Police union presidents can spend careers making outlandish statements in defense of their troops. But it's not every day that two heavyweight union chiefs square off against each other in public.
Yet the presidents of the two largest police unions in Miami-Dade County are doing just that, as Police Benevolent Association President John Rivera and Fraternal Order of Police leader Javier Ortiz slug it out over whether a Pinecrest cop acted properly at the scene of a fatal car accident in October.
Ortiz is considered a key witness in ongoing hearings into whether Pinecrest Police Officer Ana Carrasco should retain her job. The FOP president says she refused to help two University of Miami students who lost their lives after being struck by a motorist on a busy Pinecrest street.
Rivera says Ortiz has omitted key evidence.
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“We have credible witnesses that give a completely different account,” Rivera said of Ortiz’s explanation. “So different really, it’s shocking and amazing. Ortiz may have placed himself and the city in a libelous situation.”
Countered Ortiz: “I bet if it was John Rivera’s loved one that was dying in front of this cop, he’d want her discharged from her duties, too. John is solely doing his job in covering for a cop that isn’t worth having the incredible responsibility of protecting the public.”
Whatever the truth, Carrasco is expected to learn her fate in the next few weeks, after Pinecrest Village Manager Yocelyn Galiano Gomez sifts through all the conflicting testimony and decides.
The back-and-forth between the union heads is over a deadly car accident that took place in October when University of Miami students Ying Chen, 27, and Hao Liu, 26, were killed by a driver as they tried to cross Kendall Drive not far from U.S. 1.
Ortiz scrambled to the scene after hearing the crash as he was leaving a nearby CVS pharmacy.
There, he told one of Carrasco’s supervisors that despite his pleas, the officer failed to assist the victims before paramedics arrived. An internal probe into the incident by Pinecrest police seemed to support Ortiz’s claim. In January, Carrasco’s supervisor recommended a five-day suspension.
But that decision was overruled two weeks ago when Pinecrest Police Chief Samuel Ceballos Jr. called for her termination.
Carrasco’s fate now rests with Galiano Gomez, who on Monday listened to even more testimony from Pinecrest police brass, and the PBA, which is defending Carrasco. The village manager can abide by Ceballos’ decision, suspend Carrasco, or reinstate her.
Ortiz has tried to distance himself from the investigation, even denying he was the original complainant. He says he didn’t give a statement until Pinecrest police contacted him in November.
Rivera and Ortiz both stayed away from Monday’s hearing. Carrasco has been off duty —and has remained mum —as her case plays out.
On Tuesday, Rivera continued to defend Carrasco, saying she had no choice but to back off from the scene because Pinecrest police policy demands that cops don protective goggles before touching injured victims. At the time of the crash,, village police cars weren’t equipped with the goggles, Rivera said. Village officials say they are mandatory and have been in police vehicles since 2009.
“What’s been reported is not close to what happened,” Rivera said.
Said Ortiz: “Anyone can Monday morning quarterback any situation. The situtation is simple in this case: Did she perform first aide as required by law? The answer is no, she didn’t even check the victim’s pulse.”