The Miami police department may be forced to reinstate a cop who was fired last year for a minor administrative violation but has a far darker cloud over his career: the specter of his possible involvement in a murder.
The department’s own homicide detectives suspect that Officer Adrian Rodriguez, before he joined the force, helped orchestrate a botched store robbery that left a young ex-Marine dead.
Investigators have collected a key jailhouse recording and details from informants but are not yet sure it’s enough to build a concrete case against Rodriguez for the 2007 slaying of Yosbel Millares. Yet details of the ongoing probe spilled out in dramatic fashion at an arbitration hearing last week where Rodriguez fought to regain his badge.
An assistant city attorney pressed him: “Do you know who planned the robbery?” “Did your father plan this robbery?” “You didn’t intend for Mr. Millares to die that day?” “Do you know what happened to the money after the robbery?”
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Rodriguez refused to answer most questions, often invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.
“You can’t take the Fifth and still wear the badge in the city of Miami. How do you do both?” Assistant City Attorney Kevin Jones asked during the hearing last week at the city’s administrative offices. “Don’t you see a fundamental problem with this, Mr. Rodriguez?”
Rodriguez said nothing.
Whether Rodriguez, 29, gets his job back is now up to an arbiter, who will decide within the next month. His police-union lawyer, Eugene Gibbons, blasted the department, saying Rodriguez was fired on trumped-up allegations because detectives have no credible evidence in the decade-old murder case.
“He’s never been arrested for the homicide. He’s never been charged. He was a police officer in fine standing at the time he was let go,” said Gibbons, who is demanding full back pay and benefits for his client.
The unusual saga began in October 2007, when Rodriguez was a 20-year-old working at the MetroPCS store in the blue-collar Miami neighborhood of Allapattah.
His co-worker was Millares, a Miami Springs High grad who spent four years in the Marines before becoming the manager at the cell-phone store. Millares, 28, had just found out that his girlfriend was pregnant and wanted to name their child after himself.
That evening, Millares was leaving the store into the back parking lot, on his way to deposit the store’s earnings. Suddenly, two gunmen appeared. One shot Millares in the stomach, even though he did not resist.
“They just shot him in cold blood,” Miami Detective Eunice Cooper said at the time.
From the start, investigators did not believe the store was targeted at random. The robbers were seen idling in a maroon-colored car, as if waiting for Millares to emerge.
“We always had good reason to believe this was an inside job,” said Miami Detective Rick Martinez, the case’s lead investigator.
Rodriguez witnessed the shooting and was interviewed by police. But at the time, there was no evidence that he had played any role in the killing.
He joined the Miami police force the next year, working as a low-profile patrolman in Overtown. He was the subject of a few disciplinary actions over the next couple years, one for a squad-car crash deemed “preventable,” another for missing a court date. None of the reprimands were serious.
The Millares killing, meanwhile, went cold, even though detectives did a video re-enactment of the robbery with Miami-Dade CrimeStoppers, the anonymous tip line that offers rewards for helping solve cases.
As for his family, Millares’ namesake son grew up without a father, although the boy visits weekly with his aunt and his abuela, his grandmother, said the slain man’s sister, Magnolia Millares.
“That keeps her happy. She loves him,” Magnolia Millares said. “He looks exactly like my brother. It’s like seeing a mini-him. Their personalities are the same, very good-hearted.”
It was not until late 2010 that the case was revived when Kissimmee police called Miami homicide detectives to tell them about an intriguing recording of a call placed to an inmate jailed in Orange County.
The caller was Brian Rodriguez, the cop’s brother, who not in jail but was dialing a friend who was behind bars.
In the call, recorded by the jail’s phone system, Brian Rodriguez accused his incarcerated friend of blabbing to people on the streets of Miami about “what happened with my middle brother, what happened, of an accident that happened over there, you know, down south.”
Miami detectives soon learned that Brian Rodriguez had confided to witnesses intimate details about the crime that the public did not know — including the alleged involvement of his brother, Adrian, and their father, Norberto. The cops believe the family arranged the robbery of the cell-phone store.
Investigators spent months working the case. Finally on Feb. 11, 2013, Detective Martinez brought in Adrian Rodriguez for an interview, telling him that his father was a “person of interest.” Rodriguez “abruptly” ended the interview, refusing to “talk about the case because it involved his father,” according to personnel records.
What Rodriguez did not know was that internal affairs detectives followed him immediately after the interview, tracking him to a Hialeah warehouse where he met his father, presumably to talk about the renewed homicide probe, documents show.
Within two days, Rodriguez was relieved of duty with pay by the Miami police department — a status he would remain on for more than three years as police and prosecutors continued to try to build the murder case.
A few days later, prosecutors subpoenaed Brian Rodriguez, forcing him to come to the state attorney’s office for a sworn statement. Nothing he said could be used against him, unless he was found to have lied.
And Brian Rodriguez did lie, according to authorities. When the tape of the jail call was played for him during that sworn interview, police said Brian Rodriguez repeatedly insisted that it was not his voice. He was charged with a single felony count of perjury.
Ultimately, after years in limbo, the perjury case late last year closed when Brian Rodriguez agreed to acknowledge in open court that it was indeed his voice on the recording. He was entered into a program for first-time offenders and the perjury charged was officially dropped in December.
As for Adrian Rodriguez, Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes finally fired the officer in June. But it wasn’t directly because of the store slaying.
Llanes instead relied on a technicality: Rodriguez failed to tell internal affairs about his whereabouts during three times he left his home while he was on paid administrative leave.
The chief did not mince words about Rodriguez’s refusal to talk. “Officer Rodriguez’s unwillingness to provide information via a witness interview shows his unwillingness to cooperate with investigators, and ensures that he remains a suspect in the case,” he wrote in the discipline memo.
Whether Rodriguez gets his job back is now up to the arbitrator.
Relatives of Millares are firmly against it. Detectives last week called Millares’ sister to tell her about the developments in the case, and the possible involvement of a cop.
“How is it possible that he is a police officer? He slipped through the cracks,” said Magnolia Millares, 31. “I’m glad he’s no longer there. Whatever it takes for him to not be a police officer — he’s not a good human being.”
But Gibbons, Rodriguez’s attorney, insists that the city is wrongly using the murder probe against his client, who has answered enough questions.
“Adrian is not required by law or by any condition of his employment to voluntarily subject himself to such continued harassment,” Gibbons said in an interview.