Accused of Sexually Assaulting a Rape Victim, Miami Cop Was Fired but Never Charged

Sitting in an unmarked police car in a dark lot outside her Allapattah apartment, Sara was crying and shaking uncontrollably. The dashboard clock glowed 2 a.m. Three weeks earlier, she had called 911 to report that her boyfriend had violently raped her.

Now she was the victim of another sexual assault. But this time her attacker was Miami Police Det. Michel Toro, the lead investigator who had promised to arrest her attacker. As he put a finger inside her and she sobbed, he suddenly stopped and asked if he’d “done anything wrong,” she says.

Sarah decided not to confront him. She had already ignored the creepy texts Toro had been sending for days and the hugs and kisses he had pressured her to accept every time he visited to talk about her rape case.

“I wish I could find the right words to explain how I felt at that moment. It was almost like, I’m aware I’m alive because I can feel myself breathing, but the rest of my body is paralyzed,” Sarah says. “Besides... there was no one else to turn to. So I had to hope that he does what he’s supposed to do, just pull his finger out and do his job.”

But according to Sarah, Toro’s assaults grew only bolder after that first attack February 12, 2016. Over the next two weeks, the detective raped her four more times in her apartment, she says, penetrating her vagina with his penis while on duty and wearing his police-issued gun and radio.

When Sarah finally found the clarity to report the detective, MPD’s internal affairs investigators collected DNA, cell-phone records, and surveillance footage that all verified he had regularly had sex with her while he was on duty. By June 2016, IA had found probable cause to believe Toro had broken multiple state laws, including sexual assault and pressuring her into sex through his power as a detective.

But when investigators took the case to Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, her office allowed Toro to quietly resign with no criminal charges. When they reached this agreement — despite hints that Toro's behavior had been troubling in the past — Sarah’s worst fear was realized: Her boyfriend’s charges were also dropped.

“I tried to hang myself when I learned that [my boyfriend] wouldn’t be charged,” says Sarah, who provided New Times with records verifying an extended stay in a mental health facility after the incident. (New Times is not publishing her real name in keeping with our policy of protecting the identity of sexual assault victims.)

But prosecutors say they had no choice. They paint Sarah as an unreliable accuser. A hospital test performed two days after she said her boyfriend had raped her came back negative, and friends they interviewed cast doubt on her story that he had violently attacked her. Prosecutors say that although Toro clearly had sex with Sarah multiple times, it would have been nearly impossible to prove to a jury that it wasn't consensual.

“The only evidence available in this matter is the victim's testimony, however her credibility would be easily attacked by a defense attorney,” Assistant State Attorney Johnette Hardiman wrote in a close-out memo clearing the boyfriend of criminal charges. “The fact that the lead detective in this case took advantage of the victim is reprehensible, but would unfortunately also serve to detract from the victim's credibility.”

But Toro’s story, which has never before been reported, raises new questions for MPD and Fernandez Rundle, who has never charged an officer with an on-duty killing (though she has charged cops with rape). It also shines a spotlight on the queasy area of police officers having sex with witnesses and victims under the officers' influence. Though Florida bans cops from engaging in sex with anyone in their custody, the law doesn't cover cases such as Sarah's in which a cop has sex with a witness or victim.

Before her story imploded in violence and police misconduct, Sarah had lived an international life of intrigue. Born in England in 1972 to a Southeast Asian mother and a British father, she was raised in Germany and later moved to the Caribbean. With a lilting accent, caramel-skinned good looks, and a deep, melodic voice, Sarah built a career as a popular radio host on several islands. She had three children along the way and began regularly traveling to the United States for media work in 1999.

A few years ago, she met a Trinidad-born airline employee who was based in Miami. In 2015 — with her children grown and living back in Europe — she moved to South Florida to live with him. The relationship was stable, she says, until they took a ten-day trip to Trinidad. When they returned, her boyfriend was agitated. And on January 22, 2016, something snapped: As she was getting ready for bed, he attacked, raping her anally while she screamed for help.

Sarah says she went into shock. “I was very traumatized. I was waking up in panic, and I couldn’t breathe,” she says. “And I didn’t really know where to go. I always heard that medical care here in the U.S. is expensive. I’m thinking, How much will they want for me to visit an ER?

So she waited two days before going to Jackson’s rape treatment center, where counselors pressed her to call the police. But she was leery.

“In the Caribbean, the way it works, since I was living with this guy and all my stuff was there, they’re just going to tell me I have to leave,” she says. “I’m thinking, Where the heck can I go in this state? So I didn’t say anything to the police.”

On January 29, a week after the attack, a social worker finally convinced her the cops could help. Her boyfriend had disappeared after the attack, Sarah says, but was still texting her regularly. She says she feared he would return and hurt her again. So she relented, and that afternoon a team from MPD’s Special Victims Unit interviewed her and took photos.

The next day, Toro showed up at her apartment. The young Cuban-American detective had close-cropped hair and wore a leather jacket. He told Sarah his backstory: Born in Havana, he moved to Miami with his mother. In 2005, he found work as a guard in Miami-Dade’s prison system. He spent six years there before joining MPD in September 2011, working as a street cop until September 2015, when he joined the SVU.

Sarah felt better after that meeting. But when he returned the next day, she says, Toro began acting inappropriately. “On the second visit, he said, ‘You know, you really look like you need a hug,’” she says. “Every time he would come after that, he’d insist on giving me a hug and kissing me on the cheek.”

Then the texts started. On February 4, he texted Sarah to warn that sexual assault charges were unlikely but that he was hopeful to make a domestic battery case against her boyfriend. The next day, he texted, “All u need is a nice massage to put you to sleep.” Over the next week, he sent a barrage of texts, telling her that she would fall in love with him, offering to “warm her up” and promising to “bite soft, kiss, and lick” her from “head to toe.”

Toro seemed to know it was wrong to hit on Sarah, who says she was barely functional while suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder.

He admitted her vulnerability in a text: “Your such a beautiful and attractive woman and I’m handling your case, which it’s not to professional from my part if I tell u those things and your mind is not in the right place to even accept those comments from me,” he wrote. “But I just wanted to let you know that I’m someone you can trust. Because I really care about what your going thru. [sic]”

Sarah knew his behavior was wrong, but she felt trapped. He was the only investigator assigned to her case, and she was terrified that her boyfriend could come back any moment. She wanted him locked up.
“That’s the horrible thing with my emotional state at the time. I didn’t know how to process it,” she says. “It’s him and him alone dealing with the case.”

So when Toro’s insistent texts and hugs turned into outright sexual assault in his parked car early February 12, Sarah felt “paralyzed.” She didn’t know who to turn to, and the last thing she wanted was for the case against her boyfriend to collapse. She hoped that her crying had warned Toro. But hours later, he texted her a shirtless photo of himself and wrote, “You know, I still smell like you.”

Toro, who worked the night shift, returned the next day just before 5 a.m., supposedly to talk about the case. But once he was inside her apartment, he began grabbing her breasts and vagina. This time, Toro exposed his penis and tried to penetrate her. “I can’t do it!” Sarah says she yelled. The detective prematurely ejaculated on her clothing, she says, pointed to his penis, and told her to “suck it.” When she said no, he cleaned up and left.

Sarah was terrified, she later told investigators. She even texted him to apologize for not orally pleasuring him “in an attempt to not upset Detective Toro and keep him from adversely affecting the investigation into her pending sexual battery case.”

On February 16, Toro delivered for Sarah. The boyfriend was arrested and charged with felony sexual battery. But the detective warned her that he still had to produce the evidence to convict him. Toro had powerful leverage over the emotionally battered woman. Soon, she says, he used it again.

On February 21, he again showed up at her apartment. Sarah knew what he wanted. As she later told investigators, she had “psychologically prepared” herself to have sex with the cop. Toro showed up at 2:54 in the morning, dressed in a shirt and tie with his radio, gun, and badge attached to his belt. He had sex with her three times that morning, leaving his clothes on each time because he was on duty and “it would take him too long to get dressed if he got a call,” she remembers.

With the criminal case still pending against her boyfriend, Sarah had no intention of turning in Toro. But then she began going to counseling classes, which she says caused her to question what the detective was doing.

Six days after Toro raped her three times, she says, she was waiting for coffee at a Starbucks when she noticed a female officer nearby. Sarah made a snap decision: “I didn’t spell everything out but kind of told her what had happened,” she explains. “She said, ‘You need to tell the police about this. I’ll go with you.’”

The officer drove Sarah to MPD’s internal affairs bureau. Sarah spoke for several hours to investigators, who took a sworn statement and opened an investigation into Toro's behavior.

Toro had a relatively clean record, his record shows. He had been arrested for petty shoplifting in 1997 before he found work as a prison guard. In December 2015, he had been cited after Hialeah Police were called to the scene of an argument he was having with the mother of one of his children. He was supposed to be on duty at the time. His only other citations were for missing traffic court several times.

But on the anonymous online police message board LEO Affairs, there were warnings about Toro as early as 2014. One post warned he was fond of “sending pictures of his *** to every female he comes across,” while another wrote that “if IA is really up to it, they should look into Toro cellphone & see all those wonderful pictures he sends of his mini-**** and how he tries to [hit on] anything wearing a bra to the point of harassment.”

With Sarah's complaint in hand, investigators moved quickly. They collected clothing that Toro had ejaculated onto and the text messages from her phone. On March 3, IA obtained a court order for Toro’s cell-phone records — with FBI help, they turned up location data that showed the detective traveling to Sarah’s apartment the dates she said she’d been assaulted. The data also showed Toro was spending “prolonged periods of time” in her apartment when he was supposed to be on duty. And video surveillance confirmed he had stayed for hours the three dates Sarah said she had been raped.

IA did find a red flag while investigating Sarah’s claims — a concern that matched prosecutors' worries about her credibility. A retired MPD lieutenant, Marlene Hines, said she was concerned about Sarah’s story. Hines had met Sarah years earlier on a trip to the Caribbean, and the two became friends. She claimed Sarah had falsely accused a boyfriend of sexual assault and another man of stabbing her in a fight. Hines was worried Sarah might be doing the same to Toro because she wanted legal protection to stay in the United States.

Sarah says she has no idea why Hines would tell the police that story. “I believed we were friends. I still don’t know why she would tell them that,” she says. Sarah says she had been assaulted by a previous partner; in the stabbing case, she provided documents to New Times suggesting that, in fact, the man had been found guilty in 2006.

But Hines' concerns weren’t enough to derail IA’s case. After all, the evidence was virtually airtight against Toro. On June 21, IA closed its case, finding that Toro had broken at least 11 departmental policies and that there was evidence he had broken the two Florida laws. They recommended he be fired, and they took their investigation to Rundle’s office.

But Hardiman, the assistant state attorney, had already elected not to proceed with the case against Sarah's boyfriend. The state's three-month investigation had poked holes in her claims, Hardiman later wrote in a close-out memo. Doctors at Jackson found no evidence that she'd been raped anally (though she did wait two days to go). What's more, they interviewed a roommate who said Sarah had been planning a wedding with her boyfriend and then had become erratic after he called it off. Prosecutors also talked to another acquaintance who warned that Sarah wasn't reliable before concluding they had no case. “There was no DNA evidence, nor any injuries,” Hardiman wrote in a July 1, 2016 memo. “There were no witnesses to corroborate her statement.”

Hardiman and a team of prosecutors broke the news to Sarah in person June 15. She was “visibly distraught,” Hardiman wrote, but “did not seem as concerned with the outcome of this investigation as she was with the other serious problems she was experiencing,” such as the lack of a job or a place to stay in Miami.

But Sarah says the news was a crushing blow. On June 23, according to records she provided New Times, she checked into a psychiatric facility, listing “suicidal thoughts” as a primary symptom. She spent more than two months there, she says, under nearly constant watch and treatment.

She lost complete contact with her relatives abroad, who became concerned when she stopped responding to Facebook messages and texts. But she says she had no idea how to explain to them what had happened.

“How do you tell someone that on the phone?” she says. “[My boyfriend] attacked me. They’d be like, ‘What do you mean — he beat you up?’ It’s hard enough to tell someone you were raped, but then the police officer... no one knew.”

Finally, more than a month after her suicide attempt, one of her daughters in Europe reached her by phone. “That’s when she learned not just about the first assault but also about the detective afterward,” Sarah says. “She said, ‘Mom, why didn’t you talk to me?’”

Worst of all, she says, prosecutors never let her know that six days after clearing her boyfriend of rape, they had also negotiated terms with Toro: If he gave up his state certification and resigned, they wouldn’t charge him. Toro quickly agreed and the next day submitted his resignation.

Prosecutors say Sarah's credibility issues would have made it impossible to prosecute the case against Toro. But Sarah's attorney, Adam Horowitz, says they never even interviewed her about the detective's assaults.
“The fact that she wasn’t consulted on the deal with Toro is unbelievable,” he says. “Crime victims should be able to weigh in on a decision like that.”

Sarah is still in therapy and has applied for a U visa, which is granted to victims of violent crime, so she can find work in the United States. “I have really bad flashbacks all the time,” she says. “I used to travel very extensively, mostly alone... and now I have trouble crossing the street.”

She says she decided to speak about her story because she worries Toro could do what many other disgraced cops have done: move to another state, get recertified, and abuse his power again. She also hopes MPD reconsiders its rules and requires more than one detective to be in the room with sexual assault victims at all times.

“I think they give officers too much power,” she says. “I know maybe they’re stretched for personnel, but in such a sensitive thing... they need to have someone else in the room.”

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