Amid allegations that Biscayne Park cops routinely framed innocent people, prosecutors have announced they will review old criminal arrests in the small suburban village north of Miami.
The cases stem from the 2013-2014 tenure of former Biscayne Park Police Chief Raimundo Atesiano, who is facing trial on federal charges of violating the civil rights of a teenager who was falsely arrested on a slew of burglary charges.
The review of the cases comes on the heels of news that one of Atesiano’s former officers, Guillermo Ravelo, pleaded guilty in federal court to framing two black men: one for a pair of home burglaries, another for a string of car break-ins. The added scrutiny also comes weeks after the Miami Herald published a story detailing internal records that suggested officers were pushed to arrest black people to clear burglaries in an effort to impress community leaders.
The state’s review of the other cases will be done to determine if anyone was wrongfully convicted.
“I am deeply saddened that this type of review is necessary due to police misconduct, but as partners in justice it is important that we come together to ensure that constitutional rights are protected,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle wrote in an e-mail last week to Public Defender Carlos Martinez.
“None of us is above the law.”
Replied Martinez: “We share the outrage.”
Atesiano, 52, has pleaded not guilty. Two of his former officers, Raul Fernandez and Charlie Dayoub, also have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. Sources say they are cooperating against their one-time boss.
The trio is accused of falsely arresting a 16-year-old Biscayne Park teen for a string of burglaries. Prosecutors immediately dropped the cases, but the arrests allowed Atesiano to claim a perfect closure rate for burglaries.
During his roughly two-year tenure as chief, 29 of 30 burglary cases were cleared, including all 19 in 2013. In 2015, the year after he left, records show village cops did not clear a single one of 19 burglary cases.
The village itself started an internal probe after a group of officers sent letters complaining about the brass’ orders. The case was turned over to state prosecutors, who later teamed up with federal authorities.
The village commission met Monday evening, but the ongoing probes into past police practices were not discussed. But in interviews with the Miami herald, village leaders have said the department has been overhauled.
“We welcome and will cooperate with all investigations,” said recently hired Biscayne Park Police Chief Luis Cabrera. “We didn’t condone misconduct then, and we will not condone it now.”
The State Attorney’s Office review is part of its Justice Project, a program that was started in 2003 to examine cases that might have resulted in wrongful convictions. The Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office will also look at cases involving Officer Dayoub.
Public Defender Martinez, in his e-mail reply to the state attorney, said his office has already “seen some questionable cases” involving Dayoub even before Atesiano became the chief in 2013.