Two former Biscayne Park police officers pleaded guilty Friday to framing an innocent teenager with a string of home burglaries at the direction of the chief so his department could boast a perfect property crime-solving record.
The officers, Charlie Dayoub, 38, and Raul Fernandez, 62, admitted they falsified arrest affidavits for the 16-year-old black suspect for four unsolved break-ins in June 2013, a month before then-police chief Raimundo Atesiano touted the town’s 100 percent burglary clearance record at a village commission meeting.
Atesiano told the two officers that he wanted them to unlawfully arrest T.D., the teen, for the residential burglaries “knowing that there was no evidence that T.D. had committed the burglaries,” according to an indictment charging all three former officers. The charges against the teen were eventually dropped after the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office noticed the four arrest affidavits, written by Fernandez and signed by Dayoub, all used similar vague language — that the “investigation revealed” T.D. employed the same “M.O.” and the homes had a “rear door pried open.”
Dayoub and Fernandez face up to one year in prison for violating T.D.’s civil rights, but they could receive less time at their sentencing hearing on Oct. 10 before U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore if they provide “substantial assistance” in their cooperation with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. As part of their plea agreements, a civil rights conspiracy charge that carries up to 10 years in prison will be dismissed.
After Friday’s plea hearing, defense attorneys Ana Davide and David Sobel, representing Dayoub and Fernandez, respectively, said their clients made a “terrible mistake” amid a “culture of fear” fostered by their former boss, Atesiano.
Atesiano, who resigned as the small suburban town’s police chief in 2014, remains the only officer implicated in the false-arrest case to face trial on civil rights conspiracy and related charges. Last week, a third officer admitted falsifying arrest warrants for two men at the direction of the chief. Those men, both in their 30s at the time, were also black.
Guillermo Ravelo, who was fired from the force earlier this year, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge that he violated the rights of the falsely accused men — one charged with a pair of home break-ins in 2013, the other with five vehicle burglaries the following year. Ravelo, 37, also pleaded guilty to using excessive force during a Biscayne Park traffic stop in 2013 when he struck a handcuffed suspect in the face with his fist.
The admissions of the three Biscayne Park officers to the false police arrests intensify the spotlight on Atesiano. The 52-year-old former chief was indicted in June along with Dayoub and Fernandez, on a conspiracy and related charge of pinning four unsolved home burglaries on the teen so the chief could claim a perfect clearance rate on property crimes in 2013, federal prosecutors said.
The town reported clearing 29 of 30 burglary cases during Atesiano’s tenure as chief in 2013 and 2014. But now that seemingly outstanding record has been refuted by the fact that at least 11 of those cases were based on false arrest reports, according to federal authorities.
Dayoub, Fernandez and Ravelo are all cooperating with the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in the case against Atesiano.
Atesiano has strongly denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty as he awaits trial. His defense attorney, Richard Docobo, questioned the integrity of the cops who have flipped for the feds to reduce their potential prison time.
Biscayne Park’s new police chief and village manager insist they have overhauled the small department in the years since Atesiano resigned amid an investigation of allegations of racial profiling and other issues.
In the aftermath of Atesiano’s indictment in June, the Miami Herald obtained internal public records suggesting that during his tenure as chief, the command staff pressured some Biscayne Park officers into targeting random black people to clear cases.
“If they have burglaries that are open cases that are not solved yet, if you see anybody black walking through our streets and they have somewhat of a record, arrest them so we can pin them for all the burglaries,” one cop said in an internal probe ordered in 2014. “They were basically doing this to have a 100% clearance rate for the city.”
In a report from that probe, four officers — a third of the small force — told an outside investigator they were under marching orders to file the bogus charges to improve the department’s crime stats. While only one officer specifically mentioned targeting blacks, former Biscayne Park village manager Heidi Shafran, who ordered the investigation after receiving a string of letters from disgruntled officers, said the message seemed clear for cops on the street.
In the continuing fallout from the scandal, Miami-Dade prosecutors said they will review old criminal arrests in Biscayne Park during Atesiano’s tenure in 2013-2014. The state’s review of the other cases will be done to determine if anyone was wrongfully convicted.