Daddy's Little Helpers

Hialeah's Rolando Bolaños, doting father and police chief, knows how to make the season bright

In the spirit of the holidays, Hialeah Police Chief Rolando Bolaños, Sr., wanted a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year for his family. Who could blame him? The year past had not been very kind. His two sons, who eagerly followed in their father's footsteps to become police officers (in his department no less, pesky state nepotism statutes aside) had to cool their heels while awaiting trial following their 1998 arrest for police brutality.

In addition the State Attorney's Office in July accused the chief himself of blatantly lying under oath about one son's criminal past. (The eldest had been part of a car-theft ring in 1989, was arrested, and then cut a deal and testified in federal court -- all of which the chief remarkably knew nothing about when his own department hired the boy.)

Then there was the chief's car accident. This past August 10, at ten o'clock at night, Bolaños Sr. backed his city-owned Ford into a 59-year-old woman's 1997 Dodge at the Lago Grande apartment complex. The chief caused approximately $1000 damage to the woman's car and $400 damage to his, according to a police accident report. The bill will be picked up by city taxpayers.

But that was peanuts compared with the $1.4 million a federal jury awarded to seven of Chief Bolaños's sergeants that same month. They had sued him and his department for discrimination. Seems they had spent their entire careers on road patrol despite exemplary records and no disciplinary problems. The cops claimed they were denied choice assignments in homicide and narcotics because they were non-Hispanic whites (the chief is Cuban). A panel of jurors agreed.

But Papa Bolaños wasn't about to let a string of bad luck, his own trashed credibility, and his sons' looming court case (they go on trial January 22) spoil any Yuletide gaiety. What better way to ring in the new year than for his boys, who had been hanging around without much to do since being suspended back in July 1999, to come back to work at the police department? And why not mark the occasion with a nice pay raise? Cheers!

After the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office charged them with beating up a suspect, Daniel Bolaños and Rolando Bolaños, Jr., were suspended with pay, meaning that for a year and a half they've been receiving their $38,000 salaries while doing nothing related to their jobs as policemen. This, fellow Hialeah officers like to point out, is virtually without precedent for officers suspended after being charged with a crime.

But the Bolaños boys weren't just any officers. They were eager, ambitious lads. Being charged with felony battery and then being accused of altering police records to cover up the crime, which prosecutors say Rolando Jr. did, apparently demonstrated the kind of initiative the chief likes to see in rookies. Late last year Lt. Samuel Ceballos, head of the Hialeah Police Department's internal affairs unit and a man well liked by the chief, undertook the brothers' annual evaluations to determine if they deserved a merit raise. All the categories to be graded -- attendance, quality of work, court attendance, work productivity, appearance, equipment, department commendations -- were left blank. But at the bottom of each evaluation sheet, known as an "employee performance appraisal form," Ceballos wrote: "Throughout this rating period Officer [Rolando Jr./Daniel] Bolaños has performed all job-related obligations while being administratively relieved of duty."

Stellar work like that doesn't escape the chief's notice, and so he formally approved the appraisals -- Daniel's in October, Rolando Jr.'s in November -- which automatically triggered a five percent raise for the boys.

The holidays indeed looked bright and merry around the Bolaños household -- that is until the Grinch of Hialeah, Mayor Raul Martinez, nixed the deal on December 15. In identical memos placed in each boy's personnel file, Martinez wrote, "To be rescinded effective the date he got it. Chief Bolaños is not to sign anything to do with his son." Bah, humbug!

Still the grouchy mayor, who has yet to do anything about the fact his police chief lied under oath, can't stop the boys from receiving a three percent collective-bargaining raise. But he did allow the brothers to come back to work, which they did on December 18. "They started working in the communications section," confirms Gilda McCann, the city's human resources director. "There was a shortage of dispatchers. We're in the process of recruiting now, but it takes some time. They're not carrying a gun or anything like that. Basically they've been assigned civilian duties."

The new year promises to be no less interesting for the Bolaños family. Not only will Daniel and Rolando Jr. stand trial on serious criminal charges but more legal action awaits. Another Hialeah resident, Jorge Bustamante, has filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit alleging that the brothers attacked him one night at the Ramada Inn on West 49th Street. That matter is on hold until the criminal case is resolved.

 
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