Ruano Roulette

The Changing Tide

Ruano Roulette

Last week yet another study confirmed that a refugee's fate in immigration court is determined far more by the political orientation of the presiding judge than the merits of the case. Titled "Refugee Roulette," the study analyzed 140,000 decisions made by 225 immigration judges from 2000 to 2005.

It concluded that vast disparities in grant rates indicated a grave problem and noted -- not for the first time -- that Miami has one of the lowest asylum approval rates in the nation.

Which brings us to the case of Colombian asylum-seeker Juan Carlos Ruano. New Times wrote about Ruano last fall ("Mock Trial," October 19, 2006). He was kidnapped and beaten by guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2001 for conducting political outreach; FARC told him he would be killed within a month if he persisted in his work.

Ruano left for the United States, where he applied for political asylum. In 2003 Miami immigration judge Daniel Dowell turned Ruano down. A year later the Colombian's appeal was denied. But in 2005, federal circuit court sent the case back to Dowell.

In his second opinion in 2006, the judge conceded that Ruano was kidnapped, beaten, and shot at for his political work, but defined persecution, according to legal precedent, "as an extreme concept' requiring more than a few isolated incidents of verbal harassment or intimidation.'" Application denied.

For the third time, the lawyers appealed. Again the decision was sent back to Dowell, who may very well deny Ruano asylum once more. His lawyer, Leon Fresco, explained to New Times in an e-mail that his client would rather not speak to the press because he is "still completely freaked out by this whole thing." -- Emily Witt

* Update 6/12: With the case before him a third time, Judge Dowell granted Ruano asylum.

Secret Stations
Filed under: News

If you're ever busted by Miami cops and you hear the words "ministation" or "substation," kick out the squad car window and run as fast as your little legs can carry you.

After an exhaustive two-year investigation, the Citizens Investigative Panel has concluded that there are a number of underground back rooms being used by the Miami Police Department as "ministations."

According to Charles C. Mays, a lawyer for the panel, they are still being found. "At a meeting with the department, a civilian in the audience mentioned that he knew of a substation in Allapattah." Everyone in the room was surprised to hear it.

The reason? According to Mays, the MPD has long maintained that there are no such things.

The investigation began in 2004. Arrestees all over the city were being taken to odd places such as the office of a liquor store, the back room in a gas station, and an abandoned apartment in Design Place, a Little Haiti apartment complex. There were usually demarcated by unofficial-looking signs calling them "ministations." Some complainants claimed they had been beaten; others were just mad they had been made to sit around.

After MPD internal affairs cleared four accused officers of the charges, the cases were handed to the independent panel, which began its own inquiry. This past October, the panel called for the MPD to explain the pseudostations and publish their locations.

"There are no ministations," Chief John Timoney responded in a letter.

A private investigator hired by the panel produced photographs of signs delineating three ministations located at Design Place, Pollo Tropical on Biscayne Boulevard and 34th Street, and Food Mart on Grand Avenue, where a room in the back had been shared by local cops and the owner since 1995.

According to Mays, the MPD -- through one of its attorneys -- tacitly acknowledged the existence of the ministations, but has not admitted officially sanctioning them.

"We're not saying they're bad," he explained. "They could be a really good thing.... However, what are the rules governing these places? How would you feel being taken to a room you've never seen before and held? We want to make sure that prisoners are not being held in a spot that [Timoney] won't admit exists." -- Calvin Godfrey

The Princess Chide
Filed under: Culture

Justo Sanchez, an affable, eccentric, ascot-wearing chap from Coral Gables, has become the Miami art world's newest -- and possibly only -- gadfly.

Sanchez has taken issue with the Bass Museum and its display of Princess Thi-Nga's jade collection this past spring. He claims it was a conflict of interest for the Bass to display the collection, because the princess is chairperson of the museum's board of directors, and the chairperson of the Friends of the Bass Museum, which raises money for the institution's operating costs. Sanchez has also raised questions about the exhibition's provenance -- its history and lineage -- and has repeatedly demanded that the museum prove the collection is real. His questions come during a period of change at the Bass, which is losing its longtime director, Diane Camber, to retirement later this month.

Sanchez, a 46-year-old freelance art writer, has sent long e-mails and documents about this alleged conflict to everyone from Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer to local newspapers to the American Association of Museums. He has also called into question the princess's royal lineage, something that rankled past Bass Museum board of directors chair Dr. Norman Jaffe.

"Justo Whatever-his-name-is is saying bad things about the Bass and about the princess," Jaffe told New Times. "The museum runs beautifully. The museum is great. I've been trying to find out what the devil is behind this."

Jaffe said that Her Royal Highness didn't make a penny off the exhibit and that the public loved it. Sanchez counters by saying the collection's value has risen by simply being on display in a museum. He also insists that by raising the questions, he's shedding light on a little-known public institution that is funded by tax dollars.

"I have no agenda," Sanchez said. "I believe museums should operate ethically." -- Tamara Lush

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Calvin Godfrey
Tamara Lush
Emily Witt
Contact: Emily Witt