Officer Trouble

Golden Beach's problem cop struggles to make a career

Many people fudge facts on their job applications. But police departments are vigilant about employees who might lie because the reports they write become evidence and legal instruments, and not only could their alteration jeopardize a case, it could result in charges filed against the officer.

So Michelle was summarily dismissed for lying, and the Davie IA report was sent up to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission, which certifies police officers. It held a hearing, at which Michelle pleaded no contest. She did send a three-page letter:

"I will stand before you humbled and exposed with nothing to hide. I will answer any questions you have of me to the best of my ability and will gladly clarify any statement made against me," she wrote. "I stand before you the victim of an intentional reprisal [a reference to her mother alerting her employers to look into her past] ... don't dismiss my dream that I've worked so hard to achieve."

Santinello's accusations helped unseat former Golden Beach Police Chief Robert Nieman
Steve Satterwhite
Santinello's accusations helped unseat former Golden Beach Police Chief Robert Nieman

The FDLE put Michelle on probation for nine months and allowed her to keep her certificate as a police officer.

To understand why Michelle's mother would pursue her daughter so relentlessly, you need to know about the "Case From Hell," a decade-old family saga that at the time devolved into the most tortured and time-consuming custody battle in Dade County history, and one of the most expensive such litigations in the country. New Times, the Miami Herald, Dateline, and Court TV all covered it extensively. It was a case in which Michelle played a crucial role. For one thing, she wanted her brothers and sisters (there were seven still living at home) taken away from her parents and put in her custody, according to court records, prompting authorities to explore her past to gauge her suitability as a foster mother. Much of the following information was culled from psychological evaluations and police reports from that case.

What Lisette Nogues and her attorney fought to point out during the ordeal was that Michelle was emotionally and psychologically troubled. Entered into the court records were psychiatrists' reports as well as documentation of a series of bizarre incidents from her past that suggested a pattern of deceitful and self-aggrandizing behavior. Enough, at least, that the press summed her up as a "troubled older sister" (Miami Herald, 1992).

The Nogues family is a sprawling household of nine children. Lisette had six kids, including Michelle, from two previous marriages when she wed pediatrician Andres Nogues in 1980. He adopted his new wife's children and the couple had three more of their own. Lisette Nogues was by all accounts a strict mother, a taskmaster, and a devout Catholic. Theirs was a house steeped in Catholic ritual and its attendant baggage -- guilt. She prohibited her children from dating, insisted they attend confession, and delivered spankings to those who misbehaved, according to court records. (Michelle would allege in court her mother doled out actual "beatings" with belts.) Lisette was a Cuban refugee, raised by relatives after her mother died while she was still young. These childhood traumas formed a personality severe, controlling, and determined enough to get through medical school, part of the time as a single mother, ultimately a woman haunted by the fear of losing control, especially over her family. The supreme irony, of course, is that her desire to keep the family together through that control is what would break it apart.

By 1983 the family had moved to Richmond, Virginia, where Lisette was a medical resident in a local hospital. Andres took care of the family. They had a large Southern house with a front porch and a back yard where they kept several pet rabbits in a locked cage. To their neighbors they would seem like a typical big, Catholic, Latin family. But the sheen of normalcy was abruptly smeared in November 1983 when the rabbits disappeared and were later found mutilated. Michelle, who was in high school at the time, reported finding an envelope in her school locker containing a severed rabbit's paw and a note asking, "Have you seen your rabbits lately?" according to a police report of the incident. Not long after, more of the missing rabbits were found dead on the Nogueses' back porch, their hind legs broken, their eyes gouged out. The family hastily buried the carcasses. The day after the pets were interred Michelle claimed to have found another note along with a severed ear from one of the previously buried rabbits in her locker. Unbeknownst to her, police and school officials had been investigating the first incident. They even set a trap for the perpetrators by surveilling Michelle's locker. When Michelle received the second note, officials had not seen anyone but Michelle using the locker. Eventually both police and school officials concluded that Michelle "was responsible," according to what principal Carroll Cloninger told Metro-Dade Police in a report. Henrico County Police Ofcr. Frank Curran said in that same report that they concluded Michelle had "made some stuff up" and "was involved."

Michelle denied it. Authorities wanted her to take a polygraph, but her parents would not allow it. Lisette Nogues has said that at the time she was "in denial" that her daughter could do something like that. Michelle's parents took her out of school, believing she was in danger, and roughly a year later the family moved to Miami.

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