Det. Joe Mendez was going through a rough patch in his marriage. A bearded and burly 20-year veteran of the South Miami Police Department and the son of a cop, Mendez decided to get his mind off his home life by giving back to the community through his job. So he volunteered to help coordinate the department's Police Explorer program in 2009.
But Mendez allegedly gave the female students under his supervision insight into far darker aspects of life on the force. The former aspiring police mentor now finds himself on the wrong side of the law, accused of multiple charges of possessing child pornography and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
According to a news release, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began investigating Mendez in June 2014 after a fellow officer involved with the Explorer program filed a complaint of misconduct. Mendez faced allegations of inappropriate behavior around female Explorers, some of which may have been sexual.
FDLE agents interviewed the girls in question, and their tales were disturbing.
According to the Miami Herald, one victim said Mendez picked her up at home and dared her multiple times to flash her breast and drink alcohol. Mendez also tried to kiss her. Another girl said Mendez tried to get her to play truth or dare and one time kissed her while the two were drinking beer.
During this time, Mendez was spending a lot of time with the students he oversaw, often driving them to competitions. A friend tells Local 10 that Mendez explained it helped him get his mind off his troubled marriage. But prosecutors say his mind had wandered to more inappropriate things.
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The investigation later turned up dozens of images of underage girls on his cell phone, eight of which were sexual in nature.
He now faces eight counts of sexual performance by a child and four counts of selling, giving, or serving an alcoholic beverage to a person under 21.
Mendez was arrested and taken to Broward County Jail, where he's being held on $42,000 bond.
However, the investigation is not yet complete, and Mendez could face more charges. The FDLE believes there are more victims who have not yet come forward. Anyone with more information about the case or other possible victims is asked to call the FDLE Miami Regional Operations Center at 800-226-3023.