A month after a gunman murdered 11 worshipers in a November 2018 mass shooting inside a Pittsburgh synagogue, Miami Police officer Roberto Destephan made international headlines when a 12-second, self-recorded video surfaced and the world was treated to the sight of him tossing sacred Jewish texts and a case inscribed with the Star of David into the back of an empty pickup truck.
"This crap — fuck this," Destephan says as he hurls the texts into the truck. "Taking out the trash, dawg."
In January of 2019, over objections from the police union, the Miami Police Department fired Destephan, citing a "moral character" violation. The Anti-Defamation League released a statement saying, "We want to believe that law enforcement will always be there to protect us, regardless of who we are and how we pray. However, this incident erodes that belief and cripples the trust the community places in police."
Fast-forward to September 2021: New Times received a tip that Destephan was working for another local police department.
On Wednesday, September 22, Biscayne Park village clerk Roseann Prado confirmed the former Miami police sergeant was working as a "reserve officer" — though an unpaid and volunteer "part-time" position, according to state law, is "vested with the authority to bear arms and make arrests."
A mere 21 hours later, however, Prado told a different story, informing New Times that Destephan was "no longer" with the municipality. Prado did not respond to repeated requests for clarification, including the nature of his position with the department, how long he'd been employed, and the reason for his abrupt exit.
Neither Destephan nor Biscayne Park police chief Luis Cabrera returned requests to comment via phone and email. In response to an email, Biscayne Park Mayor Virginia O'Halpin declined to comment.
Destephan's reappearance in Biscayne Park after his firing in Miami is no aberration when it comes to police-force career trajectories in general.
According to a 2020 article in the Yale Law Journal, which examined 98,000 full-time law enforcement officers in 500 police agencies across Florida over three decades, determined that during any given year, more than 1,000 full-time police officers working in Florida were previously fired from other police agencies in the state. The article also found that fired officers are typically rehired at smaller agencies with "slightly larger" communities of color than others across the state, and more likely to receive a complaint or be fired for a "moral character violation."
The village of Biscayne Park is home to about 3,000 people, the majority of whom are white or Hispanic. As of 2019, the police department employed seven full-time officers with an additional 24 reserve officers on staff, according to an annual report.
A reserve officer position posted in 2016 on the municipality's website notes that the job involves "performing various public service duties," including providing police escort or traffic control, participating in criminal investigations, and preparing police reports.
One of the hiring requirements, according to the description, is that the candidate be "of good moral character."
A police department employment application on Biscayne Park's website includes a section on employment history that states that candidates must disclose all full-time and part-time employment, and to account for periods of unemployment exceeding three months.
The Biscayne Park police force has made headlines in the past. In 2018, former police chief Raimundo Atesiano was sentenced to three years in prison after being caught ordering his officers to frame innocent Black men and teens for crimes they did not commit. The village later held discussions about implementing policy and procedural changes to restore "tarnished" image.
Destephan's video calling the religious texts "garbage" sparked outrage across South Florida, which is home to about 500,000 Jewish people, and made headlines as far away as the Jerusalem Post.
It was never made clear whether Destephan was on duty at the time of the recording, nor where the video was shot. A former union vice president at the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), Destephan claimed that the video had been altered to use as blackmail to prevent him from running for another FOP position. The union stood by him, claiming that the "heavily edited" video was recorded years earlier when the union office was being cleared of items infested with mold and termites.
Then-Miami Police chief Jorge Colina told the Miami Herald that the department investigated those possible explanations and found no evidence to support them.
After Destephan appealed his firing in January 2019, an independent arbitrator upheld the decision, stating that Destephan "cannot be rehabilitated."
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