December 13, 2012

Hialeah mayor angry over ‘robo-calls’ critical of cops

A fatal accident in Hialeah that killed the daughter of a school board member prompts dispute between the city’s mayor and the family’s lawyer.

Hialeah residents have been receiving pre-recorded phone messages asking that the city police be removed from the investigation into an accident that killed the daughter of a school board member — prompting strong words from the city’s mayor.

Mayor Carlos Hernández said that the so-called “robo-calls” demanding that the city police be removed from the investigation is part of a campaign to politicize the case.

“It’s an insult to Hialeah citizens and to our police,” said Hernández in an interview. “This is a tragedy that has affected the lives of many people and the attempt to use this type of tactics for political or financial reasons outrages me.”

The taped voicemails, which began three weeks ago in English and Spanish, call on the public to contact Hernández to ask him that the Hialeah Police do not take part in the investigation of the car accident that claimed the life of 21-year-old Andrea Castillo, daughter of Susie Castillo, a member of Miami-Dade School Board.

The night of Oct. 19, Andrea had accompanied boyfriend Marco Barrio to get gasoline at a gas station when his Jeep truck was hit by a patrol car carrying Hialeah Detective Raúl Somarriba.

The taped messages denounce the fact that neither the Hernández administration nor the Hialeah Police have released information on the accident.

“To make things worse the police have convinced area businessmen not to share with the family videos that their security cameras may have picked up of the accident,” the message says. “They have dismissed relevant evidence, rushed the case to court and blamed the driver, Andrea’s boyfriend.”

Hernández rejected the accusations. He said that videos of the businesses or any other evidence have not yet been made public because the case is under investigation in coordination with the State Attorney’s office.

The state attorney’s spokesperson, Teresa Chávez, told El Nuevo Herald that evidence is not made public during an investigation. The prosecutor assigned to the case is Laura Adams.

Hernández suggested that the family’s lawyer, Jorge Silva, might be behind the messages.

“Apparently he has an agenda to try to speed up the investigation in order to blemish the name of the City of Hialeah and its Police Department and I am not going to allow that to happen,” Hernández said.

Silva, of Silva & Silva in Coral Gables, reacted in outrage to Hernández’s insinuation.

“This mayor is worried and consumed by the situation and is paranoid to know who created that taped messages,” Silva said. “I can tell you that my office or anyone in my office had nothing to do with this. I don’t have to resort to that to get an adequate and just result.”

One of the messages came from telephone number 305-896-7202. A reporter called that number Saturday and a man who said his name was Luis Patiño answered the call.

Asked if he was involved, the man — after a prolonged silence — said that he had participated in creating the taped messages and then abruptly ended the call.

Hernández said that he never received a call from Silva to talk about the case.

“What I have received is a letter from the lawyer to our Legal Department,” Hernández said.

Silva said that the mayor’s version of things was insulting.

“That this mayor would have the nerve to say that I have never called his office is absurd,” Silva said. “It’s insulting. This family has so many questions and so much anxiety. He has not returned one single call. And to say that no one has called him is absurd.”

Hernández also said that Doral’s former mayor Juan Carlos Bermúdez had sent him a letter with the city’s logo asking that another agency investigate the case.

“It bothers me that he has made allegations referring to a certain perception of corruption and then asked that another police department take the case,” Hernández said.

The letter Bermúdez sent on Nov. 21, a week before leaving office, in no way suggested that the Hialeah Police had not acted professionally ethically in the investigation.

“However, to maintain the integrity of the investigation,” the letter said, “I respectfully ask for your support to have another agency investigate the facts with all the evidence that the Hialeah Police have [] Unfortunately, cases of corruption and dishonesty have plagued our country, the state and the county.”

Bermúdez said that he sent the letter to support Castillo, the city’s economic development coordinator, because “all she wants is to know what happened.”

“I am a little disappointed in J.C. Bermúdez for doing this,” Hernández said. “As a lawyer he knows how the process of a criminal investigation works. He is making a political case of this when it shouldn’t be.”

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