When two Sweetwater police officers were suddenly suspended from duty last year, the disciplinary action caused controversy in the city. A few days earlier, Sweewater had been shaken by the arrests of the then-mayor and a detective.
Detective Octavio Oliu and interim sergeant Reny Garcia were investigated as part of a deep federal inquest over alleged acts of corruption within the department. However, 14 months after the officers were suspended on paid leave, nothing has happened.
Oliu and Garcia have made nearly $150,000 combined, including salary and benefits, during their time off the force. The current mayor of Sweetwater, Jose M. Diaz, wonders how much longer Sweetwater residents will have to pay salaries while the inquiry continues.
The officers, who are being investigated for alleged civil rights violations, haven’t been formally accused of any crime by the FBI or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
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The mayor said he doesn’t want to jeopardize the investigation. “But at the same time I have to defend my residents because they’re the ones who are paying taxes.”
Diaz added, “I think it’s unacceptable that for over a year Sweetwater residents have been paying the salaries of these two men without having them work to benefit our city.”
El Nuevo Herald couldn’t reach the police officers’ defense attorneys.
Oliu and Garcia were suspended in September 2013, after the arrests of detective William Garcia — sentenced in July to more than nine years in federal prison for identity theft and credit card fraud — and then-Mayor Manuel “Manny” Maroño, who is serving a sentence for a separate case of public corruption.
Last year, the Miami Herald reported that several Sweetwater officers were under investigation due to the excessive use of force, falsification of reports and illegal confiscation of vehicles. El Nuevo Herald and CBS4 documented several cases in which cars were towed without justification as well as cases involving abusive arrests involving officers Oliu and Garcia.
Diaz, who became mayor after Maroño’s arrest in August last year, said that he suspended the officers after receiving recommendations from then-Police Chief Roberto Fulgueira and the current Deputy Chief Roberto Ochoa.
The mayor said he didn’t think this situation would drag on for so long.
“People on the street ask me about this,” he said. “They’re worried about it.”
Sweetwater resident Idania Llanio thinks that the case is out of control.
“If a decision needs to be made, then make it already. If they’re innocent then they should go back to work and if they’re guilty then let justice take its course,” said Llanio, who has lived in Sweetwater since 1974 and ran for the City Council a year ago. “They must resolve this situation already.”
Miami Herald reporter Jay Weaver contributed to this article.
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