Amid a widening probe into cops framing innocent people in the small village of Biscayne Park, prosecutors have thrown out the burglary convictions of a man who wound up deported to Haiti after serving five years in state prison.
The wrongful conviction is the latest revelation in a handful of cases that have exposed blatantly racist policing tactics during the tenure of ex-Chief Raimundo Atesiano, who abruptly resigned four years ago. He faces an upcoming federal trial on civil rights violations based on allegations that he ordered some officers to falsely arrest several black men for burglaries to improve the village’s crime statistics. Three former officers have already admitted in other cases to making false arrests.
Two other “suspects” wrongfully arrested in 2013 and 2014 had their cases dropped within weeks of their arrests. But not so with Clarens Desrouleaux, who went to Florida prison — and whose story remained untold until Friday, when state prosecutors asked a judge to strike the conviction from the record.
“It is this office’s position that the charges brought against Clarens Desrouleaux ... cannot be substantiated and require that the judgment and sentence be vacated,” Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Justin Funck wrote in a final memo on the case.
Atesiano was in charge of policing for the tiny suburban village wedged between Miami Shores and North Miami. During his tenure in 2013 and 2014, he boasted about a perfect clearance rate for burglaries — a perfect 19 cases solved in one year alone, he told village leaders.
But disgruntled officers soon began writing letters to the village’s then-manager, who hired an independent investigator to probe the claims that Atesiano and his command staff had ordered up bogus arrests. At least one officer, in a report later obtained by the Miami Herald, claimed that he was told to pin burglaries on “anybody black walking through our streets” or who had “somewhat of a record.”
Miami-Dade state prosecutors began an investigation and, working with federal counterparts, secured an indictment in June against Atesiano and officers Raul Fernandez and Charlie Dayoub. Both officers pleaded guilty and are now cooperating against their former boss. A third officer, Guillermo Ravelo, has also pleaded guilty to helping frame one homeless man and also beating a burglary suspect.
Atesiano, 52, has strongly denied the allegations and hopes to win at trial by shifting the blame to underlings now slated to testify against him.
“There is a very good reason why juries are instructed that the testimony of flipped witnesses should be taken with caution,” his defense lawyer, Richard Docobo, told the Herald last month. “Witnesses who hope to gain more favorable treatment in their own cases may have a reason to make a false statement in order to strike a good bargain with the government.”
Prosecutors say Atesiano, Fernandez and Dayoub in 2013 conspired to pin five burglaries on a 16-year-old identified as T.D., who lived in Biscayne Park and was known to the officers from previous encounters. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office immediately dropped the cases, but the arrests still counted as clearances for the police department.
The teen, now 21, this week filed a federal civil lawsuit against Biscayne Park, Atesiano and the others.
Ravelo admitted that Atesiano ordered him to do the same thing to a transient man named Erasmus Banmah, 31, for five unsolved vehicle burglaries. Prosecutors said Ravelo falsely claimed that Banmah confessed to each burglary, and even took him to the locations where he supposedly committed crimes.
State prosecutors dumped the cases against Banmah soon after his arrest.
But the three burglary cases against Desrouleaux stuck because the arresting cops, Dayoub and Ravelo, stuck to their stories.
The Biscayne Park cops honed in on Desrouleaux, 41, of El Portal, because he was found with a check stolen from one of the three home burglaries in January 2013.
“While there is evidence that Clarens Desrouleaux was in possession of a stolen check, there is no evidence to suggest that he was the individual who actually broke into the house and stole the check,” Funck wrote in his memo.
The case hinged on Dayoub and Ravelo’s claim that Desrouleaux confessed to three breaks-ins. The supposed confession, however, was not recorded on video or audio.
Desrouleaux was represented by the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office, which interviewed the officers during sworn depositions. “They reiterated that Clarens Desrouleaux admitted to the crime and two others,” Funck wrote.
Classified as a habitual offender because of his fairly extensive history of arrests, Desrouleaux faced three decades in prison if convicted at trial. Instead, he chose to plead guilty to the burglaries in exchange for a lesser sentence. “At the time Clarens Desrouleaux took a plea, there was nothing to suggest that Officer Ravelo had fabricated the confession,” Funck wrote.
State prosecutors confirmed that the arrests were bogus when Ravelo pleaded guilty in federal court last month.
Desrouleaux finished his state prison term in April 2017, but was never freed onto the streets. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took custody of him, and he was deported to his native Haiti; it is not unusual for authorities to deport someone to their native country after they have finished a prison sentence. Desrouleaux could not be reached for comment.