Before arrest in civil-rights case, Florida police chief touted perfect crime-solving rate
Five years ago, Guillermo Ravelo was a rookie cop in Biscayne Park when he framed a Haitian man for a pair of home burglaries under orders from the police chief.
Ravelo then pinned five unsolved vehicle break-ins on an innocent black man — again because the town’s police chief, Raimundo Atesiano, ordered him to do it to boost his department’s clearance rate for property crimes.
Between those false arrests, Ravelo slugged a handcuffed Hispanic man after he was stopped for a broken taillight while driving through the suburban town north of Miami.
On Thursday, the 37-year-old Ravelo faced his own punishment when a federal judge sentenced him to two years and three months of prison for conspiring to violate the civil rights of the two black men wrongly accused of the burglaries and for using excessive force on the Hispanic man during the traffic stop.
Ravelo, who was fired from the Biscayne Park police force and pleaded guilty in July, broke up as he apologized to U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga. Tearful family members and friends described him as a devoted father to his two sons who participated in church and school activities.
“I am not here to make excuses,” Ravelo said. “I let down my family, the people I serve and most of all my two boys.”
The young man who was assaulted by Ravelo during the April 2013 traffic stop in Biscayne Park told the judge that he understood Ravelo was a family man but questioned his becoming a police officer.
“This has had a really big impact on me,” said Jonathan Pereira, 27, who was falsely arrested by Ravelo for resisting an officer with violence and battery on a cop — charges that were eventually dismissed.
“It has made me look at law enforcement differently,” he said. “I can see where his family is coming from. ... I don’t know him personally, but that night I didn’t see him like that. It was a rough time for me.”
Altonaga ended up punishing Ravelo — who faced up to 10 years for the civil rights conspiracy and another year for excessive force — with a prison term that fell within the federal sentencing guidelines for his conviction. His sentence was jointly recommended by prosecutors Harry Wallace and Trent Reichling and defense attorneys Douglas Hartman and C. Michael Cornely.
Ravelo’s imprisonment followed Tuesday’s sentencing of two other former Biscayne Park police officers, Charlie Dayoub, 38, and Raul Fernandez, 62, who pleaded guilty in August to depriving a 16-year-old black suspect of his civil rights after falsely arresting him for four unsolved residential burglaries in 2013 at the direction of Atesiano, the chief. U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore chastised prosecutors for recommending home confinement for Dayoub and probation for Fernandez, based on their grand jury testimony against Atesiano.
Atesiano, 52, who pleaded guilty to a civil rights conspiracy charge before his trial in September, faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced in November.
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 — though the federal investigation did not identify any of the arrest victims by race. In a 2014 Biscayne Park report, 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 2014 investigation after receiving a string of letters from disgruntled officers, said the message seemed clear for cops on the street.
The town reported clearing 29 of 30 burglary cases during Atesiano’s tenure as chief in 2013 and 2014. But now that extraordinary record — once touted by Atesiano to town leaders — has been shattered by the reality that at least 11 of those cases were based on false arrest reports.
This summer, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office launched an investigation into potentially dozens of criminal arrests during Atesiano’s tenure that have been called into question by the federal probe.
Ravelo testified before the grand jury in July about Atesiano’s policy of pinning unsolved property crimes on innocent victims to improve his department’s statistics.
In January 2013, Atesiano ordered Ravelo to arrest Clarens Desrouleaux, 35, for two unsolved home break-ins. The officer signed two arrest affidavits falsely claiming that Desrouleaux “had confessed to committing the burglary,” prosecutors allege in court papers. Desrouleaux, who had a criminal history, claims he was pressured into pleading guilty and was imprisoned for five years before being deported to his native Haiti.
In February 2014, Atesiano told Ravelo that he wanted him to arrest Erasmus Banmah, 31, for five unsolved vehicle burglaries, despite knowing there was “no evidence” that he had committed the crimes, prosecutors alleged in court records. A couple of days later, Ravelo filled out five arrest forms falsely accusing Banmah of the vehicle burglaries at five different street locations in Biscayne Park.
For each of the five burglaries, Ravelo “falsely claimed in an arrest affidavit that [Banmah] had taken him to the site of the respective burglary and confessed to the items that [he] had stolen.”