The Chief's Retreat

Rolando Bolaños lied and got away with it, but stay tuned

As Rolando Bolaños, Sr., nervously awaits the September trial date of his two sons, Rolando Jr. and Daniel, the Hialeah police chief's own behavior is under quiet scrutiny in Tallahassee. The Bolaños brothers, both Hialeah cops, are charged with brutalizing a prisoner and lying about it afterward.

Prompted by two New Times stories (“Boys Will Be Boys,” February 10, 2000 and “Big Daddy Denial,” March 2, 2000) the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission is examining whether Hialeah's top cop violated rules governing police officers' conduct by lying under oath. Specifically the commission is focusing on moral-character rule 11B-27.0011, which, among other things, prohibits making false reports or statements during an official proceeding.

Punishment could include pulling Bolaños's certification as a police officer. The commission recently requested several files from the State Attorney's Office. Asked about the probe last week, Pat Kelly, chairman of the CJSTC (and Medley police chief) responded: “Anytime a sworn criminal justice professional under our jurisdiction allegedly testifies untruthfully in a public proceeding, we take it very seriously.”

The commission is awaiting the SAO's close-out memo on the case, which was completed July 13. It states that Papa Bolaños lied under oath to prosecutors from the public corruption unit. Bolaños Sr. falsely claimed he did not know that, before becoming a cop, Rolando Jr. had been arrested for aggravated assault, grand theft, burglary, plus some minor charges. (Junior was seventeen years old at the time and living at home.) The chief's denials were directly contradicted by the sworn depositions of at least seven people, including his wife and his secretary. A Hialeah lieutenant even recalled that Bolaños Sr. confided the case might prevent his son from becoming a police officer.

Prosecutors declined to charge Bolaños Sr., because the lie was irrelevant to the case being investigated: whether the boys had beaten a man they were taking to the station and then tried to cover it up with false reports. The chief likely will be called to the stand during his sons' trial, though it's unclear whether the same questions will be asked.

“While Chief Rolando Bolaños presented false testimony during the course of the proceeding, the answers given were not material to the proceeding at hand,” wrote Assistant State Attorney William Altfield. “This legal requirement precludes a prosecution for perjury. (However, this does not relieve Rolando Bolaños, Sr., of his ethical duty to speak the truth when placed under oath.)”

State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has said any punishment should come from the chief's superior, Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, who has not discussed the matter publicly and so far has not disciplined the chief.

José Quiñon, Bolaños's lawyer, asserts the chief never veered from the truth. “The State Attorney's Office has engaged in a pattern of harassment against Chief Bolaños and his two sons,” Quiñon charges. “If they wanted to charge [the chief] they could have, and they didn't.” He would not discuss the case further.

The episode has dispirited many officers on the county's third largest force. “Guys are saying, “Why should we take bad guys to jail if our own police chief is a criminal?'” offers one cop, who asked not to be identified. He adds that if any other officer had lied under oath, even if he wasn't prosecuted, “there would be an internal investigation, and if you got caught, you'd be screwed.”

Some officers are skeptical the case will be pursued vigorously, because Bolaños was Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent in charge of the agency's South Florida office until taking over the Hialeah department in 1987.

Former Miami Police Chief William O'Brien sees some irony in the situation. In May Bolaños publicly criticized O'Brien after the Elian Gonzalez standoff. O'Brien had told reporters that Miami police would not extract Elian from his Miami relatives' home; that would have to be done by the federal government. Bolaños interpreted that to mean Miami cops would not help the federal government. “I thought it was even illegal that he would make a comment like that, because we as chiefs of police are obligated to enforce the law,” Bolaños told the Miami Herald. In a fit of righteous indignation, Bolaños quit the Dade County Association of Chiefs of Police when the group honored O'Brien for his handling of the Elian affair.

“My posture was that Miami officers would not take the child,” O'Brien says. “Obviously we would, and did, fulfill our duties to uphold the law. I find it interesting that someone who has given misstatements under oath takes exception to the conduct of the Miami Police Department.”

 
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