Barely a few hours into his new appointment as head of Sweetwater’s troubled police force, an old skeleton popped up in the closet of the new interim chief.
Sweetwater Mayor José M. Díaz announced Thursday morning that Jesús “Jesse” Menocal’s would be the city’s police chief.
Later Thursday, a report by the CNN Latino’s program Prohibido Callarse (Silence is Forbidden), said Menocal was implicated in a case of illegal drug trafficking 28 years ago, and later was rejected as candidate by Miami Police.
Back then, Menocal said he received a letter from the department stating there were better qualified candidates.
Yet the report unveiled on Thursday, which resulted from a mid-1980s investigation headed by then-Lt. Miguel Exposito, that there was “sufficient evidence indicating that the candidate would present a risk as an officer due to his involvement with a drug trafficker.”
The drug trafficker was in reality an informant from the narcotics unit who was part of an investigation of Menocal’s twin brother, Ignacio Menocal, a Miami officer.
“Our interest was really Ignacio Menocal, not Jesús,” said Exposito, who was the City of Miami’s police chief from 2009 to 2011. “But Jesús came up in the conversation with the informant.”
The report says that the informant went to Miami Police with allegations that Ignacio Menocal had received between $10,000 and $15,000 for returning cocaine that had been stolen from a buyer. Investigators decided to tape the conversations between Ignacio Menocal and the informant. When the informant offered a deal, Ignacio declined but suggested the informant contact his brother, Jesús Menocal.
Jesús Menocal initially agreed to be bodyguard for an alleged drug trafficker during the transaction and to organize an effort to steal drugs from a buyer. Later, Jesús Menocal canceled the plan, alleging that he was applying to be a police officer and did not want to get into trouble.
Exposito said Thursday he had monitored the taped conversations during the investigation.
“That, of course, gave us enough information to discard him as a candidate,” Exposito said. “We couldn’t hire someone willing to do something like that.”
Sweetwater hired Jesús Menocal in 1986, after he had worked two years as an officer of the Florida Department of Corrections. His brother Ignacio later was hired by Sweetwater.
On Thursday afternoon, Menocal played down the report and Exposito’s statements, saying he never knew about the investigation and that he was never charged or interrogated for any illegal acts.
“I have dedicated all my life to law enforcement and have never been questioned,” said Menocal, 53, who has worked with Sweetwater Police for 27 years. “And the statements of the alleged investigation come from Exposito, who is not a very reliable character.”
Both Menocal and Díaz questioned the sudden appearance of the report and suggested that it was all about an attack from the mayor’s political adversaries.
“I think those are low blows from the opposition that feels it has lost the absolute control it used to have over the city,” said Díaz, who is up for reelection in 2015. “They are trying to smear the people I appoint among the community.”
Menocal, who had once been chief in the 1990s, replaces Roberto Fulgueira, who resigned after eight years on the job.
Then-mayor Manny Maroño demoted Menocal from the position of police chief in 2003, shortly after he referred a case of alleged police brutality to the state attorney’s office. Maroño was accused of witnessing the beating of a teenager by some officers.
Sweetwater Police is currently under an FBI investigation that includes allegations of public corruption and excessive force by its officers. The FBI recently arrested Maroño after an investigation of public corruption. He pleaded not guilty in a federal court last week.
Diaz took over after Maroños’ arrest and accused Exposito of exposing the old case because Exposito is friends with Mario Miranda’s, a former Sweetwater commander whom the mayor fired recently.
Miranda, who has announced that he is suing the city, told told El Nuevo Herald Thursday that he is coordinating commissioner Orlando López’s campaign for mayor.
Exposito denied that he is close to Miranda.
“I don’t know Mayor Díaz, I am not too close to Mario Miranda and my interest in Sweetwater is zero,” he said. “I was simply contacted to be on the TV show and I accepted because I had done that investigation so many years ago.”
Menocal said that it seems strange that the report never surfaced during his earlier years as Sweetwater’s police chief under other mayors from 1995 to 2003.
“If I was so bad and dirty, why was I not arrested or questioned by a state or federal agency? Or why did that report never come out years ago?” he said.
Menocal said he had more important things to worry about than the disclosure of the old report. He said his goal was to clean the department, which has been affected by recent scandals.
“We wish to try to remove the dark cloud that has been planted on this department,” Menocal said. “I seek to bring more transparency and justice, and that people know that we are here to protect them.”