The case of a 19-year-old allegedly assaulted by a Miami Police officer in some ways mirrors that of Christine Blasey Ford, the research psychologist who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of attempted sexual assault.
Though the Miami teen informed loved ones of the attack and immediately reported it to the police, who found her credible, the officer who allegedly assaulted her was never prosecuted. Ford was a 15-year-old in 1982 when her attempted assault took place and did not report what transpired to the police, but she has since taken a polygraph test administered by a former FBI agent, who concluded she was telling the truth. Though there are substantial differences between the cases, the similarities highlight the difficulty in holding powerful men accountable for sexual transgressions.
The 19-year-old was walking home alone late one night in January 2016 after buying groceries at a nearby gas station when she noticed someone following her. A man in a car watched as she crossed NW Seventh Avenue at the northern edge of Little Haiti; then he made a U-turn and pulled up next to her.
It was Miami Police Officer Alexi Figueroa, and as he pulled up next to the teen, he asked for her name. Then he requested her phone number. She said she didn't have a phone, so Figueroa let her continue walking.
But Figueroa anticipated her path and drove west on NW Eighth Avenue to NW 80th Street before parking his car outside Uptown Bistro. When she walked by again, he told her to get into his car. She obeyed, believing there must be a genuine reason a police officer was stopping her. But instead, Figueroa asked her how old she was and whether she wanted to be friends with benefits. She said she was 19 and didn't know what that meant. That's when the 27-year-old Figueroa kissed her on the lips without her consent and stuck his hand inside her shirt and bra, groping her bare right breast with his left hand.
What happened next shows how difficult it is to hold powerful men accountable even when the victim does everything right. The teen immediately told two people — her mother and a friend — and described what happened in writing. Hours after the alleged assault took place, the teen's mother called police to report it. When the teen was asked to meet police in person the next day, she gave a DNA sample and a sworn statement. Prosecutors and detectives alike said they found her credible and forthright. Video footage obtained days after the incident corroborated her claims, but still, prosecutors did not bring any criminal charges in the case until nearly a year and three months later.
After Figueroa allegedly groped her, the teen pulled away and told him she had to go. She ran from the car as she heard the officer speed off. When the teen arrived home just after 1 a.m., her mother was already asleep. She used Facebook Messenger to tell a friend that a City of Miami Police officer had just asked her to be friends with benefits. Later that morning, on January 26, the girl's mother called 911 to report what had happened to her daughter.
Internal affairs investigators asked the teen for a DNA sample and showed her a photo array. When she saw pictures of the officer, she burst into tears. She told investigators that it was him and that the man had said his name was Alex.
When internal affairs showed Figueroa a picture of the teen, he said he didn't recognize her. Pressed further about the night in question and the footage obtained by investigators, he acknowledged an encounter but claimed he stopped the teen because she seemed to be in distress. He said she asked to sit in his car and climbed in of her own accord. He denied asking for her phone number, kissing and groping her, and inquiring whether she wanted to be friends with benefits.
Video footage from red-light cameras and nearby businesses contradicted Figueroa's story.
Internal affairs eventually substantiated the allegations of misconduct and improper procedure against Figueroa on May 24, 2018 — more than two years later.
While the IA investigation was underway, the Miami-Dade Police Department's Sexual Battery Bureau began its own probe headed by Det. Kurt Lueck. On April 26, 2017, more than a year after Figueroa was accused of groping the teen, MDPD arrested him on charges of battery and false imprisonment. He had already been relieved of duty February 6, 2016, pending the results of the criminal and administrative investigations, internal affairs documents obtained by New Times show.
But by July 21, three months after his arrest, the State Attorney's Office dropped the charges. The arrest form and court records related to the case have been destroyed. When New Times went to the courthouse to obtain the records, a clerk said they had been purged.
In a closeout memo from the State Attorney's Office obtained by New Times, Assistant State Attorney Laura Adams wrote, "It should be noted that I have no reason to believe that the victim became uncooperative due to the allegations in this case being false.
"To the contrary, there is a great deal of evidence which provides corroboration for the victim’s allegations, which is why I authorized an arrest warrant in this case. However, it appears that during the time this case was pending, the victim became fearful of some sort of retaliation by law enforcement and moved out of her mother’s home."
Internal affairs documents note that the teen, who had moved to a different county, told Adams "she was too afraid to return to Miami-Dade." Her fear stemmed from the fact that Figueroa "called her when she had not provided him with her contact number."
Ford, who has received death threats since coming forward publicly, has also moved out of her home for fear of retaliation from Kavanaugh supporters.
Just as Ford's many supporters describe her as honest and detail-oriented, Adams' closeout memo calls the Miami teen "very candid and forthright." Adams also pointed out the Special Victims detective assigned to the case himself "expressed concern that so much time had gone by."
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"I told her that I was very sorry the case had taken so long to get filed, but that I would be handling her case to its completion, and would try to make sure that the defendant was held responsible for his actions," Adams wrote.
The State Attorney's Office eventually decided that "without the victim's cooperation, the State should nolle pros the case," meaning the charges were dropped by the prosecution because in the year and a half that had passed since the teen immediately reported her assault, she had become afraid to return to Miami-Dade County to testify against a police officer.
At a time when the president of the United States can admit to sexually assaulting women in a recording and still get elected — and when a woman receives death threats for coming forward about an attempted sexual assault by a Supreme Court nominee — a 19-year-old being too afraid to go public about a police officer groping her is sad but not surprising.
If the sexual assault "was as bad as she says," President Trump said of Ford this morning, "charges would have been filed."