A helping hand from troopers: Miami officers chip in for pay

 

Otto Pena was speeding -- going 128 miles an hour on State Road 836 just west of Northwest 87th Avenue at midnight on Feb. 11, 1995.

A Florida Highway Patrol trooper arrested Pena for drunk driving. Four City of Miami police officers were listed as witnesses, even though the traffic stop took place outside their jurisdiction. Three of them did little or no work, and the fourth did a job the trooper could have done herself.

The Pena case shows how troopers and officers split up profitable DUI cases.

It boils down to this: Troopers get only comp time for going to court, while police officers can choose between comp time or cash. Most take the cash.

"The trooper loves it because he doesn't have to do the work, and he doesn't get paid for it anyway, " said former Miami Police Capt. Norfleet Harris. "And the Miami officer loves it because it's money. That's what it's all about. Money." Your money. An arrest unfolds Here's how it worked in the Pena case: FHP trooper Nelvys Hernandez arrested Pena after he failed a roadside sobriety test. Hernandez then drove Pena to a breath-alcohol testing station at the Miami Police South District Substation at 2200 W. Flagler St. There, Officer Sandra Blanco offered Pena a breath test, even though Hernandez could have done the test herself. As the testing officer, Blanco later received a subpoena to go to court, and she eventually made $97.72 in overtime. At the time, Blanco worked at the substation's front desk and routinely earned overtime by doing DUI tests for troopers and officers, many trained to do their own. Between 1994 and 1996, Blanco appeared in 660 DUI cases. In 1995, Blanco earned $10,648.18 in court overtime compensation and recognition as one of the most active DUI officers in Dade County. More witnesses Hernandez and Blanco were the only police witnesses needed to prosecute the case in court, but three other Miami officers also entered the Pena case as witnesses:

* Officer Luis Taborda could not recall his role. "I just got a feeling I just happened to be there and observed and witnessed, I think, what went on, " Taborda told Pena's attorney. Taborda made $132.36 in court overtime for the case.

* Officer Jackie Jesurum drove Pena to jail, a distance of less than two miles. It was an expensive cab ride: Jesurum ended up pocketing $141.64 in court overtime. Jesurum said she transported the defendant because Hernandez asked her to. A computer records search shows Hernandez and Jesurum in 48 DUI cases over three years -- far more than the norm for troopers assigned to state highways and officers assigned to city streets. * Officer Barbara Shaffner said she rode with Jesurum when they drove the defendant to jail. But Shaffner still ended up making $187.67 in overtime for going to court while the case kept getting postponed. After 18 months, the state ended up dropping the DUI charge and Pena pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of reckless driving. Total cost in court overtime for Miami taxpayers: $559.39.

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