The arrest of three Homestead police officers turned political Tuesday as the department’s police union accused prosecutors of timing the arrests to bolster the reelection campaign of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
The three officers were arrested Monday night in connection with a series of alleged beatings of men outside a bar in Homestead. The main target of the arrests, Sgt. Jeffrey Rome, is accused of beating or pepper-spraying three men in separate incidents, two of which were caught on surveillance video, according to court documents.
Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association President John Rivera, the state attorney’s longtime nemesis, said he is calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to review how the investigation was handled by internal affairs detectives and prosecutors.
“We feel the state attorney certainly has an agenda in this case and that there are serious problems within Homestead Police Department’s internal affairs unit and with Chief Alexander Rolle’s management,” Rivera said.
Fernandez Rundle stood by the arrests, which her office pointed out were conducted along with the FBI.
“Police brutality is wrong no matter what form it takes,” she said in a statement Tuesday. “The covering-up of police brutality is equally wrong. That’s why we are prosecuting these cases in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice, who played an essential role in helping make these cases possible.
Rolle said the union is trying to “run the department.” He stood by his department’s investigation.
“I don’t think the state attorney would make arrests based on a sloppy investigation,” Rolle said.
Rome is charged with abusing the elderly, battery and false imprisonment for allegedly unprovoked attacks on three men last year at Celios’ Latin Quarter Bar, 38 NE Ninth St., where he worked off-duty security. Two of the alleged attacks were witnessed and recorded on video by Homestead detectives who said they were scoping the restaurant in an unrelated investiga- tion.
Officer Giovanni Soto is accused of attacking one man outside the bar, while Sgt. Lizanne Deegan is accused of official misconduct for allegedly failing to write a report on Soto’s incident.
Three of the victims were immigrants.
“We will not tolerate this,” Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman said at a press conference Tuesday. “We will not profile in any way, shape or form.”
Homestead officials said their department handed over the case to the state attorney in June 2011, after about two months of the city’s own investigations.
A strong response from the PBA, which represents the Miami-Dade and Homestead police departments, among others, was not unexpected.
Fernandez Rundle defeated a PBA-backed candidate in 2000 and 2004, and the PBA is endorsing her current challenger, Miami criminal-defense attorney Rod Vereen.
Vereen and Fernandez Rundle will square off Aug. 14 in the Democratic primary, which will be a de facto winner-take-all vote. No Republican or independent candidates are running.
Vereen’s campaign declined to comment Tuesday. While he enjoys the support of the police union and former Miami-Dade Police Director Robert Parker, he has also garnered support from inner-city activists who have complained about unfair policing and controversial police shootings.