Miami-Dade County

Jurors acquit ex-Miami Beach cop of drunken ATV joyride, convict of reckless driving

Derick Kuilan, the ex-Miami Beach cop who made headlines after crashing into two beach-goers during an on-duty ATV joyride, beat drunk-driving charges Monday.

But he didn’t walk away a free man — jurors acquitted him of DUI felonies, but convicted him of reckless-driving charges.

That means he could land in prison for up to five years. He will be sentenced in the coming weeks.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez immediately ordered Kuilan, 33, to be taken into custody. He was fingerprinted and jailed.

In court, his wife sobbed hysterically, and had to be escorted by relatives out of court as she cried: “I can’t! I can’t!”

The verdict, announced after a little more than two hours of deliberations Monday, was surprising because Miami-Dade prosecutors had a toxicology report that showed Kuilan was legally drunk five hours after the July 2011 crash on the sand near Fourth Street.

But Kitzie Nicanor, who was run over and suffered a massive brain injury from the impact of Kuilan’s police all-terrain vehicle, said she was satisfied with the verdict, though she admitted she “felt sad for him” and his family.

“I don’t wish jail upon anybody, but in the end, we all get what we deserve,” Nicanor said.

The saga of Kuilan — who took the ATV joyride while on duty, in uniform and accompanied by a young woman — became a major embarrassment for a police department that has been marred by controversial shootings and officer misconduct in recent years. The case also helped push former Police Chief Carlos Noriega out of office.

Prosecutors seemingly had a solid case, despite flaws in how the police department handled the investigation.

Kuilan, 33, and another uniformed officer met with a young bachelorette and her friends who had been partying at the Clevelander hotel nightclub in July 2011.

Their meeting was captured in a now-notorious photo, with Kuilan sneering in a too-cool pose alongside the young women.

On Monday, in the courtroom hallway just before the verdict, he struck a similarly confident pose with his fellow Miami Beach police officer pal Jorge Lemusin in a photo that was posted online.

At the Clevelander that night, the bachelorette, Adalee Martin Jones, told jurors that Kuilan offered her a ride and she trusted him “because he was a police officer.”

With Martin hanging onto Kuilan, the two zoomed down the sand to South Pointe, then turned around — with the officer flicking the ATV headlights on and off in the pitch black, she said.

But on the way back, prosecutors say, the ATV had no lights on when it crashed into Luis Almonte and Kitzie Nicanor, two friends who had walked to the water’s edge to watch the sunrise.

During closing arguments Monday, prosecutor David I. Gilbert told jurors Kuilan drove recklessly because of the high speed and the dangerous conditions that morning.

“Without his headlights on, he might as well have had a blindfold on,” Gilbert said. “Everybody said it was pitch black out there.”

Almonte suffered a broken femur and now has a metal rod in his leg. Nicanor lost her spleen, suffered a hip injury and suffered brain trauma.

“She doesn’t remember things. She has uncontrollable emotions,” Gilbert told the jury. “She’s not working now. She may never work again. She is the unlucky one.”

Jurors convicted Kuilan of reckless driving with serious bodily injury for Nicanor, but found Kuilan guilty of simple reckless driving for hitting Almonte.

Evan Hoffman, Kuilan’s defense attorney, had argued that Almonte’s injuries were not serious because the young man still works as a personal trainer. “He’s as strong as an ox,” Hoffman told jurors.

The defense also insisted that Kuilan was never reckless while maneuvering the heavy vehicle down the sand.

“Driving in a straight line is not reckless. He wasn’t swerving or doing donuts,” Hoffman said afterward.

Jurors declined to speak to reporters after the verdict, but they clearly found traction with the defense’s argument that prosecutors never proved he was drunk at the time of the crash.

During his closing arguments, Gilbert ripped fellow Miami Beach police officers for their handling of the crash involving one of their own. At least two experienced accident investigators inexplicably were removed from the case early in the investigation, he noted.

The prosecutor likened Kuilan’s colleagues to Sgt. Schultz, the inept World War II German guard on the 1960s comedy Hogan’s Heroes, whose catch-phrase was: “I know nothing. I hear nothing. I see nothing.”

Said Gilbert: “There is testimony he was treated differently by his fellow officers. It was all to his favor.”

Indeed, police waited five hours to draw a blood sample from Kuilan — and even then, a toxicology report showed, his blood-alcohol content was .088, just over the legal limit, Gilbert said. That meant he was probably at double the legal limit at the time of the crash, the state said.

But Hoffman challenged the accuracy of the test, saying another sample of the same blood draw — tested by the defense two years after the crash — showed a lower blood-alcohol level.

Kuilan’s red eyes and flushed face came from the trauma of the accident, not from drinking, Hoffman said. And no witnesses ever saw the officer drinking, he said.

Hoffman said: “Bad judgment is not impairment.”