West Miami-Dade

Commissioners debate what to do with officers on paid leave

Sweetwater Commissioners are weighing what to do with the two officers that have been under paid suspension for over a year now.

The City Commission is asking the mayor and the chief of police to ask the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and FBI for a time frame in their investigation of detective Octavio Oliu and interim sergeant Reny Garcia. The two officers are being investigated on corruption allegations.

At Tuesday’s Commission meeting, Commissioner Orlando Lopez asked the city attorney and the chief of police if there was any way to put the officers back to work in the meantime.

“Is there anything that we can do? Can they be brought back on light duty?” asked Lopez. “Do they have to be at home during the [investigation]?”

Mayor Jose M. Diaz said the city hasn’t put the officers back on duty because they are part of a criminal investigation.

“We haven’t considered to bring them to light duty or to administrative responsibilities because it’s a criminal case investigation and we don’t want to have that kind of influence in our police department,” Diaz said. “At this point, I would like to advise everyone that we should not interfere whatsoever with the investigation.”

Polie Chief Jesús Menocal, agreed. He told commissioners that unlike administrative or internal investigations, police agencies usually suspend officers that are part of a criminal investigation.

“I know the investigation is still on,” Menocal said. “If they are being investigated criminally, where would you put them in the police department that would not be involved with the integrity of the credibility of the [department]?”

The Miami Herald has previously reported that the officers, who are being investigated for alleged civil rights violations, haven’t been formally charged with any crime by the FBI or the FDLE.

Meanwhile, Sweetwater residents’ taxes have paid nearly $150,000 in Oliu and Garcia’s combined salaries and benefits since their suspension.

Diaz suspended Oliu and Garcia in September 2013, after the arrests of Det. William Garcia and then-Mayor Manuel “Manny” Maroño — both of whom have been convicted.

“It’s not fair to the residents of Sweetwater that they are losing out on a lot of money for two people that are sitting at home, and they are not receiving the services,” said Commissioner Jose Bergouignan. “But we can’t have them anywhere in the police department until all this is solved.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Bergouignan said that the agencies investigating the officers should give the city a time frame of the investigation in writing.

“They need to have at least the decency to inform our chief of police so he can at least give us a secure feeling that there is going to be time limit to this.”

Diaz said that the administration and the chief of police have been trying to get more concrete information from both agencies, but the city cannot interfere with their investigation.

Menocal, who has been in contact with the agencies, said they told him one of the investigations may conclude soon, but the city needs to be patient.

“Let’s wait — I do talk to them,” Menocal said. “They told me be patient, one is almost going to be done. It took a little bit longer because it’s like Pandora’s box: once they do something, they find something else.”