Fifteen-year-old Federico Tamborrel was learning to drive on Florida's Turnpike in January 2015 with his dad riding shotgun when he swerved to avoid another car. That's when he saw what every student driver dreads most: flashing blue-and-red lights in his rearview mirror.
But the traffic stop soon turned into a whole different kind of learning experience for the teenager. Tamborrel's dad says he watched in horror as Miami police officer George Guillen furiously berated the teen, at one point even calling him a “cop killer.”
“The guy was ballistic,” Federico's father, Eduardo Tamborrel, tells New Times. “He was out of control. I was afraid he was going to hit my son.”
The veteran officer has denied those claims, but he's now been reprimanded by the independent Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP), which determined he violated departmental policy by pulling over the teen out of his jurisdiction and by using profane language.
The trouble began January 7, 2015, when the younger Tamborrel headed toward school with his dad in their Volkswagen T1 minibus. He swerved suddenly, his father says, when a car cut him off. He didn't realize that he'd narrowly missed Guillen until the cop pulled him over near SW 120th Street.
Guillen, who was hired in 2007, has been involved in six use-of-force incidents and the subject of eight citizen complaints, including another instance of alleged verbal abuse. In 2012, he was investigated by the CIP when a woman claimed he'd called her a “tramp” and a “whore” after her friend spat over a balcony onto his patrol car. (CIP investigators didn't issue any finding in that complaint after they couldn't track down the woman for a follow-up interview.)
The Tamborrels say that instead of introducing himself, Guillen immediately yelled for Federico to “get the fuck out of the car,” and later claimed the teenager must be a “cop killer” for nearly swerving into him.
Guillen continued to berate Federico, his father says, calling him a “fucking teenager” who “shouldn't be driving.” The officer then asked his dad, “What the fuck is your problem?” and told him, “You're raising a cop killer.” The older Tamborrel says he apologized and explained that his son was still learning to drive, but the officer wasn't appeased. He eventually let the pair leave without a ticket.
Tamborrel only later learned why: Guillen was well out of his department's jurisdiction. Two days after the incident, Tamborrel filed a complaint with Miami PD. In interviews with investigators, Guillen denied using profanity; internal affairs reprimanded him for making a traffic stop outside his jurisdiction but found the discourtesy complaint “inconclusive.”
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That's when the CIP took up the case. Guillen declined to talk to the board; when both Tamborrel and his son gave similar accounts of what happened in separate interviews, CIP last month found the officer had been discourteous.
Tamborrel says the situation could have been a positive learning experience for his son if the officer had simply taken the time to listen. “If he had stopped us and said, 'Look, you cut me off, you should be more careful and keep an eye on the road, and you're free to go, it would have been a positive thing, and I would have said, 'Thank you, officer.' Instead of that, it came out the wrong way — that police officers can abuse their authority and nothing happens.”
Tamborrel says he used the experience to teach his son how to act around cops in the future, when he'll be driving on his own.
“Everyone in the U.S. has seen all these issues of police officers abusing their power, and in the last year, there've been so many incidents of that,” he says. “I don't know if this guy was having a bad day or something, but he's got the authority, so you always have to be respectful...Don't fall into their game because then things can get serious.”