The strip search played out in broad daylight on a sidewalk near Mana Wynwood: As Wendy Matute screamed for help on the ground, two male Miami Police officers held her arms down while a female officer held her legs apart. Another female officer, Annette Delgado, unzipped Matute's shorts, pulled them partway down, and reached inside to grab three baggies of suspected drugs.
The invasive search by three street cops violated both Florida law and Miami Police Department rules, which require a supervising officer to sign off and forbid male officers from being involved. Yet the agency's internal affairs unit cleared Delgado and the other officers, ruling Delgado "felt she needed to retrieve the narcotics before transporting Ms. Matute because, if not, Ms. Matute would tamper and destroy the narcotics."
But the independent Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP) says that reasoning is nonsense because Matute was handcuffed and in no position to destroy the drugs in her pants. "Ms. Matute could have been transported to either the police station or [the county jail] by two officers in order for her actions to be monitored," CIP staff wrote in a report.
MPD didn't respond to a request for comment, but department spokesperson Officer Kenia Fallat has previously told New Times the agency won't comment on CIP investigations. Despite having the authority to investigate complaints of police misconduct, the CIP's findings are simply recommendations.
The search of Matute happened around 5 p.m. February 28, 2017. An undercover officer radioed he had seen the then-38-year-old emerge from the "Rainbow projects" — a public housing development the officers said was known for narcotics dealing — with what he believed to be a bag of crack cocaine. Delgado spotted her walking near the intersection of NW 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue and stopped her.
Matute was patted down and handcuffed. Delgado, according to her statement to internal affairs, noticed a baggie taped below Matute's belly button. The officer tried to reach it, but Matute bent forward and said Delgado could not touch her there.
Footage from Officer Alberto Calderon's body camera shows that Delgado and the other responding cops spent close to an hour trying other ways to retrieve the drugs. Delgado suggested the male officers could leave and then said they could all go into the patrol car so Matute could remove the baggie herself.
Finally, a male officer told Matute she had two options: The male officers could leave while Delgado stayed with her as Matute removed the bag, or they would place her in the patrol car and take it. Matute asked to go to the police station. One of the male officers suggested they should do whatever necessary to retrieve the evidence because they could not stand around there all night.
Then a female officer arrived. Together, the cops held a struggling Matute down, and Delgado pulled several small baggies from her shorts and panty liner. She was then arrested for possession of a controlled substance, resisting an officer without violence, and cocaine possession.
In testimony for the criminal case, Delgado said she had to collect the evidence.
"We attempted in every way to retrieve it from her," the officer said. "She would tense up. At one point, she tried sticking her hand in there and, like, just kept her hand there. I don't know what her intentions were, but we were unable to retrieve it from her. It took several officers to finally subdue her and retrieve it from her crotch area."
Matute filed a complaint against the officers from jail, saying Delgado abused her police authority by searching the suspect's intimate area numerous times. Matute also claimed that the drugs were planted on her and that she was placed in a chokehold, which the body-camera footage refutes.
CIP staff recommended the panel sustain allegations of misconduct against Delgado for violating department policy and Florida law. The panel's complaints committee is set to vote on the recommendation during its meeting this Friday.