When South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard found out that police detective Joseph Mendez was allegedly trying to seduce cadets in the Police Explorer program he was “horrified.”
The 47-year-old Mendez was placed on paid leave for 15 months after a complaint of misconduct from a fellow officer in June 2014 launched an investigation. Mendez was arrested Sept. 29. He is now on unpaid leave, according to City Manager Steven Alexander.
“To the best of my knowledge, the city has done it strictly by the book,” Stoddard said. “As soon as they found out what the deal was, he was suspended without pay.”
Mendez tried to seduce underage girls in the Explorer program by buying them alcohol, according to state agents.
“Obviously I was horrified by the news of what was going on,” Stoddard said. “I was very pleased that our department took care of it internally and that they didn’t waste any time in addressing it. They handled it professionally. They got FDLE involved at just the right time and this is what we want to see happen when there is a problem.”
Mendez was charged with 10 counts of charges related to photos found on his phone, some involving sexual performance by a child, and four counts of selling, giving or serving an alcoholic beverage to a person under 21.
“I wanted everything to be very clear and very open,” SMPD Chief Rene Landa said. “We could have done this investigation ourselves. I decided, because of the expert detectives I could use, I called FDLE in. I wanted to be very clear and didn’t want any questions, so I made sure that we both worked tandem on this investigation.”
“From the second that information was relayed to the supervisor that was on the scene over there, we immediately took him away from work over there with the kids. He was removed from the program immediately, that day. We verified some of the things that were told to us. The following day, he was suspended with pay.”
The city will continue the Explorer program, which was coordinated by Mendez from 2009 to 2014. Mendez has been employed by SMPD since 2005.
“We’ve replaced him already and got a new class of recruits in,” Alexander said. “It’s a bigger class than we had before. I think the community is responding very well. We are really happy to continue with a really high quality program. We are continuing on very strongly with that program.”
Mendez is denying the allegations. He has since been released from Broward County Jail on $42,000 bond.
“On June 19, 2014, allegations of possible wrongdoing by an officer of the South Miami Police Department Det. Joseph Mendez, were received by the Department and immediately acted upon by investigators of the SMPD,” the department said in a news release. “During the investigation by South Miami Police investigators, statements were secured from several minor female members of the Police Explorer Program. Evidence relating to this investigation was secured from different scenes indicating possible inappropriate and criminal behavior by the Detective.”
The FDLE and South Miami Police talked with witnesses past and present, said Landa, who became permanent chief in February 2014. “We made sure every ‘T’ was crossed and every ‘I’ was dotted and we did everything we had to do with it,” he said. “We obtained enough information, went to the state attorney’s office. The state attorneys office took a while to review all of the evidence. They turned around and filed criminal charges against him. FDLE moved in and picked him up and it was processed.”
There are 50 sworn officers, with one being hired last Friday, in the police department. Landa said that the department added a female officer to the Explorer program after the allegations. Landa said a supervisor was also added to the program, but was already employed when the alleged events happened.
“When these things happen, we have so many things in place, but we also go back and review all of our policies and procedures,” Landa said. “We review to make sure to see what can we do to make this better.”
Landa encourages other possible victims to come forward to the police department.
“We contacted every single Explorer that was with the program in the past, was with the program during the time that he was there and we notified and contacted every single one of them just to verify and make sure,” Landa said. “Obviously if there is any type of Explorer or underage child that this guy had contact with, obviously we would make sure and tell everybody to please come forward and let us know and advise the South Miami police department immediately.”