I Said Pull Over, Lady!
By the time accounts of Paula Redo's arrest hit the evening news, acquaintances, even friends, had trouble recognizing the 29-year-old Lauderhill woman. Her cheeks bruised and purple, one eye puffed into a grim wink, Redo's face reflected the fate of a boxer with too strong a chin. As did her mental state: a mild concussion left her to confront the cameras punch-drunk and woozy.
A month later, Redo's haze has lifted, but the circumstances surrounding her arrest, in the wee hours of January 4, grow more muddled by the day. Redo, who led police on a spectacular, high-speed chase, says a dozen lawmen beat her savagely before hauling her in for booking. Although officers from seven police agencies apparently took part in the hour-long pursuit, their reports are confusing and sometimes contradictory. Last week the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched its own probe of police conduct during the incident. Redo, meanwhile, faces a slew of felony charges in Broward and Dade County.
All because she refused to pull over for a traffic violation.
Redo, the girls' basketball coach at Western High School in Davie, spent the tail end of Friday, January 3, at a friend's house, playing cards. She admits to drinking a couple of rum-and-Cokes during the evening, but insists she was not intoxicated when she got behind the wheel of her teal-green Honda Accord.
At 1:50 a.m. Sunrise Police Lt. Thomas McKane spotted Redo as she cut through a gas station to avoid a red light. He pulled up and signaled for her to stop. Instead, Redo says, she panicked and hit the gas pedal. She admits the impulse to run was a foolish one, but says she kept going because she was trying to reach the house of a friend in North Miami who could vouch for her character.
As Redo sped south through Broward into North Dade, police cars from Davie, Miramar, and Plantation joined the pursuit. By 3:00 a.m., when she finally pulled into the breakdown lane on I-95 near NW 151st Street with a blown-out tire, police reports indicate Redo had crisscrossed county lines three times, often exceeding speeds of 100 mph. Reports also state that she rammed at least two police cars and attempted to hit others during the chase. In his report, McKane noted she threw something out of her car window, but the item was never recovered.
Redo, the single mother of a two-year-old child, denies hitting any police vehicles and says she had no weapons or drugs in her car. (None were found.) A former basketball star good enough to earn a spot at the 1984 Olympic trials, Redo holds a master's degree in education from Florida A&M University, in Tallahassee. She has no prior criminal record.
"I've never had any type of problem with the law," says Redo, whose arrest was attended by a fleet of police cars, officers with guns drawn, and a helicopter chopping overhead. "When the officer asked me to come out with my hands up, I did. I put my hands behind my back and they handcuffed and shackled me. I had to drop to my knees one at a time. They were screaming at me, `Who the fuck do you think you are, bitch? I've got a family to raise!' They started punching and kicking me, at least 25, 30 times. I don't know. After you've been hit that much, you're kind of in zombie land."
Indeed, after being booked at the Miramar police station, Redo was checked by emergency medical workers and transported to Memorial Hospital in Hollywood, where staffers took x-rays and conducted a CAT scan. She remained there for ten hours, then was moved to the Broward County Jail infirmary until that Sunday evening. After being released on $5000 bond, Redo was admitted to Broward General Hospital on Monday, January 6, and diagnosed with a minor concussion.
No police officials have supplied a detailed explanation for Redo's injuries. A complaint affidavit by Davie officer Charles Holding states that Redo was "removed from the vehicle and immediately started to fight. Subject was subdued and shackled." His supplemental report notes that Redo "was forcibly taken to the ground to be handcuffed. The subject sustained facial injuries at this time when there was contact with the ground."
The police also offer conflicting versions of who, precisely, took part in the chase and arrest. Local Florida Highway Patrol officials, for instance, say they have no formal record of the chase. Yet a Davie police report lists trooper Bill Smith as having joined the pursuit. Sunrise Lt. Theresa Spongross says no officers from her department were present when Redo was subdued. But other police reports - and Redo herself - state that Sunrise police were the arresting officers. Miramar Sgt. John DiDio says his reports indicate that four Davie officers were present at the arrest site. Davie police spokeswoman Christine Murray says only three of her units were involved. Internal affairs inquiries are under way at the Sunrise and Davie police departments. No police radio transcripts have been released.
Attorney Herb Cohen, who is defending Redo on four felony counts of aggravated assault against a police officer, as well as a variety of misdemeanor charges, says that what transpired is as plain as black and blue. "They beat the crap out of my client," he says. "I think the police totally overreacted and now they're trying to deflect criticism with these criminal charges. They're surely not going to admit to any wrongdoing. But the physical evidence is there. Paula Redo could not have sustained these injuries other than the way she describes."
Cohen suggests police might have been on edge after the shootings of two Dade police officers the day before. Sunrise Lt. Spongross argues that Redo's alleged ramming of two police cars, as well as their initial belief that she was driving a stolen car, spurred police to carry on the chase.
But Jeff Alpert contends pursuit should never have gone on for an hour. A former professor at the University of Miami, Alpert spent most of the past decade conducting a study of police pursuits and helping draw up the policy most Dade police agencies now share. "The bottom line is that you balance the need to immediately apprehend the subject with the risk created by pursuit. This case is like a movie script. It shouldn't happen in 1992. I guarantee you it violated the policy we created in Dade," says Alpert, now a professor of criminal justice at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
Most police departments, including Metro-Dade, adhere to a two-car chase rule. "Because of the high-adrenaline nature of a chase, the fact that it's a highly charged and highly dangerous activity, you want one car pursuing and another monitoring. That's it," Alpert says. Redo's multiple-car chase is even more ridiculous, he adds, in light of the fact that a Broward Sheriff's Office helicopter tracked her from above for more than 30 minutes before she surrendered.
Alpert says his five-year study, which examined more than 1000 chases in Dade, revealed that suspects evading police often sustain injuries when they are arrested. "When you've got a whole pack of cars caravaning, the potential for a feeding frenzy goes way up," he observes. "The worst offense this woman committed was `contempt of cop,' and when you commit that kind of crime, the punishment can be severe."
This past Thursday, Redo was charged by the Broward State Attorney's Office with three counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, a third-degree felony. Friday she was charged in Dade with two more, similar, felony counts. Redo was taken into custody and later posted bail. Each count carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a minimum mandatory sentence of one year. School district officials, who may pursue a separate investigation after police complete theirs, have suspended Redo from her teaching job, with pay.
Last week an FBI agent interviewed Redo for more than an hour and began requesting police reports from the various agencies involved. Spokesman Wayne Russell would neither confirm nor deny that the FBI is conducting an investigation into Redo's arrest, but he did note that FBI agents generally investigate allegations of civil rights violations committed by law enforcement officers.
Redo insists she is the victim of an attack that was at least partly racially motivated, and notes that all the officers involved were white. The teacher says she's still having vision problems and fears she may have inner-ear damage, but has not decided whether to pursue a civil lawsuit.
"I guarantee you one thing," says defense attorney Cohen. "If Paula Redo walked into a police station looking the way she did and said, `John Jones did this to me,' they would have arrested John Jones for aggravated battery. Someone's responsible for what happened.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.