For two days last week, the Medley Town Hall chambers took on the look of a courtroom.
In a setting straight out of an episode of “Law & Order,” it was high legal drama at its most intense as the town called a special meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 9. The agenda for the Town of Medley and Chief of Police Jeanette Said-Jinete was to hear an appeal from recently terminated Medley Police Lt. Joe Olmedo and his legal team.
There were many players in this drama. There was a team of attorneys for the town, including lead counsel Ben Kuehne. There was Jose “Pepe” Herrera, who many know as the regular legal counsel for the Village of Virginia Gardens, as Olmedo’s legal representation. There was a court stenographer. There was Town Attorney Michael Pizzi, who served as the hearing officer — or judge, if you will. And there was a Medley town council that was instructed by Pizzi to sit and listen and serve as nothing more than a jury before eventually taking a vote and rendering a decision.
When it was finally over — and we stress the word “finally” — the council, with virtually no discussion, voted unanimously to uphold Said-Jinete’s decision to terminate Olmedo.
But between the start and finish there was lots of drama and fighting between the two sides in front of an emotional chamber filled with support for both sides.
What originally was supposed to be something that was to take not much more than three or four hours on a Wednesday evening morphed into something much larger. By the time midnight arrived, 61⁄2 hours after the meeting began, attorneys from both sides huddled with Pizzi and determined that too much testimony still awaited and postponed things until 4:30 p.m. the next day.
But, with Chief Said-Jinete and Olmedo both in the witness chair subject to direct, cross-examination and re-direct, things went well into the evening again and it was 12:20 a.m. the next morning before the council finally rendered its verdict.
“Personnel decision reviews by public officials are the most difficult decisions of all,” Kuehne said following the conclusion of the two-day hearing. “They involve real consequences to people that are known. It’s sad that the situation came to this but the council acted very fairly, listened to every bit of evidence and determined that the police chief has to run the police department in order to protect and serve and she has done so and this decision was a recognition that she’s running the department the way it should be run.”
At the heart of the case was what started as nothing more than a routine, non-injury traffic accident involving a Medley police cruiser and Hialeah resident Leovigildo Fraga on the night of Aug. 8, 2011 at the intersection of Northwest 72nd Avenue and Northwest South River Drive.
The video from a security camera that had recently been placed at the intersection that was eventually played on a screen showed Medley officer Freddy Romero traveling northbound on 72nd at 11 p.m. that night when he went to make a left turn onto northbound South River Drive. Fraga’s car, traveling straight and heading southbound, collided with the police cruiser as it made the left.