Jump-Out Boys

Daniel Fernandez and Joe Losada would normally show up at the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building on NW Twelfth Street to testify against the criminals they routinely put behind bars.

But on the morning of February 14, the Miami-Dade County Police detectives found themselves on the flipside of criminal court. They were now defendants confronted with an undercover investigator's incredible testimony.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office accuses 58-year-old Fernandez and 33-year-old Losada of planting evidence, falsifying an arrest affidavit, stealing money, and physically threatening a drug dealer, who, unbeknownst to the pair, was cooperating with internal affairs this past January 12.

At the time, Fernandez and Losada were assigned to the Northside crime suppression team (CST), an eight-member squad sweeping the streets of Liberty City and other crime-infested neighborhoods for dope holes, drug dealers, and street hustlers. In the hood, the team was known as "jump-out boys" because they employed the elements of surveillance and surprise to capture their criminal prey.

State prosecutors have charged both Fernandez and Losada on felony counts of armed kidnapping, armed burglary, aggravated assault with a firearm, grand theft, and official misconduct. They were also hit with individual criminal mischief misdemeanors. Fernandez and Losada have denied any wrongdoing. "These guys are decorated police officers, not Latin Kings," hisses Fernandez's defense lawyer, Douglas Hartman.

The pair's arrest has battered the criminal justice system, including the prosecution of the man who nearly took Fernandez's life. On February 22, a jury acquitted 48-year-old Rory Durden of shooting Fernandez in the back November 27, 2002. Durden was allegedly protecting a dope hole when he capped Fernandez.

The veteran officer survived, the bullet just missing his spine. The injury won Fernandez Officer of the Year honors and a Purple Heart. But prosecutors were forced to keep the detective off the witness stand as a result of his own indictment. And Durden is not the only character getting a free ride thanks to Fernandez and Losada.

The State Attorney's Office has dropped more than two dozen cases in which Fernandez or Losada was the arresting officer. The U.S. Attorney's Office dismissed an indictment against two alleged drug dealers who were each facing more than 40 years in prison. The Miami-Dade County Public Defender's Office is reviewing closed cases that relied on the testimony of the two decorated cops.

The Miami-Dade Police Department is conducting its own internal review of Fernandez's and Losada's busts during the two years they were on the CST.

The two detectives have been relieved of duty without pay, while the other squad members have been reassigned to desk jobs and uniform patrol pending the outcome of the state attorney's ongoing investigation. State prosecutors and internal affairs detectives are trying to verify unsubstantiated allegations that Fernandez and Losada stole money and planted evidence on other occasions prior to their arrests.

This past Valentine's Day, the duo's bond hearing was a standing-room-only event. Judge Ronald Dresnick's courtroom was packed with family members, friends, and fellow cops there to support the disgraced officers. Television crews from CBS 4 and NBC 6 recorded the proceeding for the evening newscast.

Dominican-born Fernandez was dressed in a gray tweed jacket, navy blue polo, and khaki slacks. Losada, a Hialeah native, sported a navy blue two-piece suit. Fernandez entered the chamber with his wife and three children. Losada was accompanied by his mother and girlfriend. They took their place behind the defendants' table, flanked by their lawyers.

Assistant State Attorney William Altfield called on internal affairs lead Det. Roberto Trujillo, who testified that the police department's professional compliance bureau opened an investigation into the CST after receiving a complaint from 34-year-old Pedro Soler and 41-year-old Rafael Rodriguez that the team had falsely arrested them and stolen their money this past September. Soler, an admitted drug dealer; and Rodriguez, a landlord who owns a known crack house, had agreed to help Trujillo nab the CST.

Internal affairs set up a fake dope hole at one of the rental properties owned by Rodriguez and placed Soler at the scene. Trujillo planted $970 in marked bills inside the house. Hidden cameras set up by internal affairs capture Fernandez confiscating the marked money after the team arrested Soler on the afternoon of January 12. When they arrived back at their station, the two officers turned in only $570. Losada was apprehended with $160 of the marked money in his pocket. Another $200 was found in the visor of the county-issued unmarked truck driven by Losada's sometime partner Ivan Villalobos.

Fernandez and Losada also planted five rocks on Soler and made false statements on his arrest affidavit, Trujillo said.

Altfield implored Dresnick to revoke the detectives' bond. The prosecutor cautioned the judge that Fernandez and Losada were flight risks and that they could try to intimidate state witnesses if allowed to remain free. "Our people fear retaliation," Altfield said, adding that Fernandez and Losada exhibited a "gang mentality."

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.