Surfside police officers who say they were told to downplay criminal activity in the seaside town appear to be backed up by at least two incidents. The allegations, which were made anonymously by the patrolmen, were outlined in last week's New Times in a story entitled "Wipeout!" Among them were claims that on the orders of superiors, reports were falsified and evidence was destroyed.
Two people named in separate police reports cited by the officers were contacted to comment for this story. Both flatly contradicted central information contained in those reports.
In one case, dated January 14 of this year, Ofcr. Alexander Ochoa had stopped a woman driving erratically in a rented 1995 Dodge. Learning that the woman's license had been suspended and that she was wanted on three 1989 bench warrants for petit theft, Ochoa arrested her. According to the police report filed on the incident, he also called for backup because the "defendant attempt[ed] to flee." The report goes on to state that the woman reached into her pocket, whereupon Ochoa grabbed her hand and "asked her what was she hidding [sic] from me."
Nothing more is mentioned in the report about what the woman might have been concealing.
But according to anonymous accounts by three officers who say Ochoa related the incident to them, the woman had been attempting to throw away a marijuana cigarette, which she said was her boyfriend's, and which Ochoa retrieved and brought along to the police station. Once there, the officers say, Ochoa's supervisor threw the marijuana into the wastebasket and told the patrolman to delete from the computer a charge he'd already entered for marijuana possession.
In a telephone interview, the defendant confirms the account. "They threw [the marijuana] out. I didn't know why but I didn't ask," she acknowledges. "Probably because I hadn't been smoking anything." (The woman requested that her name not be printed because the three petit theft charges against her are still unresolved.)
A second incident report dated February 24 describes the theft of a $299 Motorola Micro-Tac Light cellular phone from a black BMW that was parked on Abbott Avenue. One patrolman contends he was told by the reporting officer, T.M. Carey, that the phone's value was placed by the victim at more than $900 but Carey was instructed to value the theft at under $300, thus classifying the crime a petit theft instead of burglary and grand theft.
Calling from another cellular phone, the stolen phone's former owner David Ellner asserts, "You couldn't buy that phone for $299." He paid $999 for it, which was the figure he supplied to the reporting police officer, Ellner adds.
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The Dade State Attorney's Office has subpoenaed eight Surfside patrolmen in connection with the allegations, according to police chief Terrill Williamson, who blames the uproar principally on a group of disgruntled officers and denies any knowledge of wrongdoing by department supervisors. "My understanding is [the subpoenaed officers] were involved in doing the complaining," Williamson says.
Meanwhile, the Police Benevolent Association is continuing its own inquiry into the matter. Chief Williamson, acknowledging that "my city's upset about this," says that shortly he will commence his own investigation at the request of the Surfside Town Commission.
Adds Paul Novack, mayor of the small municipality just south of Bal Harbour: "I certainly want the town administration to thoroughly review and disclose anything that's there and find whether there's any merit to the claims being thrown about. We wouldn't tolerate any kind of false information or improper activity.