Only about 3,000 people live in Biscayne Park. Yet despite the village's small size, for years city documents bragged about how its cops were making hundreds of arrests and thousands of traffic stops every year. In 2011, Raimundo Atesiano was named 2011 "Officer of the Year" after making 2,236 traffic stops and 305 arrests — the equivalent of one arrest for every ten village residents, though it's likely the vast majority of those booked lived elsewhere.
Now Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos J. Martinez's office is looking into thousands of arrests made in the tiny town after Atesiano — who later became Biscayne Park's police chief — and three of his subordinates pleaded guilty in federal court to framing black suspects for burglaries they did not commit. Martinez says he's looking into vacating hundreds of cases tied to that ring of dirty cops.
The officers' unethical conduct appears to have extended far past the handful of cases referenced in federal court filings, Martinez says.
"What we have found thus far is that the wrongful convictions predate 2013," Martinez tells New Times. The Miami Herald reported in July that Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's office would also likely reopen cases tied to Atesiano as part of its Justice Project, an initiative that aims to reverse wrongful convictions. This is the first time Martinez has spoken publicly about the fallout from Atesiano's actions.
Martinez says his office is reviewing a massive trove of Biscayne Park arrests from 2010 through 2014. He says it's too early to estimate the number of cases the officers' conduct might have tainted. But he says his office plans to ask the state to expunge the records of any person arrested by Biscayne Park Police during Atesiano's tenure who has since been acquitted or had the charges dropped. There are likely hundreds or even thousands of those kinds of cases alone.
Martinez says that his office is also looking at virtually every arrest Biscayne Park Police made in that four-year span but that his team of lawyers is zeroing in on bookings by Atesiano and the three other cops who pleaded guilty in federal court: Charlie Dayoub, Raul Fernandez, and Guillermo Ravelo.
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In June, the FBI unsealed an astounding series of indictments against Atesiano and his cops. The feds said that, as chief, Atesiano directed his officers to frame a 16-year-old black kid, known only as T.D. in court records, for four burglaries in 2013 that he did not commit. The feds said Atesiano targeted the teen to pretend the department had solved 100 percent of the burglaries in Biscayne Park. Law-enforcement experts say it's basically impossible to achieve a stat like that.
The feds also hit three of his cops for framing black people in other cases. All four defendants pleaded guilty earlier this summer and are awaiting sentencing.
In the meantime, multiple victims have sued the Village of Biscayne Park, including both T.D. and a man who was framed, wrongfully convicted, and then handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which deported him to Haiti. The Miami Herald also unearthed interviews from a 2014 internal police review in which one of Atesiano's subordinates said the chief told his officers that "if you see anybody black walking through our streets and they have somewhat of a record, arrest them so we can pin them for all the burglaries."
Martinez says that his office is taking a wider look than the feds and that he's already troubled by what he has seen. He worries that the culture of corruption in Atesiano's tiny, 11-member department might have been endemic for years beyond the federal indictments.
"We'll be seeking to vacate any wrongful convictions," Martinez says. "We want to see if we can expunge records of those who were not convicted of anything but ended up with an arrest record anyhow."