Florida Police Brutality and Police Misconduct
01/27/2006 - MIAMI The Miami-Dade County Independent Review Panel is recommending a Miami-Dade Police officer be disciplined for the arrest of a nurse who refused to draw blood on an inmate – what they are calling overreaction on the cop’s behalf.
Ileana Hollant, who works as a registered nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ward D – the ward reserved for jail inmates - was arrested by officer Richard Closius, after she told him she needed to wait for her shift assignment before drawing blood on an inmate the officer had in his custody. This is standard procedure for the nursing staff.
Apparently the answer was not good enough for the officer and he proceeded to arrest her and charged her with Resisting Arrest Without Violence for the incident that happened January 7, 2005. The department reduced charges to Refusal To Aid A Police Officer, but after a judge threw out charges against her, she decided to file a complaint with the Independent Review Panel.
The panel concluded that Closius be disciplined for overreacting and use of excessive force. They called his conduct unbecoming of an officer.
The Independent Review Panel is a nine-member volunteer civilian oversight panel which publicly reviews serious complaints made by the public against Miami-Dade County employees and departments, and the department's response to the complaint. The Independent Review Panel reports its findings and recommendations to the Department Director, County Mayor, County Manager and County Commissioners. Public discussion of all reports by the IRP panel members occurs "in the sunshine."
01/26/2006 - Officer Allen St. Germain sat stone-faced, staring at the court clerk as she read the jury's decision.
Not guilty of the battery. Not guilty of the official misconduct.
Before she could even begin reading the decision in his sergeant's case, St. Germain began sobbing in silence.
Two and a half years after Peter Daniel claimed St. Germain and Sgt. George Alvarez brutally beat him, more than a year after prosecutors charged both with beating him and lying about it, six days after the trial began, the case was over.
Alvarez silently mouthed ''Thank you'' to the jurors.
The jury took less than an hour to hand down the verdict.
Afterward, Alvarez's attorney, Richard Sharpstein, said he figured the jury just didn't buy Daniel's story.
''It's clear that the jury saw through Peter Daniel,'' he said. ``He lied 12, 15, 20 times on the stand.''
Daniel claimed Alvarez and St. Germain beat him when he told them he didn't know anything about a stolen personal watercraft. The personal watercraft was taken from the home of another Sweetwater officer.
Daniel testified that he finally told the police to contact a friend about the stolen personal watercraft, even though he didn't believe his friend had it.
He just wanted to get the officers to stop kicking and punching him, he said.
The officers took Daniel in Mayor Manuel Maroño's car to find the friend, who was taken into custody but never charged. Maroño was cleared of any wrongdoing in the case.
A couple hours later, officers called for an ambulance because Daniel didn't look good. Doctors found he had a lacerated liver and spleen and was hemorrhaging internally.
In his closing statements, Sharpstein urged the jury to focus on inconsistencies in the various statements Daniel made about that evening in 2003. He pointed to the fact that Daniel admitted lying about being able to work after he was injured.
''If people tell different stories up and down, it's not the truth,'' Sharpstein said. ``Beyond a reasonable doubt, you're going to believe him? And not believe what my client writes under oath? A sworn police officer?''
Sharpstein's and St. Germain's attorney, Doug Hartman, insisted that Daniel invented the story so he could sue the city. Sweetwater settled the civil suit, paying Daniel $2 million.
''He's already gotten his reward in this case,'' Hartman told the jury. ``Don't help him any more.''
Prosecutor Isis Perez told the jury to consider all the Sweetwater officers and employees who were at the tiny station that night yet said they didn't see anything.
''This is a code of silence,'' she said. ``See no evil. Maybe hear some, but speak no evil.''
She also questioned whether any of the defense's three theories of how Daniel was injured made sense.
Alvarez wrote in a report that Daniel lunged for his gun that night and that he was forced to punch him.
The next day, St. Germain wrote a report saying that Daniel hurt himself by throwing himself against the walls of his holding cell.
But no one in the station that night saw either alleged incident.
Meanwhile, the defense argued that another inmate beat Daniel.
''It doesn't make sense,'' Perez told the jury.
After the verdict was read, Perez had little to say.
''We're disappointed with the verdict, but the jury has spoken and the system moves on,'' she said.
A doctor who testified in the trial said Daniel could not have sustained those injuries by throwing himself against the walls of his cell. But the doctor also said he couldn't have had those injuries for hours, throwing into question Daniel's version of events.
Sharpstein said both officers are expecting to go back to work in Sweetwater.
Wednesday's verdict has no bearing on the $2 million civil settlement.
01/26/2006 - SEMINOLE - A Pinellas County Sheriff's deputy, responsible for protecting school grounds, was arrested on Wednesday, Jan. 25, for allegedly having sexual relations with a student at Osceola High School in 2001.
Officer Todd J. Pierce, 40, was being held in the Pinellas County Jail on $40,000 bail after he was charged with lewd and lascivious molestation and lewd and lascivious battery, both felonies.
Pierce is accused of allegedly molesting a 15-year-old girl on multiple occasions on Osceola High School grounds between Aug. 22 and Sept. 27, 2001. Detectives further claim that Pierce allegedly sexually assaulted the same girl on Sept. 21, 2001 in the victim's home.
Sheriff's Office spokesman Mac McMullen said allegations against Pierce surfaced in December and that detectives questioned more than 50 students before Pierce was placed on paid administrative leave on Dec. 30. The case was then turned over to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office on Jan. 5.
On Jan. 25, a warrant was issued for Pierce's arrest, McMullen said.
According to the Sheriff's Office records, Pierce became a deputy in 1992 and worked six years in the county jail before being transferred to patrol duties in 1998. Pierce was assigned as school resource officer at Osceola High from 2000 to 2003, before being transferred to Dixie Hollins High School in St. Petersburg where he worked until his suspension in December.
An agency hearing was scheduled for Friday, Jan. 27, to determine if Pierce should remain on paid leave.
01/23/2006 - State prosecutors are reviewing at least two dozen arrests by two Miami-Dade County police officers that may be in jeopardy after they themselves were arrested and accused of theft and falsifying arrest documents.
Officers Daniel Fernandez and Joe Losada were arrested Jan. 12 after the department mounted a sting operation, using a confidential informant and surveillance tapes.
Their arrests call into question cases made by the pair in some of the county's most drug-infested neighborhoods as part of the Crime Suppression Team.
'We're used to, unfortunately, whenever we prosecute a police officer for any reason, we always send a notice out to all of our lawyers, saying, `If you have any of these officers or this officer on a case, please let us know,' '' Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said.
The next step will be to determine whether the street arrests were based solely on the word of Losada or Fernandez, or whether other officers or civilians were witnesses. Without corroborating witnesses, prosecutors may be forced to drop some cases.
The Miami-Dade Public Defender's Office has found at least 20 open cases filed by one or both of the officers. The office also will look at some of their older cases to determine whether anyone was wrongly convicted.
''Many innocent people accept blame for crimes they either did not commit or were not as serious as those charged, rather than risk trial in the face of the overwhelming power of the government,'' Public Defender Bennett Brummer said. ``Some of our clients may be in jail or prison today as a result of the alleged misbehavior of these officers.''
Fernandez, a 15-year veteran, and Losada, on the force for nine years, were arrested after they busted an informant planted by internal-affairs investigators at a house at Northwest 18th Avenue and 95th Street.
Police say the two officers entered the house and found $970 in cash -- but turned in only $570. Authorities believe that Losada falsified the informant's arrest report, and when the two officers were arrested, investigators found only $160 of the marked money.
It's unclear what happened to the remaining $240. The investigation is ongoing, and police have not ruled out more arrests.
Both officers have denied any wrongdoing. Losada's attorney, C. Michael Cornely, said the department's professional-compliance bureau went too far.
''I have a feeling they went out of their way to entrap one of their own,'' Cornely said.
Fernandez's attorney said his client was not found with any of the allegedly stolen money.
''He went in, searched the drug dealer's house, found the money, turned it over to one of the officers who was doing the property receipt,'' attorney Doug Hartman said. ``Evidently, some of that money was missing, but that money was not found on him.''
Authorities say they have surveillance video from inside and outside the house, but have not released it or discussed what it shows.
Miami-Dade police Director Robert Parker agreed that a thorough review of the officers' previous cases was necessary.
At least four private defense attorneys have also identified clients arrested by the two officers. In two cases, some of the charges were dropped before the officers were arrested this month.
Peterson Moise was charged with possession of cocaine and two counts of possession of marijuana in November after Fernandez said he saw Moise selling drugs on Northwest 53rd Street.
But Moise's attorney, Joe Klock, submitted an affidavit from Moise's employer saying he was working 20 miles away.
After the officers entered Moise's aunt's house to arrest him, a Sony PlayStation turned up missing, Klock said.
The attorney also disputed Losada's arrest affidavit -- Klock said his client wasn't outside and did not run from the police, as Losada claimed. Instead, Moise was arrested as he sat on the toilet, Klock said.
Prosecutors dropped the case in December.
Charges of cocaine possession and attempted murder of a police officer were also dropped in the case of Derrel Burnett after Losada dictated an arrest affidavit to another officer in April 2004.
Officer Tony Nair, who wrote the affidavit, later gave a sworn statement that he didn't know anything about the claims that Burnett was seen dealing drugs, or that Burnett flipped a sergeant over his head and onto the ground.
Sgt. Alexander Ramirez told prosecutors that Burnett could not have flipped him onto the ground when the two struggled and that Losada was mistaken when he claimed Burnett was dealing drugs.
Burnett still faces other charges stemming from that incident, which left Ramirez with two herniated disks in his neck. Burnett's attorney, Andrew Rier, hopes to get the remaining charges dropped.
''Joe Losada was really the driving force behind the arrest of my client,'' he said. ``He confused him with someone else.''
Rier stressed that most Miami-Dade officers are professional and honest, including three he deposed in Burnett's case.
''It's not fair that they will all be painted with a broad brush because of these two guys,'' he said.
Losada's arrest could affect at least one case pending in federal court.
In a March 16 incident report, Losada wrote that officers saw Armando Delgado standing on the porch of a Northwest Miami-Dade house where drugs had been sold earlier in the day. Delgado bolted at the sight of the officers, who chased him into the house, Losada wrote.
The officer claimed he tackled Delgado in a back room -- and spied a table covered with drugs and a Browning .380 pistol. Delgado was charged with armed drug trafficking.
01/22/2006 - Indicted deputy was called a 'role model' in evaluation Dix faces federal charges for stunning civilian.
Less than a year ago, officer Charles Dix was an Escambia County deputy whose personnel records portrayed an officer with a bright future.
Now, he faces federal charges for stunning a civilian witness with a Taser.
In officer Dix's 2004 personnel evaluation, his supervisors called him a "role model," a deputy who demonstrated "good judgment."
In his 2005 personnel evaluation, he received an overall rating of "very satisfactory" and was called "an asset to the department."
What the supervisors failed to note was that Dix had fired his Taser at two civilians in separate incidents.
The explanation from the supervisors who prepared the 2005 evaluation: Dix "had been through enough," and they didn't want to record the second incident. The first incident was never formally investigated by the Sheriff's Office.
On Wednesday, Dix was indicted on two federal charges of violating the civil rights of Martha Bledsoe of Pensacola by using excessive force when he shot her four times with a Taser on Feb. 3, 2004.
The Sheriff's Office in May settled a lawsuit filed by Bledsoe for $250,000.
It now is defending itself in a second lawsuit, filed in June by Chad Baxter, who had an October 2003 run-in with Dix and a Taser. That case is pending.
The two citizens who were fired upon were -- at least initially -- trying to cooperate with law enforcement or emergency officials, court records show.
In both instances, records show, Dix pulled the Taser trigger four times, delivering a 50,000-volt shock with each pull.
During the 2003 incident, Dix zapped Baxter after he had been summoned to an auto accident involving his pregnant wife, a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court states.
In the 2004 case, Bledsoe collapsed to the ground after being tased. She had called the Sheriff's Office to report a case of child abuse, court records and sheriff's reports show.
Dix resigned from the Sheriff's Office about three months ago and moved out of state.
He is expected to surrender Wednesday to federal authorities in Pensacola for his first appearance in the Bledsoe case.
Officer Dix could not be reached for comment, and his attorney, Neil Hanley of Mobile, did not return calls.
Administrative records at the Sheriff's Office offer differing accounts of Dix's history with the department.
They show that even while his immediate supervisors were giving him annual evaluations that rated him above average and very satisfactory, they also filed a use-of-force report, a counseling sheet and admitted in an internal affairs investigation that he used poor judgment.
The incidents with Baxter and Bledsoe are not documented in Dix's personnel records.
Nor is there documentation in his records that show the arrest charges Dix filed against Baxter and Bledsoe were dropped long before they filed lawsuits.
Four days after officer Dix used a Taser on Bledsoe at a Pensacola Wal-Mart, some of his supervisors gave Dix an outstanding rating for his attitude and initiative on his annual 2004 evaluation and stated he had a "high degree of good judgment" and "will develop at the present pace to be a role model officer."
That same day, internal department records show, his supervisors wrote him a letter of reprimand and confiscated his Taser.
Dix was called to the Wal-Mart parking lot to meet Bledsoe, who wanted to report seeing a neighbor kick and abuse a 3-year-old.
The deputy asked Bledsoe if, by parking in the fire lane, she believed she was a fire truck, according to her lawsuit. He then called into question every statement Bledsoe made about the alleged child abuse.
When she used her cell phone to call dispatchers about his hostile attitude, he ordered her off the phone and lunged toward her. When she screamed, he then tried to take her into custody for disorderly conduct. When she stepped away toward an approaching patrol car, Dix shot her in the back with the Taser.
Lt. Pat Spears told Dix that she "could not understand and asked him how you go from answering a complaint on a child abuse and you get to the point of tasing the complainant," according to an internal affairs interview.
But Spears took a soft approach in a Feb. 7, 2004, counseling form to Dix.
"Dep. Dix did not intend for this call for service to deteriorate to this point," Spears wrote. "He has assured us it was a misunderstanding and miscommunication of all involved."
Nevertheless, officer Dix's Taser was taken from him until "further notice."
Dix's immediate supervisors made other records of the Bledsoe incident.
On the night Dix stunned and then arrested Bledsoe, Lt. Bill Price, in a suspect resistance report, noted that "it appears due to the circumstances surrounding this incident that the use of the Taser was not necessary."
In March 2004, Deputy Robert Powers, the Taser control officer, learned that Dix's Taser had been taken from him on orders from Capt. Bruce Wood. Powers asked Dix to return the charger and case for the Taser and then contacted patrol Capt. Randy Brown.
"Deputy Dix was very vocal about his opinions about having his Taser taken from him," Powers wrote in an e-mail. "Captain Brown agreed that the Taser should be taken from Deputy Dix ... Captain Brown advised that if Deputy Dix continued to be vocal about having his Taser taken, that he would find a position for Deputy Dix in court security."
Brown continued to note reservations about Dix's performance in 2005.
He received an overall rating of very satisfactory -- the second-highest score -- and was called an asset to the department.
Brown so strongly disagreed with Dix's evaluation he asked Spears and two other supervisors, Wood and Sgt. Alan Barton, to look at the evaluation again.
They made no changes, which prompted Brown to attach a memo to Dix's evaluation stating that he disagreed with the assessment.
"There is at least one incident ... occurring within the specified evaluation period that demonstrated a lack of good judgment and job knowledge by Deputy Dix," Brown wrote.
Spears told him that she, Wood and Barton "believe that Deputy Dix had been through enough and didn't want to record the incident on this evaluation."
Spears did not return a call seeking comment.
Despite the immediate actions Dix's supervisors took after the Bledsoe arrest, an internal investigation did not begin until November 2004.
Chief Deputy Larry Smith said Friday that the department's command staff had no knowledge of the severity of the situation involving Bledsoe. The internal investigation was triggered only after senior administrators listened to the audio tape of Bledsoe calling dispatchers, Smith said.
Bledsoe called on a cell phone for additional officers, according to sheriff's reports and depositions, because Dix was being aggressive and seemed unwilling to take her report of a child abuse incident.
"We did not know about it," Smith said. "From the patrol captain on up, command staff did not know about it."
He could not recall how senior-level staff became aware of the audio tape in November.
The internal affairs report concluded that Dix did not have probable cause to arrest Bledsoe and that she should have been released from custody that night.
It also noted that Dix not only acted improperly, he also could not explain why in-car video tapes that should have recorded his encounter with Bledsoe could not be found.
He received a 30-day suspension at the conclusion of the investigation.
Incident in 2003
The Bledsoe incident, the reports and the internal investigation came months after an Oct. 18, 2003, incident with Baxter.
According to the lawsuit, events unfolded like this:
Baxter was called to the Relax Inn on Mobile Highway because his pregnant wife had been rear-ended by a drunken driver.
When emergency medical service workers asked him to calm his wife, he got into the car next to her.
Deputy Corey Cephas told Baxter to get out of the car and threatened him with arrest if he did not comply.
Baxter got out of the car, but, in explaining to another deputy why he was in the car, insulted Cephas.
Cephas, the suit claims, grabbed Baxter and threw him against a Jeep. Two other deputies, including Dix, also joined Cephas.
Dix then pulled his Taser and shocked Baxter in the neck and back. A Sheriff's Office record of Dix's Taser indicates he discharged the weapon at least four times, the lawsuit states.
After subduing Baxter, Dix, with his Taser still in his hand, turned to a group of witnesses and yelled: "Does anybody else want some?" according to the lawsuit.
Baxter was arrested, charged with resisting arrest -- a third-degree felony -- and taken to Escambia County Jail.
On Jan. 7, 2004, the charges were dismissed by the State Attorney's Office.
Smith said he was not aware of Baxter's lawsuit, which was filed in June.
It may have been filed away with other suits against the Sheriff's Office, Smith said, and would not come to the administration's attention until it progressed to the point that depositions or other case action was needed.
The department did not conduct an internal affairs investigation of the Baxter incident, Smith said.
In speaking of the Bledsoe lawsuit and the indictment that followed, Smith defended Dix, saying he "had a bad incident here."
"Did he make a mistake? Yes, he did," Smith said. "But he was a good officer."
01/05/2006 - Zolfo Springs -The police chief of Zolfo Springs has been arrested.
David William Scheid, 47, a former deputy with the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office who was named Zolfo Springs chief in 2005, has been charged with two felony counts of official misconduct; one felony count of grand theft, one felony count of tampering with a witness, one felony count of fabricating physical evidence and one count of petit theft.
According to the arresting agency, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the charges are the result of a month and a half long investigation into allegations of falsification of training records, sale of property held as evidence and the conversion of items seized as evidence for his personal use.
Scheid was booked into the Hardee County Jail and bond was set at $5,250.
Zolfo Springs is about 70 miles southeast of Tampa.
Scheid was hired as administrator of the police department in December 2004 and was promoted to chief last year.