Belfort was found to have violated Civil Service Rules, which is grounds for dismissal. But it was recommended he forfeit 30 days of sick time. In the end, no punishment was imposed, nor were prosecutors notified about the attack or Belfort's attempt to cover it up.

In an interview, Lauer described MPD internal affairs as essentially a charade."It is supposed to give the appearance that they are doing something and that they want to keep violent cops off the street, but if you really look at them, what they are doing is protecting each other," Lauer said.

At the trial of his civil rights case in March, Lelieve testified that members of the city's Crime Suppression Unit, the elite drug-busting squad that had shown up when he was arrested, did nothing to stop Belfort. But when the beating was finished, Lelieve said, one detective asked, "Why did he do that?"

As he was helped to his feet and put into a police van, Lelieve complained of pain. But instead of going to a hospital, he was briefly taken back to the drug house for an unknown reason and then to the police station, where he complained again.

Lelieve testified police put him in an SUV and drove him to Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ward D, where a doctor whom he could not identify took a quick look at him and said he was fine. "He just touched my stomach and he say I am all right," Lelieve said. "He don't even do an x-ray or nothing."

In a holding cell overnight at the Miami-Dade County Jail, Lelieve lay on the concrete floor and threw up. The following afternoon, a nurse sent him back to Jackson by ambulance. He told the medics the police had hurt him, and they noted it in their report.

A doctor named Mauricio Lynn diagnosed blunt abdominal trauma. He found two liters of blood in Lelieve's belly and later operated to repair a large tear in his abdominal cavity. Lelieve spent more than a week in the hospital.

The city's lawyers offered jurors no explanation of how he became seriously injured while in police custody. Nor did they call other officers who were present during the arrest to testify.

The city likewise presented no evidence that internal affairs had investigated Lelieve's injuries. Nor did the police department alert prosecutors about evidence of possible crimes — first battery (the attack on Lelieve) and later perjury (the discredited testimony of Major Cunningham and Belfort's partner, Officer Desreen Gayle, who backed up Belfort's claim that he wasn't at the arrest scene).

"Everything is kept in-house, swept under the rug," Lauer told the jury.

On March 16, the jury awarded Lelieve $175,000. Four days later, Miami U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga ordered the city to pay $100,000 for Lelieve's pain and suffering. The balance — including $50,000 in punitive damages — was assessed against Belfort for his use of excessive force "with malice." Large damage awards against individual police officers are unusual.

In reaching that decision, the jury determined Belfort had acted with "malice or reckless indifference" when he employed excessive force on Lelieve. But it was their finding of Miami's "policy, practice, or custom" of allowing officers to get away with abusing suspects that formed the basis of the damage award against the city.

It is not the first time such a determination has been made. In 2005, Miami U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Cooke rebuked the city for its officers' excessive use of force in a civil rights case a year before Lelieve was brutalized. Her order focused on an apparent pattern in which internal affairs justified police shootings "despite evidence to the contrary."

Wrote Cooke: "The court is perplexed as to how this shoddy police work and repugnant behavior can continue unquestioned. The facts show that this behavior continues because it is condoned by MPD supervisors, internal affairs, and comrades in arms."

Juries typically don't explain themselves when they make findings after listening to the evidence. But the jury that heard Lelieve's complaint appears to have shared Judge Cooke's thoughts.

Lauer said his client is "just happy to get his day in court and tell the jury what this officer did to him."

State records show Lelieve is due to finish his sentence December 3. But he won't be a free man. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement wants Lelieve detained while it moves to deport him to Haiti.

Miami police spokesman Maj. Delrish Moss declined to comment. The city and Belfort have asked Judge Altonaga for a new trial. And there appears to be little likelihood that a change in culture is around the corner at the Miami PD. So far, city hall hasn't pushed. And the new police chief, Manuel Orosa, has a history that includes involvement in a notorious brutality case 23 years ago.

Orosa, a 31-year veteran on the force, was a sergeant in 1988 when a squad of Miami cops beat a drug dealer named Leonardo Mercado to death.

Orosa wasn't on the scene of the beating, but he was the supervisor of six of the cops later charged in Mercado's death. He was suspended with pay in 1989 for failing to preserve evidence in the case, and later testified for the defense in the cops' trial.

Dan Christensen is the editor of browardbulldog.org, which also published this story.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
All
 
My Voice Nation Help
10 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
occupytruth
occupytruth

yes, you may have problems in a department but when you have larger problems in a corrupt city hall what do you expect? Proper training and leadership is needed for fewer problems to occur. Training takes money, and politicians rather spend the money on their pet projects. They have no interest in lawsuits that can take a decade to reveal a problem, politicians want to spend money now. WHen a stadium takes priority over safety and training you get what you voted for.

Veronika
Veronika

The line between criminals and police force is pretty thin. Neither party follows the law nor has respect for human rights. I wish cops were put in jail for their brutality.

BadDude
BadDude

mmm this officer lie to their supervissor and the system to many time and he was still on the job. the supervissor should be fire as well this officer.

Mike
Mike

Cops think they can do what ever they want. Thank God we are all watching now with our phones.....

pepit
pepit

Belfort is safe with a chief like Orosa who himself despises Internal Affairs and is nothing but a thug.

Twovirgos1
Twovirgos1

Oh well, dont break the law and you dont go to prison or get your butt kicked. I dont have a problem with officers because I dont break the law.

Neil Bonoff
Neil Bonoff

You don't necessarily have to break the law. Just happen to be in one of these guys way when they are having a bad day.

Hali
Hali

It's not always that simple...

seep
seep

The war on drugs is a pretext for virtually limitless law enforcement power and budget. Dealers of illegal drugs are sometimes (though not always) very dangerous people, but if their product were legalized, they would go away. Legalization would do more to enhance public safety than any amount of law enforcement.

Plus, many drugs feel fucking great!

 
Loading...