The City of Miami currently operates a Civilian Investigative Panel, a group of everyday citizens who investigate complaints against Miami Police Department officers. The panel provides basic levels of accountability for the department, which has been regularly accused of committing civil-rights violations for decades. Naturally, the city's police union has fought for years to kill the panel entirely.
But Miami-Dade County Police, MPD's larger neighboring organization, has no similar investigative body. The county had one from 1980 to 2009, the Independent Review Panel investigated complaints against MDPD cops, but the agency was shuttered during a Great Recession budget crunch. The county voted to recreate the panel last year, but, amazingly, Mayor Carlos Gimenez vetoed that decision after MDPD Director Juan Perez argued the panel is "not needed;" he claimed the public already trusts MDPD officers.
The last year has shown that Perez's statement was pretty dang dubious — after MDPD cops were filmed this week engaging in yet another absurd and offensive arrest of an innocent black woman, here's a list of recent cases that show that Miami-Dade County needs to bring the review panel.
Ephraim Casado allegedly did nothing but throw a bottle from his car on March 27, 2017. According to documents and footage New Times obtained, Miami-Dade County cops responded by repeatedly punching him in the face, grinding his body into the asphalt, and painfully hoisting him into the air by his arms before arresting him on charges of "resisting an officer with violence," criminal mischief, and misdemeanor cannabis possession.
After reviewing body-camera footage from the ordeal, prosecutors dropped the case and wrote that the video evidence directly contradicted what the cops claimed had happened. MDPD detectives punched the suspect on video and later lied on their arrest affidavits, prosecutors discovered last August. But State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's office never charged the officers.
"I reviewed the body-worn camera footage and was troubled by what I saw," Assistant State Attorney Natalie Pueschel wrote in an August 9 close-out memorandum clearing Casado of any wrongdoing. "It is my belief that these officers were less-than-truthful about the actual events that occurred during this incident."
Despite the clear violations detailed in the memo, MDPD spokesperson Det. Alvaro Zabaleta confirmed that the two officers involved are still active and that the department's internal affairs investigation "revealed no criminal or administrative wrongdoing; therefore, there is no disciplinary action forthcoming." Internal Affairs ruled that Pueschel's account of the events was inaccurate.
The memo from Rundle's office details what seems to be a laundry list of policy violations, if not downright violations of the law. Officers claimed that Casado refused to pull over and that when he finally stopped in front of his house, he exited the car "concealing his hands" before "committing a battery upon the detective" outside his home on NW 91st Street in West Little River.
But when prosecutors obtained the body-camera footage, the clip clearly contradicted the cops' sworn arrest affidavits. Prosecutors wrote that the footage actually shows Casado exiting his car calmly with his hands in the air and that the cops forced him out of his car at gunpoint before punching him.
This past October, New Times obtained a video clip of Miami-Dade Police Sgt. Manuel Regueiro throwing an utterly unnecessary whack to the face of a handcuffed, 18-year-old suspect named Bryan Crespo. It wasn't the first time Regueiro was accused of using excessive force.
Today, Miami-Dade County prosecutors announced they'll charge more than one cop in the incident. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. today to explain the charges.
Prosecutors are charging Regueiro with misdemeanor battery. A second officer, Alexander Gonzalez, is accused of trying to tamper with or destroy the surveillance footage that captured the assault. Gonzalez is actually in more legal trouble than Regueiro: Rundle's office is charging Gonzalez with a third-degree felony. Gonzalez allegedly removed the batteries from Crespo's video cameras, thinking that this would somehow erase the footage. The plan failed.
The case is one of the biggest black eyes in the history of the Miami-Dade Police Department and State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's administration. In 2015, local cops, elected officials, and Rundle stood at a lectern and declared that then-15-year-old Deandre Charles had murdered Joseph Raksin, a prominent New York City rabbi. Rundle then revealed an utterly ridiculous witness-drawn sketch that looked more like a discarded Muppet than a human being.
But roughly a year later, prosecutors were forced to admit Charles didn't kill the rabbi. In an explosive lawsuit filed in federal court last Thursday, Charles' lawyers say they now have proof that both Rundle's office and the detective involved, Michael Brajdic, possessed evidence from the beginning that proved Charles' innocence. Yet they charged the teen anyway and plastered his face on TV next to the humiliating sketch that later went so viral it became part of a Kevin Hart comedy routine.
In short, the suit alleges the county could have (and should have) avoided ruining the life of an innocent 15-year-old by labeling him a murderer. According to the suit, Brajdic, the police detective, had ample evidence that a group of young men was involved in the killing. He was repeatedly told that Charles was home with his family when the homicide occurred.
In fact, Charles' family now says that, mere days after the killing, a confidential informant identified four men who were likely involved in the crime and tangentially knew Charles. Another civilian named two of the same men. Police interviewed one of those suspects in April 2015. The man, listed as "J.S." in the lawsuit, basically confessed. J.S. said he and three others who had been named by the tipsters were at the scene when Raksin was killed. Firearms evidence also linked one of those men to the slaying, the suit says.
But Brajdic and Rundle's office pushed the grand jury to indict Charles based on faulty DNA evidence and statements from the witness who drew the bad sketch.
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Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who in 25 years has never charged a police officer for killing someone while on duty, has quietly cleared another cop for killing an unarmed man.
In a previously unreported April 17 close-out memorandum, Rundle's office ruled that undercover Miami-Dade Police Officer Eduardo Pares was justified in fatally shooting 27-year-old Anthony Ford in Liberty City last year. The report confirms Ford was unarmed when he was killed but says Pares had reason to fear for his life in the encounter.
"The investigation determined that it is reasonable to believe that Mr. Ford's actions, flight from police, and refusal to show his hands and obey commands put fear in the mind of Sgt. Pares," Rundle wrote. "To prevent injury to himself and/or others in the immediate area, Sgt. Eduardo Pares was justified in using deadly force by firing his weapon. Therefore, no criminal charges will be filed."
Ford's shooting inspired a small "Justice for Anthony" protest in 2017. The prosecutors' close-out memo confirms what his family maintained after the shooting — that he was not carrying a weapon when he was killed. (Jose Arrojo, one of the assistant state attorneys who signed off on the report, previously worked in the 1990s as the in-house lawyer for the Dade County Police Benevolent Association, MDPD's union.)
Rundle's decision comes just as Liberty City is reeling from a fatal shooting that inspired a school walkout. In response, the City of Miami and Miami-Dade Police Departments have teamed up to push "Operation Blue and Brown," a joint effort they claim will help cut down on crime and gun violence in the area.
Dyma Loving and her friend Adrianna Green had just left home in South Miami-Dade when a neighbor began shouting insults at them. Loving, who is 26 years old, and Green, age 22, said they planned to run errands when Green's 50-year-old neighbor called the women "whores."
Loving and Green say they ignored the insult at first. But then, when the abuse continued, Green threw a plant into the yard of the neighbor, identified in police reports as Frank Tumm. That's when, Loving says, Tumm, who is white, pulled out a shotgun and said he would "shoot my burnt black-ass face off my neck."
Fearing for their lives, the women fled. They called 911 as soon as they reached a safe place.
At least five Miami-Dade Police officers responded to the call around 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 5, at SW 113th Place and SW 201st Street. The first responding officers spoke with Loving and Green and then spoke with the neighbor.
Then Officer Alejandro Giraldo pulled up. "He started interrogating us like we were the suspects," Loving says. "I asked if he could escort us back to my friend's house so I could put my phone on a charger and call my children. I had just had my life threatened and was terrified.
"He was so rude and aggressive from the get-go," Loving continues. "He kept telling me I needed to calm down, but I was so scared at that moment."
When the video begins, Giraldo can be heard telling the woman she needs to be Baker Acted. (Initial reports had the officer saying, "You need to be corrected," but Loving clarifies that he told her she needed to go to a mental hospital.) Then he lunged at her, wrenched her wrists toward him, and slapped handcuffs onto them before throwing her into a headlock and dragging her to the ground.
"He made me feel like nothing," Loving says. "I don't feel safe anymore. I cry every day. I have kids, and I wonder, Who will protect them if something would happen to them? I could never call the police again."