Travail to the Chief

Raul Martinez is a product of Miami's dysfunctional police department, so how can he be expected to transform it?

Concurrently the federal Department of Justice was pressuring the city to hire more minority police officers. Miami officials agreed to increase the ratio of minorities to 80 percent. In addition all the recruits had to come from within Miami city limits. (Previously the department recruited nationally.) A former Miami captain recalls the transformation: "Between 1980 and 1982 we went from around 580 officers to about 1100. I remember looking at the numbers and thinking, 'There's no way we can do that.' We had field-training officers with less than eighteen months on the job training recruits. You're going to make a lot of mistakes like that."

Indeed mistakes were made. The "extreme political pressure for rapid expansion" at the department meant that "standards suffered dramatically," wrote Edwin Delattre, a professor at Boston University and author of a study on ethics and policing. The diminished recruitment standards are widely blamed for the worst scandal in the department's history. In the 1985 River Cops case, dozens of officers were indicted for stealing drugs and cash from drug dealers and then covering up the crimes. The case broke when a group of rogue cops stormed a ship on the Miami River intending to rip off a cocaine shipment. Several men guarding the drugs jumped overboard. Three drowned.

Martinez's career trajectory was quickly accelerating at this time; he was being promoted every couple of years. By 1984 he had attained the rank of major and was assigned to the community-relations unit. In April 1985 Major Martinez took command of the department's internal-affairs unit (then called internal security), charged with the delicate task of investigating allegations of wrongdoing among officers.

Donald Warshaw appointed Martinez chief during the political upheaval that followed the Elian Gonzalez raid
Steve Satterwhite
Donald Warshaw appointed Martinez chief during the political upheaval that followed the Elian Gonzalez raid
Chief Martinez was criticized for appointing Frank Christmas (above) commander of internal affairs
Steve Satterwhite
Chief Martinez was criticized for appointing Frank Christmas (above) commander of internal affairs

He rose swiftly through the ranks despite two notable controversies.

At 2:00 a.m. on October 12, 1977, Martinez and three other vice-squad officers rented a hotel room at a local Howard Johnson, from which they called an escort service and requested the services of four women. According to the cops' version of events, after the prostitutes arrived, the officers negotiated prices for sex acts. When the women appeared willing to perform the acts, the cops arrested them.

The women told a strikingly different story. According to accounts published in the now-defunct Miami News, the women informed their lawyer that the officers had sex with them first, then placed them under arrest. One of the women claimed she performed oral sex on Martinez before he took her into custody. The woman's attorney, Jeffrey Weiner, had her take a polygraph test. She passed. Judge Robert Deehl asked Martinez if he would also take a polygraph test. Martinez refused. Deehl then recused himself from the case. "Deehl felt Martinez's refusal to take a lie-detector test would lead him to acquit the woman," the News reported in a February 1, 1978, article.

Deehl handed over the case to Judge Morton Perry. During cross-examination Martinez conceded being in bed naked with one hooker, according to the News, and that she performed oral sex on him briefly before he arrested her. A stunned Perry dismissed the charges against all four women, three of whom were underage. "Judge Perry said he was so shocked by the officer's concession of unethical behavior that he had no choice but to acquit the woman of all charges," the News reported. Perry called for an internal investigation into all the officers' conduct and presciently noted "it was further evidence of the need for a civilian review board to oversee the police."

The department defended the officers. A police spokesman claimed that prosecutors had told vice cops to engage in sex with suspects to build stronger cases. State Attorney Janet Reno retorted, "We do not encourage any officer to engage in any illegal conduct."

Today Deehl says he still remembers the case and that he was surprised the police officer refused the polygraph. "That's the only time that ever happened. I remember somebody accused me once of taking a bribe and I couldn't get to a polygraph fast enough," Deehl relates, adding that he didn't remember the officer's name until an acquaintance recently informed him the very same officer was now chief of police. "That's something, isn't it?"

According to a police spokesman quoted in the Miami News, the department acceded to Judge Perry's request for an investigation into Martinez's conduct. But no record of that incident was found during a recent New Times review of internal-affairs investigations and Martinez's personnel file.

"I can tell you that no oral sex was performed on me," Martinez contends. "Not the way I recall it anyway. It was investigated by internal affairs and even the State Attorney's Office, and none of us were reprimanded." As for his refusal to submit to a polygraph, Martinez says that was the prosecutor's decision.

One allegation against Martinez from the mid-Eighties did end up in his file. In 1985, just as the criminal case against the River Cops was gaining momentum, the department found itself in the crosshairs of another probe. The FBI subpoenaed the records of 25 officers, including then-Lt. Raul Martinez, while pursuing claims of corruption by several drug dealers. The dealers' allegations were aimed at Miami's Special Investigative Services (SIS) division, an elite squad responsible for undercover drug busts in the late Seventies and early Eighties.

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