For years, Opa-locka’s police force has been ridiculed as the place where almost any officer, even one with a criminal past, could get hired.
When Maj. Peter Cruz was hired in 2013, he already had a fat internal affairs file, filled with complaints ranging from perjury to conduct unbecoming an officer for allegedly superimposing fellow officers’ faces on pornographic photographs he distributed to the department.
Despite his history, Opa-locka Police Chief Jeffrey Key, with whom Cruz worked at the North Miami Police Department, not only hired him, but promoted him.
Now, Cruz is behind bars. He was arrested before dawn Monday on charges that he crashed his city-issued pickup truck while driving under the influence in Aventura.
According to the police report, Cruz was so impaired that he kept falling down, stumbling from side to side and losing his balance after crashing his truck into a fence along a busy pedestrian thoroughfare about 6 a.m.
He refused to take a field sobriety test, and when Aventura officers told him he was still going to be criminally charged, he said “I’m f-----,’’ the report said.
Cruz, 56, who was off duty, was charged with two counts of driving under the influence and damage to property, according to the police report.
The report said Cruz drove through an intersection at Northeast 199th Street and West Country Club Drive, lost control and crashed into a solid wooden fence. His truck plowed across the popular exercise trail behind Aventura Mall near the Turnberry Isle resort and became perched on a bank of trees.
Cruz stumbled out of his truck, and told responding officers, in slurred speech, that he was trying to turn left, but wasn’t able to complete the turn.
He was alone in the silver Ford pickup and walked away from the accident unscathed.
“I could detect a strong odor of alcohol emitting from his breath as he opened his month and spoke along with bloodshot watery eyes and a flush face,” wrote the arresting officer, adding that Cruz “stumbled when he attempted to walk” and “nearly fell off the fence after losing his balance.”
Cruz refused to take a field sobriety test, telling officers: “I ain’t doing those tests man.”
During processing at the Aventura police station, Cruz stripped completely naked, and was placed in a holding cell. He urinated on himself in his sleep, the report said.
“As the facts change, then certainly there will be an evaluation of those facts,’’ said Opa-locka Assistant City Manager David Chiverton, who also functions as the city’s public information officer. He added that Cruz’s arrest is the first allegation against him since he was hired in Opa-locka two years ago.
About a month ago, however, an anonymous letter was sent to the city, alleging that Cruz was engaged in inappropriate relations with a fellow female officer, and that other female officers were preparing to file complaints of sexual harassment against him and other officers on the force. “He knows he can do whatever he wants,’’ the letter said. It’s not clear whether the city was investigating the allegations.
Opa-locka hired both Key and Cruz in 2013. When Key was picked as the new chief, he named Cruz as his second in command. Key backed off, however, after the Miami Herald wrote a story detailing Cruz’s troubled law enforcement history. A few months later, after the controversy died down, he brought Cruz aboard.
Cruz’s internal affairs files indicated that in 2001 he was charged with insurance fraud, an allegation that was sustained but never prosecuted. At the time, Cruz said the insurance claim was legitimate but was riddled with errors.
Cruz was also accused of refusing to assist an officer he supervised during a burglary call and conduct unbecoming an officer for making derogatory comments about other officers. When his record become public, Chiverton downplayed his checkered background, saying, “It may all be unfounded.’’
Cruz is among a long line of Opa-locka police officers in trouble with the law.
The city has the dubious distinction of employing German Bosque, who at one time had the worst complaint record of any police officer in the state of Florida. Bosque was fired at least five times, and arrested at least twice. The last time, the charges stuck.
In November he was sentenced to almost a year in prison, following a conviction for false imprisonment and witness tampering. Bosque snatched the cellphone of a man who tried to file a complaint, then briefly handcuffed the man before setting him free.
In 2012, an Opa-locka police captain, Arthur Balom, was jailed in a federal drug sting. Balom was part of a drug-trafficking organization, operating out of an Opa-Locka apartment complex, known as “The Back Blues.’’
The Miami Herald was unsuccessful in reaching Cruz Monday. Key, the chief, said Monday night, “I am not at liberty to answer any questions.’’
He redirected the Herald to the city’s public information officer, Chiverton.
Cruz was booked at Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center near Doral. His bond was set for $1,000 and he remained jailed Monday evening.
Miami Herald staff writers Carli Teproff and Julie K. Brown contributed to this report.