It was 4 a.m. when two cops galloped up the stairs of the quiet Kendall home, turned left, and burst into the boys' room. One was a monster, a tall blond officer in cargo jeans, a T-shirt, and boots. His partner was a smaller African-American.
Bosco Enriquez, a gawky 15-year-old, was dead asleep. So was his 13-year-old brother, Oscar. The boys immediately heard their mom, Maria, sobbing. They sat up.
"Do you know why we're here?" the monster barked.
"No idea," Bosco replied. "I have no idea who you are."
"We're from Hialeah and we are charging you with aggravated battery. We have video."
Before the boys could dab the sleep from their eyes, Bosco's hands were cuffed behind his back and he was led outside to a patrol car.
That was 16 years ago. Charges were filed and then quickly dropped. The grainy video, which showed an anonymous beatdown at a 7-Eleven, was mysteriously damaged and cops acknowledged the 15-year-old hadn't been in Hialeah that night. But Bosco was a member of one of the nation's most infamous gangs, the International Posse, in an era when local cops were fighting a pitched battle for the soul of America's Hispanic youth.
"I decided to start working with police then," Bosco says now, over the phone from Nicaragua. "I decided to change my life. But they betrayed me. They all betrayed me."
It's hard today to recall America's era of Latin-gang mayhem. A Florida grand jury report in the '90s showed that 5,000 young people, mostly under the age of 30, were members of about 60 gangs in Dade County. They were deeply involved in murder, burglary, drugs, drive-by shootings, and drug sales. "Large metropolitan or populated areas are threatened by recruitment of gang members and gang-related crime," concluded the report, which was submitted by Fred Pfeiffer, then senior judge of the state's Ninth Circuit.
Bosco Enriquez is among the most horrendous victims of the hysteria of that time. In the months after the 1996 raid on his family's Kendall home, he wore a wire and helped bring down some of the International Posse's most despicable leaders on drug charges. In exchange, there were no rewards or thank-yous. Rather, his ponytailed police handler — a maverick gang-detail veteran named Gadyaces Serralta — would release Bosco's name in court documents. The boy would be beaten almost to death with a baseball bat during a gang fight and his house shot up by angry gang members. Later, after kicking a drug habit he claims resulted from police carelessness, he was raped in federal custody and then exiled from his home in the United States to Nicaragua, a country he had barely known as an infant.
I have spent the past two months combing through mountains of dusty court files that document Enriquez's case, as well as the personnel file of Serralta, the officer who recruited the boy. The result is an outrage. Local educators and police, as well as federal immigration authorities, failed this kid. Cops both in Miami and across the nation need more oversight when they use children to snitch. The current system stinks.
"My brother is the smartest guy I have always known, and he always protected me from everything," little brother Oscar says. "He just didn't deserve this."
Bosco Enriquez's story begins in Grenada, Nicaragua, an elegant, half-millennium-old city on Lake Nicaragua, during the early years of the Sandinista revolution. Bosco's dad, Oscar Sr., was a biologist who like many in the Central American country's educated classes, came into conflict with Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista hoodlum buddies.
So when Bosco was 4 years old and his brother a baby, the family escaped to Miami, first settling in Little Havana, then a mile north in Little Managua, and finally in the suburban tangle of West Kendall. Both parents found jobs, and the boys were well-behaved. Bosco worked hard at Bent Tree Elementary and scored straight A's.
"I was always a good student through sixth grade," Bosco recalls. "Honors programs, gifted programs, all that stuff. I had learned English myself at an early age. Everything came easy to me."
But when he entered Howard D. McMillan Middle, trouble began. Oscar Sr. became a phlebotomist working the night shift at Kendall Regional Medical Center. He left home at 6 p.m. and often didn't return until 8 a.m. the next day. Bosco's mom, Maria, cleaned houses in the morning and toiled as a department store cashier in the afternoon. The boys' 80-year-old grandmother, Josefa, tried to keep up.
The first sign of trouble came when Bosco was 12. He grabbed the keys to his grandma's Ford and attempted to drive to his girlfriend's house. But the kid could barely see over the dashboard and crashed into a Mobil gas station on Kendall Drive. The Ford was totaled, and Bosco was left trapped and bloody. Police pulled him out of the wreck, "but they didn't even ask for a license," Bosco recalls. "I got grounded."