Lissette Batista was two months pregnant when three women beat her up inside Club Therapy on NE 11th Street in downtown Miami this past January 4. Her boyfriend, Aldo Pedroza tried to intervene, and the women clobbered him too. Bouncers then jumped into the situation, leaving the attackers alone, kicking Pedroza and then throwing the pair onto the street. Pedroza, bleeding from the mouth, called the cops.
Then things got even worse. Four officers led by Miami Sergeant Joseph Guell showed up. But instead of checking out the injuries or tracking down the women or bouncers “none of the officers listened,” Pedroza, a 27-year-old from Davie, later told investigators. “They all refused to write a police report.”
So Pedroza headed to the station, where another cop took down his story and noted that both he and Batista did have “visible injuries on the face and body."
The situation might have ended there. But it didn't. The Civilian Investigative Panel, a police watchdog group, took up the matter and now, almost a year later, has found a problem that might worry any Miamian who heads out to a bar for a drink.
It turns out that Guell was working off duty for the Miami Entertainment District Association (MEDA), an organization funded by bars to – among other things – keep people safe. That's potentially a bad situation because officers paid by bars are more likely to take the side of those who sign their checks than the public. That's why Miami city police officers have long been banned from being paid for off-duty work directly by bars. Yet they're still allowed to work for the Entertainment District.
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“The Miami Police Department prohibits officers from working bars,” CIP notes. “Guell was employed by a non-profit organization which is supported by bars … This policy needs to be clarified.”
But cops say the citizen panel is making much ado about nothing. Lt. Javier Ortiz, head of the police union, contends there's no conflict in working for the bars or the nonprofit and notes that Internal Affairs cleared Guell of any wrongdoing. “As a police officer, it doesn't matter who is compensating us,” Ortiz says. “Whether we arrest you or not, we still get paid. So where's the conflict?”
Though Guell later claimed that Pedroza was belligerent, drunk and refused a report, the citizens panel found him negligent for not reporting the situation.