DeFede

Good Cops, Bad Cops

Cuevas's position on this subject has been straightforward. On May 28 Christine Casas came to him and said a friend was being harassed by an officer. Casas didn't identify the friend, and Cuevas initially thought she was talking about herself. The next day Casas brought in Wolosz to speak with Cuevas. During that discussion Wolosz didn't name St. Amand as the offending officer. Cuevas outlined several options for her, including one in which she would report the incidents to the State Attorney's Office. After that, Cuevas contends, he was out of it. A few days later Wolosz went to the State Attorney's Office, and rumors began flying around the department.

In an attempt to nail Cuevas for perjury, the department asked him when he learned that Wolosz had gone to the State Attorney's Office. Cuevas said he learned of that on June 24. But internal affairs investigators have a sworn statement from Sgt. Ronald Simpson in which he claimed he and Cuevas talked about the State Attorney's investigation on June 10. In his statement Simpson said Cuevas mentioned both Wolosz and St. Amand.

"Did he tell you anything else about the investigation?"

North Miami Police Chief Tom Hood (left) could no longer protect Det. Fred St. Amand and fired him this month
North Miami Police Chief Tom Hood (left) could no longer protect Det. Fred St. Amand and fired him this month

"Just that it was out of the department's hands, that it was going to the State Attorney's Office," Simpson said.

"So he knew that the state attorney was investigating it?"

"Yes."

Great evidence, huh? Setting aside for a moment the fact that portions of Simpson's statement contradict an earlier statement he'd given, let's examine precisely what he said. According to Simpson, Cuevas said, "[I]t was going to the State Attorney's Office." Those words -- going to -- express what Cuevas believed would happen, not what he knew for a fact had already happened.

Simpson was then asked a leading question that completely altered the meaning of his previous remark: "So he knew that the state attorney was investigating it?"

Trying to fire a 25-year veteran of the department, take away his pension, and risk his certification as a police officer over this sort of semantic trickery is simply outrageous. If Chief Hood thinks Cuevas committed perjury, he should send that allegation to the SAO to investigate and prosecute criminally. But Hood won't do that because he knows the allegation is bullshit. Instead he'll use some trumped-up administrative panel he and the city manager can manipulate to get rid of Cuevas.

Last week Cuevas and his lawyer made their own presentation to Hood and other senior members of the department. A decision by Hood on Cuevas's fate could come at any time.

The person who should be expressing the most outrage on this matter hasn't said a word so far. I'll give Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle the benefit of the doubt and assume she is unaware of what's happening in North Miami. She was out of town last week.

Unfortunately in Rundle's absence the spokesman for the office, Don Ungurait, offered an entirely inadequate statement on her behalf. "We really are not going to weigh in on an internal administrative problem for the North Miami Police Department," he said. "We have no opinion or comment." And if the officers are punished for recommending that a crime be reported to the State Attorney's Office? "That's for the police department to decide," he replied.

Those answers are not only wrong, they are deeply disturbing.

If Rundle does not "weigh in" on this case, she will be doing harm to herself and her office. She has worked diligently over the past several years to restore the public's confidence in her willingness to root out bad cops. In fact she and her prosecutors have demonstrated real courage in pursuing certain cases, particularly those involving officers who use "throw down" guns to cover up mistaken shootings. Such strides, however, can be lost in an instant.

If Rundle today won't protect police officers who risk their careers by voluntarily bringing her evidence against bad cops, even if that sidesteps their department's formal chain of command, no cop in his right mind will do so in the future. If she won't provide support for Casas and Cuevas, either publicly through the media or privately via a few well-placed phone calls to North Miami officials, then she needs to think about whether she really wants to be State Attorney for Miami-Dade County.

This is no time for Rundle to sit mute with neither an opinion nor a comment, for Chief Hood's actions represent a direct challenge to her authority. He is sending a message to every officer in his department: If you go to the State Attorney's Office with a complaint, I will wreak havoc on your life.

Surely Rundle will understand that this isn't just some small-town dispute. Much more is at stake than the careers of a couple of North Miami cops. Every police chief and every officer in the county will be watching what happens next. We all will.

jim_defede@miaminewtimes.com

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