By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
"That's just one of several problems with this case," Hartman opines during a recent interview at his Doral office. "You also have to wonder why Fernandez and Losada were the only team members arrested. I mean, didn't [investigators] find some of the money in Villalobos's truck?"
After nearly two hours of testimony and cross-examination, Dresnick denied Altfield's request to revoke the bond. But the judge didn't do the shamed cops any favors either. He set Fernandez's and Losada's bail at one million dollars apiece, made them surrender their passports, and ordered them to wear electronic ankle monitors.
"I would like a lot of eyes watching these people to prevent them from thinking they can go anywhere," Dresnick advised. "There are a lot of people in this courtroom. I'm sure they can get together and put up the money."
Fernandez and Losada were temporarily taken into custody until they posted bail approximately 24 hours later. However, the two cops had to endure the embarrassment of being led away in handcuffs in front of their family, friends, and peers, some of whom wept. "Keep your head up," shouted one undercover detective.
Since joining the Miami-Dade County Police Department on February 26, 1990, Daniel Fernandez had been assigned to Northside, where he worked his way up from patrol to become one of the district's top detectives. He began his tour with the crime suppression team November 2, 2003.
Fernandez and Det. Julio Benavides were the team's "eyeballs," the officers who would conduct surveillance on suspected drug dealers. The rest of the squad comprised Dets. Jorge de Armas, Juan Leon, Joe Losada, and Ivan Villalobos, who were responsible for jumping suspects once they received the take-down signal from either Benavides or Fernandez. (Det. Ana Bernal joined the squad late last year.)
Benavides, de Armas, Fernandez, Leon, and Villalobos had developed close friendships during their time together on the team. The detectives and their wives would go out on dinner dates and throw holiday parties at each others' houses. "You know, either Christmases and Thanksgivings we do as a squad," Leon shared with prosecutor Altfield during a deposition this past February 7.
A cop with an encyclopedic knowledge of the career criminals who call Northside home, Fernandez was always in the thick of the hunt. Around the hood, word traveled fast about sightings of the salt-and-pepper-haired-and-mustached Fernandez scaling rooftops and climbing trees on private property, where he could clandestinely observe drug dealers work their game. It wasn't unusual for Fernandez, clad in his favorite green camouflage jumpsuit, to lurk behind a bush or hang from a branch, tracking a perp using his Steiner binoculars.
According to a December 12, 2005 deposition of Donaldson Junior St. Plite, he, his brother Donald, and their friend Bobson Brutus were simply talking about music and joking around when Fernandez creeped up on them, gun drawn, on March 22, 2005. The siblings live in apartments next door to each other at 780 NE 78th St. "I hear a hiss at the door, but I look closer at the door," St. Plite told prosecutors, "and there's a gun pointing at me. I looked, you know. I realized that was Fernandez. He normally comes with the camouflage. I put it together in my mind that it's him.
"Fernandez is always arresting people by barging into their homes or apartments without permission," St. Plite said.
"The area that we live, it's a bad area, and we have corrupted cops in the neighborhood," Donaldson explained. "And he was a corrupted cop because he came to our house before. He snuck through a window. Yeah, Fernandez."
At the time of his testimony, St. Plite was trying to help out his 29-year-old brother Donald, whom Fernandez had arrested along with 47-year-old Ricky Barber, a convict with multiple felonies on his record, on cocaine trafficking charges.
On the arrest affidavit, Fernandez stated he watched Barber knock on Donald St. Plite's door and allegedly say, "Give me five." Fernandez saw Donald retrieve five rocks and hand them to Barber. He also observed Donald make eight drug deals and enter an abandoned Chevy Lumina, reach into the passenger-side-airbag compartment, and retrieve a piece of paper containing crack, Fernandez reported.
State prosecutors dropped their case against Donald St. Plite and Barber on January 25, thirteen days after Fernandez and Losada were busted. "My client was willing, ready, and able to testify against the individuals he arrested," Hartman says of Fernandez. "Why doesn't the state submit my client and these defendants to a polygraph to see who is telling the truth?"
Fernandez made many enemies because he was falsely arresting people and stealing their money, claim Joaquin Rodriguez and Jesus Maria Mesa, two older non-English-speaking Cubans who have been busted on more than one occasion by the camouflaged detective.
The 60-year-old Rodriguez lives in one of the efficiencies in the rear of a single-story apartment complex at NW 31st Avenue and 93rd Street. According to members of the CST, the building is a known crackhead hideout.
On a recent afternoon, while sipping Cuban coffee with 74-year-old neighbor Mesa, Rodriguez recalls his experiences with Fernandez. He accuses Fernandez of falsely arresting him three times after they had an argument. "I saw him one day in the breezeway and asked him what he was doing here," Joaquin says. "I didn't know he was a cop. We start jawing back and forth and he shows me the badge. Regardless, I told him he couldn't be in here without permission from the owner. He got so mad he told me I'd better move or he would make my life impossible."