Crime

Miami Detective Threatens Lawsuit After Doctor's Office Complains of Tirade

It all started with a $70 bill. That's what a doctor's office in West Kendall sent to Miami Police Detective Lizlinda Bremer. One year later, that simple bit of medical cost-collecting has led to two abuse investigations against Bremer and now the threat of a civil lawsuit against the doctor's office.

The physicians' employees complain that Bremer screamed at them and threatened to open a fraud cause over the disputed bill.

"I will not take this lightly, especially with recent media events of policemen who use their badge and power to scare honest civilians and benefit from the role," writes Maria Barcenas, the manager of the doctor's office, in one complaint letter.

Bremer, though, says the office scammed her and then illegally divulged her medical information in their complaints. "Police officers have a right to challenge health care bills just like anyone else," says Gene Gibbons, an attorney representing Bremer. "Now they have violated her privacy rights by releasing protected medical information."

The dispute erupted in July 2014, when Bremer — a veteran cop who is also lead vocalist for In Blue, Miami PD's in-uniform band — got that $70 bill from Dr. Jorge Barcenas, a physician located just off Killian Drive on SW 104th Street. The way Maria Barcenas tells it, Bremer erupted after she "explained to the officer her insurance denied her claim."

"Officer Bremer began to call me names and said our office 'sucked,'" Barcenas wrote in a complaint, adding that Bremer then threatened that "she would be reporting us to ACHA for fraud." 

When Barcenas pushed back, she claims the detective threatened her. "I told Officer Bremer she could not use her power as a police officer to intimidate me," she writes. "She then proceeded to say she would show me 'what intimidation was and she was on the way to the office to show me' ... I became very nervous."

Barcenas first filed a complaint with MPD's Internal Affairs. IA interviewed three witnesses from Barcenas' office, two of whom backed her version of events (the third couldn't hear the argument well enough to give specifics). But IA ruled the case "inconclusive."

So Barcenas tried again with the Civilian Investigative Panel, an independent city board that investigates complaints against cops. Its investigators talked to the same three witnesses and — at a meeting last month — recommended that complaints of discourtesy and misconduct be sustained against Bremer. 

Bremer declined to talk to the CIP, referring questions to Gibbons and noting, "I have decided to move forward seeking legal recourse against (Barcenas) due to violations of my healthcare information in the complaint received by your office."

Indeed, Gibbons says they've now done just that, mailing pre-lawsuit notices to Barcenas this week. The lawyer says the complaint itself is bogus because Barcenas incorrectly billed the detective, and he disputes that she abused employees at the clinic, saying the three witnesses' testimony didn't actually match up. What's more, he says the complaint filed with CIP breaks privacy laws by disclosing the detective's medical condition. 

"When you include that information in a complaint to a public body like the CIP, you make that medical information public," Gibbons says. "That's totally inappropriate." 

(The complaint CIP shared with New Times after a records request, however, blacked out those medical details.)

Maria Barcenas declined to comment on the case, citing the pending legal action.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink