A former police chief and two officers who served under him have been charged with arresting a black teenager for several burglaries he didn't commit, for the purpose of falsely boosting the department's crime-solving record, according to the Miami Herald.
The charges come out of a 2014 investigation of the Biscayne Park Police Department in Florida, revealing persistent corruption under the leadership of former chief Raimundo Atesiano, who, according to records, pressured officers into arresting random, nearby minorities with previous records and pinning them with unrelated burglaries to impress village officials.
“If they have burglaries that are open cases that are not solved yet, if you see anybody black walking through our streets and they have somewhat of a record, arrest them so we can pin them for all the burglaries,” former officer Anthony De La Torre told investigators in 2014. “They were basically doing this to have a 100% clearance rate for the city.”
Atesiano and former officers Raul Fernandez and Charlie Dayoub have all pleaded not guilty on federal civil rights violation charges.
The misconduct came to light when 10 officers sent letters to former village manager Heidi Shafran complaining about how the department was being run.
“The letters said police were doing a lot of bad things,” Shafran said. “It said police officers were directed to pick up people of color and blame the crimes on them.”
The strategy covered up the fact that the department wasn't solving many, if any burglaries in the small suburban community with a population of about 3,000.
The Herald reported that Biscayne Park police solved 29 out of 30 burglary cases during Atesiano's tenure, with 19 of those coming in 2013. In 2015, the year after Atesiano resigned, the department went 0-for-19 in solving burglaries.
Atesiano and his attorney maintain he never encouraged or forced officers into any illegal behavior; rather, he simply demanded diligence and that they raise their performance.
Should've seen it coming?
Some of the involved officers had a history of misconduct that foreshadowed the scandal in Biscayne Park. Atesiano was hired in 2008 after being forced out of the department in Sunny Isles Beach when investigators caught him forging a man's name on a notice to appear in court for a marijuana arrest.
Former Capt. Lawrence Churchman, who also left the department in 2014, had been demoted at his previous department for falsifying education records to boost his salary. He was hired by Biscayne Park the same year as Atesiano.
One officer said Churchman had a known disdain for minorities, and a habit of using racial and homophobic slurs, which Churchman has denied through his attorney.
The three officers charged have a trial date scheduled for later in July. Meanwhile, at least one other case of potential false charges against a black man is currently being investigated, according to the Miami Herald.
(H/T The Hill)