Criminal court

Trial begins for ex-Miami Beach cop accused in ATV joyride

 

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

After a night of partying on South Beach, bachelorette Adalee Martin Jones saw no problem when a uniformed Miami Beach police officer offered her a joyride on an ATV.

“I trusted him because he was a police officer, so I felt safe,” Martin told jurors Monday.

Martin hopped onto the back of the ATV with Officer Derick Kuilan, and they zoomed down the sand in the dark, the cop flicking the headlights on and off every so often. But on the way back, something unexpected happened, Martin testified Monday, the opening day of Kuilan’s trial.

“We were going pretty fast,” Martin said. “That’s when I felt like we hit a brick wall.”

The ATV flipped over. Martin went flying. And on the ground, Kitzie Nicanor and Luis Almonte — beach-goers who had walked onto the sand to see the sunrise — lay on the ground, twisted in pain from the impact of the speeding ATV, a prosecutor told jurors.

“Luis Almonte has a metal rod in his leg. Kitzie has a metal plate in her hip,” prosecutor Eileen Keeley told jurors during opening statements. “Both of them will bear the scars for the rest of their lives.”

Kuilan, who was later fired, is charged with reckless driving and driving under the influence resulting in serious bodily injury.

Defense attorney Evan Hoffman acknowledged that Kuilan’s decision to go on the joyride was “probably not the smartest thing to do, but not criminal.”

“At most, this is a negligence case,” Hoffman said.

The criminal trial is not the only legal case. Nicanor, Almonte and Martin also are suing Kuilan and the Miami Beach Police Department because of the injuries they suffered that night.

The July 2011 crash delivered another black eye to a police department that in recent years has been hard hit by scandals and controversial shootings. The crash came less than two months after officers fired more than 100 rounds at a motorist, killing him, during a chaotic Memorial Day weekend.

The incident helped push out then-police Chief Carlos Noriega, and led to a slew of firings, some of which were later reversed.

Martin, from Pennsylvania, was in town with her friends to celebrate before getting married, a relationship she said Monday is still going strong. The group had been at the Clevelander hotel club that night dancing when Kuilan and another officer showed up and began chatting with the young women just before 5 a.m.

Prosecutors on Monday showed jurors the now-notorious party photo that Kuilan and Officer Rolando Gutierrez took with the women shortly before the accident.

“They’re not acting like police officers,” Keeley said. “They’re becoming part of the entertainment.”

Martin’s best friend, Camile Campbell, even joked with the cops: “Their uniforms looked so tight they almost looked like strippers,” she testified Monday.

After Martin agreed to go on the ATV ride, Kuilan fetched the vehicle from a nearby alley.

Meanwhile, Almonte and Nicanor — friends through the Internet meeting for the first time — had gone to watch the sunrise. Almonte told jurors he had just dipped his feet into the water to see how warm it was when the ATV struck.

“I woke up in the sand,” Almonte said, showing jurors the unsightly scar on his hip from two major surgeries. “I felt a lot of heat in my body. I was out of it.”

After the collision on the sand around Fourth Street, Kuilan radioed for help, saying a woman in her 20s was on the ground not breathing. But, in a transmission played for jurors on Monday, Kuilan never explained over the air exactly what had happened.

When they arrived, fellow officers found Kuilan hunched over Nicanor, the damaged ATV nearby covered in sand. Martin called her friends, who rushed over and immediately showed police the photo of the cops with them at the Clevelander.

Kuilan’s eyes were red and his face was flushed, Keeley said, though fellow officers did not draw blood to test him for alcohol for a staggering five hours after the crash. Even then, Kuilan still had a blood-alcohol content level of 0.088, just over the legal limit.

His defense attorney, Hoffman, did not outright say Kuilan had not been drinking. But he suggested the blood-draw was not accurate. He also argued that Kuilan’s eyes were red only because sand had flown into his eyes — and pointed out that no one ever saw the officer drinking.

The trial continues Tuesday before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez.

Read more Miami-Dade stories from the Miami Herald

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