation.)
Chief Hood defends his decision to launch an investigation into Casas and Cuevas. "We have procedures that really need to be adhered to," he says. "People should abide by the rules and regulations. We would be remiss if we didn't investigate."
The chief is a cocky guy. Smug, too. Talking to him, I can see why people in his department don't trust him. He's out to show Casas and Cuevas and everyone else under his command that he's still in charge, and that there's a price to pay for making him look like the incompetent police administrator he is.
For a time Cheryl Wolosz herself was under investigation by the department for taking her complaint to the State Attorney's Office. Wolosz received official notification that her actions were under review, but that was quickly dropped. Someone must have convinced the chief that harassing the victim in the St. Amand case probably wasn't a wise public-relations move.
The department instead zeroed in on Cuevas and Casas. The internal affairs case against Cuevas is the furthest along. He has been accused of violating a slew of administrative procedures, all of which spring from his advice to Wolosz that she should consider taking her complaint to the SAO. Most of those violations carry only limited penalties, at most a brief suspension.
One charge is different, however, and it reveals just how desperately the department wants to get rid of Cuevas. An internal affairs review panel has accused him of committing perjury.