Ronald Sabel stood up and cheered when he heard his son’s name called at the Miami-Dade Law Enforcement Officer Awards Gala — known as the Academy Awards for police officers — in March.
“He was standing up and clapping, and then when he gave me the thumbs-up I knew he was proud,” said Jonathan Sabel, who along with partner Juan Segovia won the Award for Investigative Excellence at a gala held at Jungle Island. “I really sensed it.”
About three months later, the elder Sabel, a retired Miami police officer, suddenly died of a heart attack. After seeing his dad — dressed in his police uniform — at the wake, Jonathan Sabel knew he had to give him a parting gift.
So he placed his bronze lion statue in his father’s casket and thought he would never see it again.
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“He deserved it,” Sabel said. He won’t see the statue again, but on Wednesday, the 17-year police veteran was surprised with a duplicate statue from the L.E.O. Awards chairman and Sabel’s colleagues. The new statue honors his father.
“I won it for both of us,” he said, tightly clutching the award. “This means so much to me.”
The L.E.O Awards Gala, put on annually by the L.E.O Foundation and the Miami-Dade County Association of Chiefs of Police, recognizes officers for excellence in police work. Individual agencies nominate officers, and a handful are selected for awards.
“Getting a L.E.O Award is a pretty big deal in the law enforcement community,” said Sunny Isles Beach Police Chief Fred Maas, the awards chair.
Sabel and Segovia, who work in Miami-Dade’s Homicide Bureau, were selected out of a field of detectives from more than 30 agencies. They were nominated for their work on several cases — one involving a missing mother.
In September 2012, the pair learned Raquel Calderin, a missing mother of three. After countless hours of detective work, the pair eventually arrested Calderin’s estranged husband, Jesus Maqueira. Maqueira’s father led police to Calderin’s body.
Maqueria is now awaiting trial on first-degree murder and aggravated stalking charges.
Sabel said closing a case is reward enough, but receiving the award with his partner was “a great moment.”
“It’s a recognition of hard work,” he said. “And knowing my dad was there made it even more special.”
Sabel said he and his father always bonded over police work. As a kid he would ask his dad, who worked midnight shifts for the Miami Police Department, if he “caught any bad guys.”
“I didn’t get to see him much, but it’s because of him I am who I am today,” he said.
When his dad retired in 1991 after 30 years, it was his turn to ask his son how his cases were going.
On Wednesday Sabel’s squad told him there was a ceremony for a department award. He had no idea that the ceremony — attended by Miami-Dade’s command staff and employees — was planned just for him.
Maas said when they caught wind of the story “it was a no-brainer.” Maas had the new plaque engraved with “In Memory of Ronald Sabel.”
Sabel said knowing he and his dad both have the lion statue is overwhelming.
“He would probably say I earned it and deserved it and was proud of my accomplishments,” he said. “And I’d say thank you, Dad.”