Jeffrey Rome, the Homestead Police sergeant accused of beating up and pepper-spraying patrons at a bar where he worked off-duty, entered a not-guilty plea Wednesday for the felony charges he faces.
Rome and two other Homestead police officers were arrested in July on charges related to a string of alleged attacks last year at Celio’s Latin Quarter, a bar where many migrant and immigrant agricultural workers frequent.
The sergeant, who was not in court, faces felony charges of abuse of an elderly adult and false imprisonment. He also faces a misdemeanor battery charge.
Sgt. Lizanne Deegan and Officer Giovanni Soto are also accused of misconduct after Soto allegedly hit a man in the face and hand with a nightstick — leaving the man with five stitches — and Deegan didn’t write a report on the incident. Soto faces an additional felony battery charge.
All three have been suspended from the department with pay since April 2011.
C. Michael Cornely, an attorney representing Rome, questioned in court why, after more than a year of investigation, he still hadn’t been provided with all the state’s evidence against his client. For that reason, the judge on Wednesday did not set a trial date.
Prosecutor Breezye Telfair said the evidence would be available by the end of this week.
Two of the alleged attacks involving Rome were caught on camera, according to arrest warrants. Homestead detectives had been scoping out the bar for a separate human-trafficking investigation when they recorded Rome allegedly pepper-spraying a man in the face three times, and also dragging an elderly man to the ground and kicking him unconscious, according to the arrest warrant.
Both of the men told investigators they had gone to Rome for help after people tried to rob them.
Rome also pepper-sprayed another man in the face, handcuffed him to a fence, and sent away an ambulance that the man had called for, according to an arrest warrant.
The Police Benevolent Association union has blasted the investigation into the three Homestead police officers as politically motivated and has questioned the competency of Homestead police leaders.
Rome is on the PBA’s board of directors, according to the union’s website. Cornely suggested Rome’s union activities put him at odds with department brass.
“I think this case was brought as a vendetta against Sergeant Rome by the current regime at the Homestead Police Department,” he said.
Homestead Det. Fernando Morales didn’t immediately return requests for a comment.
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