March 25, 2013

Candidate for Opa-locka deputy police chief has long disciplinary file

A contender for the deputy chief’s job in Opa-locka has faced 24 police disciplinary cases since 1985, although the most recent was in 2001.

One of the candidates being considered for the deputy police chief position in Opa-locka is a former North Miami cop with a lengthy internal affairs file.

The file on Peter Cruz, a North Miami officer for 28 years, shows that he was the subject of a criminal investigation for insurance fraud; that other officers accused Cruz of harassment, including a claim he superimposed a colleague’s face onto photos of gay pornography; and that higher-ups repeatedly admonished him to act professionally.

In all, Cruz has 24 disciplinary cases against him dating back to 1985. The most recent complaints against Cruz were from 2001.

The most serious charge in the file, a 2001 allegation of insurance fraud that was sustained by internal affairs but never filed by prosecutors, was based on administrative errors, Cruz said.

“It’s unfortunate that after 28 years of service to the city, it’s resulted in negative information,” Cruz said.

Cruz retired from North Miami on March 8. He told his bosses he had been hired as Opa-locka’s deputy police chief, according to North Miami City Manager Stephen Johnson.

North Miami’s mayor even sent an email blast congratulating Cruz on his new job.

But Opa-locka has denied that Cruz has been offered the job.

Opa-locka City Manager Kelvin Baker also previously denied reports that Cruz’s longtime friend and colleague, Jeffrey Key, had been hired as the city’s police chief. Yet, last week, Baker introduced Key at a press conference as the city’s new chief.

During the press conference, Key called Cruz “a viable candidate” for the deputy chief’s post.

The 2001 fraud accusation against Cruz was referred to the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office for criminal investigation, but no criminal charges were filed and the city took no disciplinary action against Cruz.

“That was done during past administrations, and those people are no longer here,” said North Miami police spokesman Maj. Neal Cuevas. “We don’t have an explanation as to why no action was taken at that time.”

Cruz said the city didn’t discipline him because the insurance claim was legitimate and the errors were made administratively in the police department’s processing of the claim.

“It was determined after the internal affairs case that the city gave inaccurate information to AFLAC [the insurance company]. AFLAC ended paying me a settlement out of court of $10,000 for damages,” he said.

The internal affairs investigation found Cruz submitted a false application for insurance, presented false insurance claims to AFLAC and received unlawful compensation from the claims. Cruz also gave false and misleading information during the investigation, according to the internal affairs report.

The matter was turned over to the state attorney’s office public corruption unit for review.

In a letter to the police department, Cruz’s attorney, David Forestier, denied any wrongdoing by his client, but said Cruz was bracing himself for further legal action.

“Sgt Cruz has gone so far as to actually prepare and brief his wife and daughters that he might be arrested and charged with the crime of insurance fraud, a third degree felony punishable by five years in prison,” Forestier wrote.

Records show Cruz paid AFLAC $2,031.46 in restitution. The state attorney’s office declined to press charges because it could not prove that Cruz’s claims were “false, incomplete or misleading beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to a close-out memo.

Also in 2001, Cruz was suspended from the city’s vehicle take-home program for six months after it was discovered he used his police cruiser while off duty to play a game of pickup basketball in North Miami-Dade.

During a confrontation on the courts with a man referred to only as Mr. Rodriguez, Cruz allegedly taunted during the game “You must be taking Viagra” and “You’re my b--ch.”

At some point, Cruz told Rodriguez, “They’re going to find you in a garbage can.”

Rodriguez called 911, but Cruz fled the scene, according to the internal affairs file. Miami-Dade police responded. Rodriguez declined to give a statement.

During his time in North Miami, Cruz rose through the ranks despite his disciplinary file. He retired as a commander.

In another 2001 complaint, officers who were supervised by Cruz testified that he made disparaging remarks about them. One officer said Cruz targeted a colleague’s weight, saying he needed “a park [bench] to park his fat ass at roll call.”

Cruz was also accused of refusing to assist an officer he supervised during a burglary call. Instead, an internal affairs investigator found, “Cruz responded by verbally insulting the officer for asking a question.”

The investigator wrote that Cruz displayed “conduct unbecoming by making derogatory remarks of other officers and refusing to provide supervisory assistance to personnel.”

For his conduct, Cruz was suspended for a day and ordered to receive remedial training in supervising, diversity and communications.

Records show Cruz was also reprimanded for not responding to dispatched calls in a timely manner. According to his file, in 1996 Cruz failed to immediately respond to a dispatch to a home for a violation of a restraining order. Twelve minutes after the call, he was seen talking to an off-duty officer at a Red Lobster restaurant.

When asked by his supervisor why he took so long to respond to the call, Cruz said “that he felt unsafe and that his life was in danger” because another officer who had complained Cruz harassed him also responded to the same call. In a memo, Cruz was counseled “to respond directly to calls without delay.”

Over the years, Cruz’s colleagues have alleged that he bullied or embarrassed them, according to complaints in his file.

A co-worker in 1995 said Cruz was behind anonymous comics and fliers found inside the police department. One flier shows a picture of two men engaged in sex. A picture of a city officer’s face was taped over one of the men’s faces. Investigators dismissed the harassment claim because there was not enough evidence.

Miami Herald writer Janey Tate contributed to this report.

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