Prosecutors Discussed Perjury Case Against MDPD Cops but Declined to File Charges

Earlier this year, investigators from the Miami-Dade Police Department and state prosecutors discussed whether to charge or discipline a group of MDPD officers for perjury, but they ultimately declined to do so. That's according to documents New Times obtained today from the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office in the case of Ephraim Casado, who was beaten on camera after being pulled over for allegedly littering and driving recklessly.

On March 27, 2017, MDPD officers wrote in a sworn arrest affidavit that Casado exited his vehicle "concealing his hands," which forced the officers to grab him and pin him to the back of his car before punching him in the head, tackling him to the ground, and wrenching his arms behind his back.

But body-camera footage New Times obtained shows Casado actually exited the car with his hands raised above his head. Prosecutors later dropped their case against him; Assistant State Attorney Natalie Pueschel wrote that the cops had been "less than truthful" on the arrest report.

Neither State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's office nor MDPD's internal affairs unit disciplined any of the officers involved. And, in fact, the new case files show that MDPD and other prosecutors pushed back on Pueschel's conclusion, asking her to "review" her own report for inaccuracies. In part because of MDPD's complaints — and some actual factual inaccuracies in the original close-out memo — prosecutors declined to pursue perjury cases against any of the officers involved in Casado's arrest.

After Pueschel wrote her August 9 memo stating she was "troubled by what [she] saw" in the body-cam footage (and in a December 2017 memo called out "inconsistencies" between camera footage and officer statements), MDPD initiated its own case. The MDPD report noted Pueschel's memo did misidentify at least one officer in her report and potentially misstated that Det. William Baskins' body camera had been placed on the hood of a car instead of on the ground. MDPD messaged Rundle's office with its concerns about those inaccuracies.

But MDPD's report did not mention the central fact that Casado was filmed exiting his car with his hands in the air — directly contradicting officers' reports about why they aggressively arrested him.

The exchange between MDPD and the State Attorney's Office illustrates a common complaint from civil rights lawyers and activists about Rundle's office: Namely, its cozy relationship with local departments affects public corruption cases. (This is a common complaint about prosecutors' offices across the nation.)

"I reviewed what you provided and saw the inaccuracies in the close-out memo," Assistant State Attorney Johnette Hardiman wrote to MDPD Sgt. Jay Gore January 10. "I met with the ASA to discuss her flaws and asked her to review the file again. She got back with me, but did not seem to get where I was trying to go. She did not intend to initiate any type of complaint with your department and did not realize her memo would have such consequences."

Hardiman then added, "As far as opening a file in my unit for perjury by the officers, I do not see a sufficient basis to do so."

Gore wrote back that he was pleased.

"That's perfect," he said. "Thanks for all your help with this."

Officers wrote on Casado's arrest form that they saw him throwing Gatorade bottles from his car window while the cops rode nearby in an unmarked Nissan Altima. Police said that Casado swerved into an oncoming lane and nearly hit the unmarked squad car, and that when they tried to pull him over, he continued driving and parked outside his home.

The arrest report then says that as Baskins approached Casado's car, "the defendant opened the door and concealed his hands, which caused Detective Baskins to order him out of the car at gunpoint. After Detective Baskins determined that the defendant did not have a weapon in his hands, Detective Baskins holstered his weapon and physically removed the defendant from the vehicle."

A supervisor's account of the events lists the altercation slightly differently. Baskins' supervisor wrote that Casado opened the door "while concealing his hands":

Prosecutors Discussed Perjury Case Against MDPD Cops but Declined to File Charges
Miami-Dade County Police

However, video of the encounter shows that Casado actually exited the car with his hands raised above his head — and that Baskins immediately grabbed Casado's wrist and wrenched him against the car while Casado asked what was happening.

Baskins is not heard ordering Casado to move; the detective is shown tossing the man's body against the trunk of Casado's car:

Prosecutors Discussed Perjury Case Against MDPD Cops but Declined to File ChargesEXPAND
Miami-Dade County Police

After Pueschel noted those inconsistencies between the video and arrest reports in her memo, MDPD's internal affairs unit fought back hard. Though Pueschel wrote that Baskins had clearly taken his body camera off and "placed it on the hood of a car," MDPD noted that the video actually shows Baskins grabbing his body camera from the ground. MDPD said the camera likely "fell off" during Baskins' scuffle with Casado, but the video appears to be inconclusive on that point.

MDPD investigators also justified another questionable moment caught on tape, when an unnamed cop turned to a colleague and stated, "Don't say anything — the cameras are rolling." IA found there are "several instances where that would be proper." Investigators said that in some cases, police directives instruct officers not to "record case discussions with other officers."

Based on this, MDPD wrote, "No violations of Miami-Dade Police Department policies and procedures were identified."

That will be the only county review of the case because Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez this year vetoed the creation of an independent civilian oversight panel that would have investigated complaints against MDPD officers. MDPD Director Juan Perez argued in February that there is "no widespread mistrust of his police department" and, therefore, the panel was "not needed."

Rundle has been criticized in the past for not charging police with perjury, including one case involving the Miami Police Department's former union chief, Javier Ortiz, and another case in which MDPD officers fatally shot four robbery suspects in a sting gone wrong in the Redland. In that case, Rundle noted inconsistent police testimony: “There’s a lot in there that just leaves big holes and big questions.”

Asked why she didn’t charge those police officers, Rundle said, “There was not a crime that we could prove.”

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