City of Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina
City of Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina
City of Miami Police

Miami Police Employees Fired for Taking Items From Storage Units

Two civilian employees of the Miami Police Department were quietly fired this week after they were caught taking police "property" from storage lockers and placing it inside their own cars, a Miami Police spokesperson confirmed to New Times yesterday. A third civilian employee tied to the scheme resigned amid the investigation.

The department is, however, being cagey about what the three men actually took from police storage containers. A source with knowledge of the investigation tells New Times the items were stored in the same facilities where police evidence is kept, but MPD maintains no actual case evidence was tainted or stolen.

"This was not evidence," spokesperson Kenia Fallat told New Times regarding the items taken by the employees. However, she refused to clarify what items were taken. "This was police 'property' that was slated to be destroyed," she says.

Instead of destroying the items in storage, Fallat confirmed the employees instead took them. She wouldn't say whether police recovered the items.

Police "property" generally refers to items taken from civilians, either as part of old cases that have closed or gone stale, things that were seized through civil-asset forfeiture programs, or simply found items that were turned in to the police for various reasons, including safekeeping. So that kind of "property" can include anything from expensive clothing and jewelry to cell phones, computers, and money. When investigations close, items are sometimes returned to their owners — in other cases, they can sit in police property rooms for years. Prosecutors typically need to sign off before old case evidence is forfeited or destroyed.

The missing police property, which was slated to be destroyed, instead wound up in the cars of three civilian employees — Rolando Aleman, Manuel Perez, and Carlton Haynes. Haynes, who resigned amid the investigation, was reportedly contacted in 2017 by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as part of another probe, into 11 decades-old revolvers stolen from MPD storage units. It's unclear if the firings have anything to do with the missing guns.

The Miami Police Department has had issues with stolen property and evidence in the past. MPD was caught using a rusted metal locker under an I-95 overpass to store evidence from hundreds of cases. Local blogger Al Crespo in 2016 detailed how pests, water, and the elements destroyed the container and irreparably damaged evidence from more than 500 cases.

After Crespo broke news of the locker's poor condition, former Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes claimed he'd learned of the locker's decrepit state only in September 2016. But that claim was a lie: Crespo obtained documents showing Llanes had written emails about the container's sorry state as far back as at least 2012, when Llanes himself wrote in internal messages that the container was "rotting." The department even tried to buy a new storage locker, but no one ever followed through.

A source with direct knowledge of MPD's storage policies told New Times yesterday that evidence is often misplaced temporarily, lost altogether, or stolen. Crespo has reported in the past that Rolex watches, drugs, and steroids have also mysteriously vanished from police storage lockers.

In 2016, Crespo reported that someone stole 11 revolvers from the storage department. Llanes, former City Manager Daniel Alfonso, and other city officials spent the next few months passing blame around and refusing to explain what really happened. In December 2016, MPD turned the investigation over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The mystery thefts are yet another scandal this year for MPD, a perpetually embattled department that is still being monitored by the U.S. Department of Justice after being lambasted in 2013 for shooting too many people of color. This year alone, the department has disciplined multiple officers for issues such as kicking civilians in the head and arresting innocent men for a high-profile shooting in Liberty City.

Last month, a New Times investigation into countywide marijuana arrest rates found that, even though MPD had agreed to stop arresting low-level marijuana offenders, the department for nearly two years continued hauling those people to jail anyway. Days after the story broke, Chief Jorge Colina announced he was finally ordering his cops to stop arresting people for small amounts of weed on their first two offenses.

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