Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 12:05 p.m.
North Miami Beach has fired two police department employees after they allegedly were caught in the office trying to cast a Santeria curse on the city manager shortly before mass layoffs were planned. Veteran officer Elizabeth Torres and office manager Yvonne Rodriguez were canned last week over the ceremony, says Mark Perkins, a spokesman for the city.
"There was some kind of ritual they were planning inside the city offices," Perkins tells Riptide. "They were caught in the planning stages."
Update: Torres and Rodriguez were caught plotting with a janitor to spread birdseed around the city manager's office, a police report says, in accordance with a Santeria ritual aimed at making an enemy "leave you alone."
Torres admitted to investigators that, with Rodriguez help, she had approached a janitor named Esther Villanueva on Aug. 29 to ask if she'd help spread birdseed around City Manager Lyndon Bonner's office.
The cop had been raised in a family that practices Santeria and she said the ritual wasn't meant to harm Bonner, but rather to help the police department, which faced layoffs in coming weeks.
"If you take supposedly birdseed and you put it around the outside of the door of a person who is doing bad things to you, that it will make them leave you alone," she told investigators.
Torres, who's been a NMB cop since 1987, said the ritual was "religious" or "superstitious" in nature and that she didn't see any harm in giving it a try.
"In a joking tone, (Rodriguez and I) discussed ... 'I wonder what would happen if birdseed were put outside the city manager's door, if he would, you know, leave the police department alone?'" Torres told investigators.
Villanueva, though, balked at the idea and told her boss, Paulette Murphy about the proposal. Murphy went to her superiors, who initiated an internal investigation. After interviewing Torres and Rodriguez, the city fired both.
Torres was fired for violation of department rules, while Rodriguez, who'd worked in the office since 1996, was found guilty of similar violations in addition to "conduct unbecoming" and making false statements.
The pair can appeal their termination, and the case is sure to raise plenty of questions about freedom of religion.
Local activists like Ernesto Pichardo have won numerous court battles to afford Santeria adherents the same First Amendment protections as other believers.
It's worth asking hypothetically: Would the city have canned two employees if they were caught praying together in the hallway outside the city manager's office?
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