Hot Under the Collar

You'd never know it by looking at him, but Joseph Weinstock is not a well man.
At age 73, he suffers from chronic pancreatitis, coronary artery disease, and reflux esophagitis, an inflammation of the esophagus that makes swallowing painful. Under a full head of wavy hair, he bears the scar of a gash inflicted a couple of years back, when a street robber smashed his skull with a gun butt. His thick, durable-looking limbs belie arthritis so achy Weinstock has trouble creaking out of bed some days. To top it off, a year ago, while undergoing treatment for a kidney ailment, he suffered a minor stroke.

Not surprisingly, Weinstock is a frequent visitor to Mount Sinai Medical Center. But no trip to that Miami Beach hospital sticks in his memory quite as vividly as the day last year when he went in for tests on a large kidney stone. For the feisty World War II vet, September 28, 1993, is a date that will live in infamy.

The events of that day won't soon be erased from the mind of a certain Miami Beach cop, either.

It began with a minor mishap. Because Weinstock was in too much pain to drive, his wife Sylvia had taken the wheel. When she pulled over to let her husband off in front of the hospital, she stopped in a lane meant for through traffic. Weinstock opened the passenger door, and another motorist bumped into it.

George Hatmaker, a Mount Sinai security guard, made sure no one was hurt. He told the Weinstocks they were at fault for the minor damage to the car of the second driver, Aimee Santos. All parties agreed that it wasn't necessary to call the police, and under Hatmaker's watchful eye, they exchanged insurance information. Weinstock explained that he was late for an appointment, and Hatmaker, a Miami Beach reserve police officer, gave him permission to leave. After Weinstock's departure, Santos phoned her insurance company to report the accident, and a representative informed her that she would have to present a police report in order to receive payment on her claim. A call to Miami Beach authorities brought patrol officer Sunday Sanchez to the scene.

Having been given an account of the accident by both Santos and Sylvia Weinstock, Sanchez said she would have to issue a ticket to Joseph Weinstock. In person. At Sanchez's request, Sylvia Weinstock went upstairs and explained the situation to her husband -- including Sanchez's threat to arrest him for leaving the scene of an accident if he failed to cooperate. "I said to myself, 'This is crazy,'" Joseph Weinstock recalls. "Here I am, an old man trying to save my own life, and I'm going to be arrested over a fender-bender."

Mrs. Weinstock duly informed Sanchez that the patient had no intention of going anywhere until his tests were completed, whereupon the officer marched into the hospital herself. Over the protests of Mount Sinai staff, she confronted her quarry in a treatment room, where he had already undressed and donned his hospital gown.

According to sworn statements later given to the Miami Beach Police Department's internal affairs unit, Sanchez was so adamant that receptionist Brenda Mitchell figured there had been a murder. Mitchell also told investigators that Sanchez said Weinstock "had been involved in a hit-and-run accident."

X-ray technician Selma Gaynias described Sanchez as abusive and hostile. The officer kept demanding information from Weinstock but refused to let him tell his side of the story, Gaynias charged. Weinstock became so agitated, the technician added, that she was worried he might suffer another stroke.

"I told her that I was a bomber in World War II, a war hero, and she told me she didn't care," Weinstock says today. "To me that's like burning the American flag. So I told her, 'You know, someone ought to smack you right across the mouth.'"

Sanchez's response was immediate: She threatened to arrest Weinstock for assault.

The two continued to argue, while a series of medical staffers was summoned to intercede. Supervisor Julie Gannon was so upset by Sanchez's conduct that she contacted a hospital security officer, who wrote up a report entitled "Police officer interfering with the treatment of a patient."

Administrator Doug Fuller asked Sanchez if he could speak with her supervisor. Sanchez called headquarters herself to explain the situation. Her superior, Sgt. William Turner, arrived minutes later and tried to calm all the parties. Sanchez left, but not before issuing Weinstock a traffic ticket for "opening car door" and an arrest warrant for assault. (The assault charge was eventually dropped.)

Weinstock, who underwent his test an hour late, was so furious about the incident that he filed a complaint with the police department the next day.

Sanchez declined to comment for this story, but she did speak with investigators. She explained that she was simply trying to do her job, and noted that she would have mailed Weinstock the ticket, had the medical procedure already been under way. She denied being rude to Weinstock or the Mount Sinai staff. It was Weinstock, she claimed, who had shouted at her.

Investigators interviewed a dozen witnesses, mostly hospital employees, before concluding earlier this summer that Sanchez had been "rude and disrespectful" to Weinstock and the attending medical staff, and was "guilty of conduct unbecoming an employee of the city." She is expected to serve her three-day suspension next week.

This was not the first time Sanchez has been at the center of a controversy. In 1989 she filed a federal lawsuit against Miami Beach, claiming she'd been sexually harassed by her colleagues. She testified that they posted pornographic pictures defaming her and left two vibrators and a soiled condom in her office mailbox. Though the jury ruled in her favor, a dozen officers testified against her, describing her variously as paranoid, overly aggressive, unsociable, and "a supervisor's nightmare."

Joseph Weinstock says he plans to sue the city because of Sanchez's harassment. "I had to put out money to defend myself against the [assault] charge," he says. "I couldn't have smacked her if I wanted. Hell, I could hardly get myself onto that x-ray table.


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