By Michael E. Miller
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Beginning in 2001, the then-Miami Police officer worked with federal prosecutors to convict seven of his colleagues in the so-called throw-down gun case — in which a revolving cast of cops shot people and then planted weapons on them to remove any doubt that the shootings were justified.
When Hames was sentenced July 29, 2004, for his role in the coverup, he told federal Judge Alan Gold that he had ratted out his buddies because he and Ofcr. John Mervolion wanted to clean up the force. “We came forward in spite of the fact that [it] would possibly cost us our pension and would definitely put our freedom in jeopardy,” Hames said. “I haven’t regretted for a single instance my coming forward. It was the right thing to do.”
But now — just as his seven colleagues are about to head off to prison — the 58-year-old is fighting to keep his substantial pension package. In mid-September he sued the two organizations that manage police pension funds, the City of Miami Firefighters’ and Police Officers’ Retirement Trust and the Miami Police Relief and Pension Fund (MPRPF). Hames is trying to hold on to $282,000 that was paid to him when he retired in 1998, and the roughly $40,000 he receives annually.
Recently the funds’ managers came calling for their money back. They say state law gives them little choice; if a public employee commits one of a list of crimes, they must act. “The board of trustees of any pension fund has no discretion about whether to forfeit or not,” explains attorney Robert Klausner, who represents MPRPF. The state law, he says, was implemented to ensure that “if you breach the public trust, you should not be able to profit by that breach.”
But Hames’s conviction for conspiracy to obstruct justice and deprive Miamians of their civil rights doesn’t fit neatly into those definitions.
To answer the question of whether Hames abused taxpayers’ trust, one must begin with his background. A Florida native, he served in the Marine Corps and fought in Vietnam before joining the Miami Police Department in 1972.
His record shows nothing striking until November 7, 1995, when Antonio Young and Derrick Wiltshire were killed in the first throw-down gun shooting on I-395. Their killers were members of the Crime Suppression Team and Street Narcotics Unit, which included Hames. The officer had by then developed an alcohol problem and at times even drank on the job. He didn’t like working on the team and chose to ride without a partner — he had requested a transfer and never socialized with his partners.
Hames thought the shooting was justified — Young and Wiltshire were suspected felons fleeing after robbing two tourists. Under the rules in place at the time, the cops were allowed to fire at them. But just to be sure, Ofcrs. Arturo Beguiristain and José Quintero planted guns near the two bodies that night.
All the officers told the same story: The two dead men had been carrying guns and posed a threat. Hames thought that if he didn’t go along with it, his fellow cops would either ostracize him or, worse, leave him vulnerable in a dangerous situation.
The shootings were deemed justified by the department and the State Attorney’s Office. Hames transferred to a job on the police firing range in January 1996. Two years later, he got drunk at a party in Coconut Grove. On the way home, he decided to stop for cigarettes. When a bus driver honked his horn, Hames pulled his police-issued weapon and threatened to shoot the man in the head.
Hames didn’t remember the incident but in 1998 pleaded guilty to improper exhibition of a firearm and received twelve months of probation.
He also acknowledged he had a drinking problem. The 26-year veteran retired, entered rehab, and then took a job in management for DirecTV.
In 2001 he received a visit from members of the FBI task force looking into misconduct by City of Miami cops. Coming forward was tough. After he moved to North Lauderdale and began speaking with the feds, he would hear footsteps outside his house at night and see Miami Police cruisers parked nearby. But soon he told prosecutors, a grand jury, and then everyone at the federal trial of the other officers his version of the events on I-395 and his connection to another shooting in Coconut Grove.
Seven officers, including Beguiristain and Quintero, were convicted. The seven appealed but lost in a decision handed down this past July. They asked for their appeal to be heard again but were denied. The July decision became final last month.
None of the officers has been sent off to federal prison yet, although they will be soon. Beguiristain recently requested that Judge Gold allow him to surrender in early January so he can spend Christmas and New Year’s with his family, as well as make arrangements for his disabled son.
Hames — who now lives in Deltona, Florida, northeast of Orlando — likely hasn’t kept in touch with the other thrown-down gun cops. (Both Hames and his attorney, Richard F. O’Brien III, declined to be interviewed for this story.) But in the recently filed lawsuit, he claims he deserves the pension.