Cop vs. cop? A fatal crash in Pinecrest, then a police clash over the rescue

More than three months after lashing out against a Pinecrest police officer’s alleged inaction during fatal traffic accident, the initial responder denies turning in a complaint against the officer.

02/05/2014 6:15 PM

02/05/2014 8:25 PM

On the evening of Oct. 16, off-duty Miami police Sgt. Javier Ortiz heard a loud crash as he was leaving a CVS pharmacy on Kendall Drive. Just a few hundred feet away, a driver had hit a couple trying to cross the road. When Ortiz arrived, he found them badly injured, crumpled on the roadway, and covered in blood.

Despite desperate attempts to revive the University of Miami students, the injuries to Ying Chen, 27, and Hao Liu, 26, were too severe. They didn’t make it.

The tragedy made headlines, with family members flying to Miami from Asia, memorials popping up, vigils held. Family and friends gathered for a service at a nearby church.

Now, another investigation is causing a stir, this one involving a Miami police officer and a Pinecrest police officer. At the center of the drama: Who filed a complaint against Pinecrest officer Ana Carrasco, who has been off duty since early January.

Ortiz, the oft-controversial police union chief in Miami, is listed as the complainant on the 32-page Pinecrest internal-affairs report that recommends Carrasco’s one-week suspension. But despite his public outcry against the officer for not aiding the crash victims, Ortiz denies blowing the whistle.

Pinecrest says Ortiz complained about Carrasco to her supervisor the night of the incident.

Outsiders aware of the incident say it’s probably a case of Ortiz not wanting to cross the Thin Blue Line — an old police term associated with the courtesy, and some would say protection, of cops dealing with cops.

“It really doesn’t make a difference who filed the complaint. They really don’t want to get involved in complaining about another officer, and they absolutely should,” said former Miami police chief Kenneth Harms. “That line has been there for as long as police officers have been together.”

Witness and video accounts of the October car accident show Ortiz spent more than 19 blood-soaked minutes trying to revive Chen and Liu and imploring Carrasco to help. An investigation by Pinecrest internal-affairs officers determined she did little more than retrieve a pair of rubber gloves and toss them toward Ortiz.

A video taken from Carrasco’s patrol car shows her arriving a few seconds after 9:18 p.m. A little more than a minute later, the video shows Carrasco facing the victims with her thumbs in her pockets. At 9:21 p.m., Miami-Dade Fire Rescue arrives.

Carrasco, 30, has been off duty since early January, when Pinecrest police investigators determined she failed to help the fatally injured UM students despite Ortiz’s pleas. Carrasco has appealed the decision.

She was part of the May 2011 graduating class of Florida Highway Patrol troopers, and was working with Pinecrest by October 2012.

Pinecrest police Maj. Jason Cohen said there are no major issues in Carrasco’s personnel file. Police Benevolent Association legal counsel Simone Lopez, who Pinecrest officials said is representing Carrasco, did not return repeated phone calls this week.

Ortiz, the president of Miami’s Fraternal Order of Police, said that a drunk man at the crash scene complained to Carrasco’s supervisor, and that police are protecting him by not naming him as the complainant.

Cohen said the investigation is over. He said Ortiz did the right thing and that he is the complainant.

“Pinecrest contacted me and I cooperated. I may be a union president, but I’m also a first-responder,” Ortiz said. “If the police officer doesn’t want to uphold her oath to save lives and protect the public, it’s time for a career change. Burger King is hiring.”

Cohen said when Ortiz approached Carrasco’s supervisor, “that’s a complaint. He may not see it that way, but that’s how it was. The investigation is closed and the complaint was sustained.”

The 32-page internal-affairs report says Ortiz gave his statement on Nov. 5, almost three weeks after the accident. Ortiz said that he became upset when Carrasco asked him to identify himself.

“It doesn’t matter who I am. You need to do your goddamn job, and you need to go and start CPR on the gentleman,” Ortiz said, recounting to investigators what he told Carrasco. He said despite repeated requests for her help, Carrasco ignored him, only going to her car to get rubber gloves that she tossed in Ortiz’s direction.

Carrasco told investigators she acted properly and that Ortiz was “hysterical” as he dealt with the victims. Her supervisor and the village’s police chief recommended a week-long suspension without pay.

“I have sustained the allegation that our officer failed to provide aid at a traffic crash scene involving injury. Thank you for bringing this matter to the attention of a Pinecrest police supervisor,” Police Chief Samuel Ceballos Jr. wrote to Ortiz on Jan. 10. The same day, Ceballos wrote a memo to Carrasco telling her Ortiz’s complaint has been “sustained.”

Harms looks no further than an October 2011 tit-for-tat between Miami police and the Florida Highway Patrol to understand why cops usually give other cops extra leeway.

That’s when FHP triooper Donna Jane Watts pulled a weapon on Fausto Lopez before she realized he was a Miami police officer, then ticketed him for traveling at 122 miles per hour on his way to work.

The incident, caught on the video camera in Watts’ patrol car, went viral and got so ugly it exploded on police blogs around the country. Miami police denied retaliation a week later when they pulled over a trooper exiting the Turnpike far outside of Miami, for no apparent reason.

They also denied being responsible for spreading feces all over the FHP vehicle of Trooper Joe Sanchez.

Ortiz, at the time the police union chief, attacked Watts relentlessly for drawing her weapon, at one point saying, “I would have thought she possibly was a Baker Act that stole an FHP car and a uniform.” Carrasco, coincidentally, was a state trooper during the squabble, though Ortiz said he doesn’t believe she recognized him at the car-crash scene.

Lopez lost his job. Watts, fearing for her safety, now works behind a desk.

“They did all kinds of stuff to her,” Harms said.

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