Miami-Dade County Police Director Juan Perez said last evening that if an August 2017 memo from the Miami-Dade State Attorney's office accusing his cops of lying was accurate, his officers would indeed have been guilty of perjury and "committed a crime."
But he doesn't believe the memo is accurate.
"If there are allegations that are serious in nature against our officers, we will take immediate action," Perez said in an impromptu news conference at 6 p.m. yesterday to address a story New Times published earlier in the day outlining how investigators at the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office had accused two of his cops of lying in 2017 about the leadup to a beating caught on tape. "In this case, we took immediate action."
Perez then spent the next half-hour or so stating repeatedly that he believed the prosecutors' memo was not accurate and that his cops had told the truth about what happened during the 2017 arrest.
New Times first published documents and body-camera footage Tuesday of the violent March 2017 arrest of Ephraim Casado, who was pulled over for littering and swerving into oncoming traffic. Officers said he initially refused to stop. In their arrest report, police said he was "concealing his hands" when he stepped out of his car, which forced them to violently push him against the vehicle, repeatedly punch him, and eventually bind his arms and legs.
Casado was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, resisting an officer with violence, and cannabis possession, but prosecutors dropped those charges in an August 9 memorandum that accused two MDPD detectives of being "less than truthful" in their sworn arrest reports.
Importantly, the body-camera video shows that — despite what police wrote — Casado actually exited the car with his hands raised above his head in a "surrender" position.
Lying is a serious allegation from a prosecutor, because fabricating facts on a sworn arrest affidavit is a felony. But to date, the two detectives — William Baskins and Oliver Mayorga — haven't been charged with crimes or disciplined internally by Miami-Dade Police's Professional Compliance Bureau (PCB). An internal affairs memo about the case accused State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's office of making multiple errors of fact in its close-out memo and found that the officers involved committed no wrongdoing.
Perez called a news conference at 6 p.m. yesterday to quell growing public dissent about the case. He said he stands by his internal affairs unit's findings.
"After reviewing everything, they actually noticed that there were inconsistencies or inaccuracies in the assistant state attorney's memo that was prepared at that time," Perez said yesterday from his lectern. "Once that was done, there was no wrongdoing noted on the part of our police officers."
In his news conference, Perez stuck to the IA's conclusions almost verbatim. Though he said he was not intentionally throwing Rundle's office under the bus, he repeatedly stressed that he believed his officers had been accused of a "serious allegation" that, in his mind, wound up being untrue.
Perez said he first heard about the State Attorney's Office memo in November when Casado's lawyer sent the police department a letter notifying MDPD that he was about to file a lawsuit. Perez said that, after reading the memo, he became incensed and personally ordered his PCB to investigate the case.
Though there were some inaccuracies in the memo, other questions — such as why the officers claimed Casado was hiding his hands when the video shows otherwise — were not addressed in Perez's statement.
When a New Times reporter asked Perez why the officers claimed in their report that Casado was hiding his hands, Perez said that he wasn't going to relitigate everything his officers wrote and that the issue would be decided in civil court. New Times also asked why the department cleared a different, unnamed officer who turned directly to the camera and told a colleague: "Don't say anything — the cameras are rolling."
Perez echoed the IA report and said that moment actually illustrated an officer following orders because body cameras are not supposed to record "case discussions" with other officers, though it's unclear from the body-cam footage whether that's actually what was happening at the time.
As for the rest of the beating, Perez said repeatedly that he did not believe the footage shows his officers using excessive force. Perez instead said he thought the ordeal escalated to violence because Casado resisted arrest.
"When there's a certain amount of resistance, officers are allowed to punch people,'' he said.
The case raises questions about how misconduct from police and public officials is handled in Miami-Dade County. Rundle has long been accused of being too cozy with police and politicians; her office has declined to file perjury charges in two similar cases, including one involving the former head of Miami's police union, Javier Ortiz, and another in which police killed four robbery suspects in the Redland. In both cases, her office noted that cops had made sworn statements "inconsistent" with video evidence, but declined to charge them.
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In the Casado case, documents New Times first reported on yesterday show prosecutors did debate whether perjury charges were applicable but ultimately backed off after noting inaccuracies in Assistant State Attorney Natalie Pueschel's first close-out memo. MDPD investigators also pushed back hard against Pueschel's allegations. The memos show that, after speaking with MDPD, Assistant State Attorney Johnette Hardiman asked Pueschel to rewrite portions of her memorandum.
"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. 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."