A political committee supporting David Rivera is sponsoring a website and running robo calls accusing his challenger for House District 118, Robert Asencio, of being a “child abuser” based on an unsubstantiated 2003 complaint.
Asencio, a Democrat and former sergeant and police investigator with Miami-Dade County Schools, is running against Rivera, the former Republican congressman who is attempting to return to the Florida House.
The allegation, promoted by Rivera’s backers, is based on a complaint by a Hialeah parent in 2003 who said the officer pulled her son “out of her seat by the neck and shirt” while riding on a school bus in February 2003 because she said her son was “disrespectful.”
The school district investigated the complaint and closed the case with a memo to the file, as required by law, said Raul Correa, public information officer for Miami-Dade Schools’ chief of police on Wednesday.
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“It basically means no violations of law, policy, procedures or guidelines occurred — nothing here — but we're going to put a memo in the file,’’ he said. “It wasn't even a violation of minimum standards.”
Correa also dismissed the claim that Asencio, who worked for another 13 years with the department after the complaint and was promoted to captain, was a child abuser.
“Our standards are high standards and we do not have child abusers working as police officers in the school district,” Correa said, adding that his comments should not be construed as endorsing either candidate.
Asensio, who retired a year ago after 26 years on the Miami Dade Schools police force, called the allegation, and others on the website “totally false, gutter politics.”
“As police officers you deal at times with unruly people — and I’m not saying that's the case here because I don't remember it,’’ he said. “But it's common knowledge police have to take people in custody, or restrain them for their own safety or the safety of others.”
But Rivera, who initially urged the Herald/Times to review the web site and then said he did not know who was behind it, stood by the claims.
“Mr. Asencio being physically abusive toward a child is 100 percent true,’’ he said. “...There is never any excuse for any school official to put a finger on a child, much less for being ‘disrespectful.’ No parent would accept having their child grabbed by the neck by anyone. Physical and abusive behavior toward a child is unacceptable. Period. End of story.”
The web site, which is run anonymously, claims “Robert Asencio is a child abusing criminal who should be in jail.” The robo call, paid for by Florida First, the political committee supporting Rivera, accuses Asencio of having “a history of child abuse and other criminal behavior.”
Rivera said the “child abuse” label was “a title” but would not defend say whether he thought the school district harbored a child abuser by keeping him on their police force.
“I’m not talking about any of that. I’m talking about him grabbing a child physically,’’ he said.
Florida First has raised $53,000 and in August paid GoDaddy to launch a web site.
Rivera, who served in the state House from 2002-2010, was defeated in 2012 in his bid to seek re-election to Congress and has faced a federal criminal investigation into an unlawful 2012 campaign-finance scheme he’s suspected of orchestrating. He has not been charged and has repeatedly denied being under investigation, though a judge twice forced prosecutors to identify Rivera in open court as “Co-Conspirator A.”
In 2010, Rivera was elected to Congress, despite being under a state criminal ethics investigation and a federal tax investigation. Neither went anywhere, though the state case resulted in a recommendation last year from the Florida Commission on Ethics that Rivera be fined nearly $58,000. Rivera has appealed that ruling and Attorney General Pam Bondi on Tuesday asked the court to reject his appeal.
The robo call and web site also claim that Asencio “tried to falsify police reports when he was confronted with the abusive behavior,” although it offers no details. The web site also pulled pictures from Asencio’s Facebook page showing him with a group of drag queens from a popular Fort Lauderdale drag show, and a picture of him in front of a mailbox while distributing campaign fliers.
Asencio said he was considering running against Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, who authored the transgender bathroom bill, in the District 118 seat, before Artilles decided to vacate the seat and run for state Senate. He attended the drag show because it was a birthday party for his nephew and he posted the picture in 2015 to show his support of the LGBT community.
“Great show ‘Ladies’. The family enjoyed it. Equality — in Tallahassee, I will legislate for all,” his post read.
He said also said the allegation that he was tampering with mailboxes was false.
“That's one of thousands of homes I walked and it just so happens I’m standing in front of a mailbox and if you look on the clipboard there's a flier,’’ he said. “If I can’t get through somebody’s gate or if nobody’s home, I leave them a personalized note. I think people like that.”
“I’m proud of my career in the military and my public service career in police,’’ Asencio said. “I was rewarded with the trust of authorities and to have someone as tainted by investigations and prior issues make these claims is exactly why people are tired of politics. David knows if he doesn’t invent something about me and we run on his record he's going to lose.”