Three Miami police officers, including two long-time veterans, were busted on an array of federal public corruption charges on Tuesday — from distributing dozens of kilos of cocaine to protecting drug dealers.
Some details of the case, which involved undercover agents running a sting on the cops, seemed straight out of a rogue cop movie. Investigators said one officer sold a police uniform and badge to an undercover detective for $1,500, despite being told the official gear would be used by a “sicario,” or cartel hit-man. In another instance, one cop was recorded telling an informant that she spotted a suspicious person during a drug run and purposely held her gun outside the patrol car door as a threat for him to back off.
“I was gonna pop that mother...,” the officer was recorded saying.
The arrests were announced at a Tuesday afternoon gathering in downtown Miami attended by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, Miami police brass and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“The officers cast away their duties to serve and protect,” said U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan, who took charge of the Miami office in August.
Arrested were Miami police veterans Schonton Harris and Kelvin Harris and James Archibald, a more recent addition to the City of Miami Police Department. Schonton Harris, who investigators say recruited the other two men, joined the department 20 years ago and works as a street cop in Model City. Kelvin Harris works the front desk at the city’s North District station and joined the force 26 years ago. And Archibald, only two years on the job, works as a Neighborhood Resource Officer, also in Model City.
A fourth officer who has co-operated with law enforcement and who hasn’t been named, is expected to be charged at a later date.
The three were charged in a single criminal complaint Tuesday and are expected to make their first appearance in court on Wednesday. Investigators say the trio collected a total of $33,500 in cash during the six-month sting in which they sold and helped distribute opioids like Percocet, sold and transported dozens of kilos of cocaine and acted as protection for drug dealers drug transactions.
“Our agency is repulsed by the actions of those three individuals being arrested today,” said Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina.
The trio’s actions didn’t take place in any particular neighborhood in Miami and all the recorded activity happened while the officers were off-duty. Sometimes they wore their uniforms. Other times they didn’t.
Colina said the investigation began in April when a resident informed police of some questionable actions by Schonton Harris. Miami police looked into it and made the decision to inform the FBI. The case soon mushroomed, the chief said.
“Some stuff was going on before on a significantly smaller level. No one thought it would get to what it got to,” Colina said.
The charged officers had not hired attorneys by late Tuesday afternoon. Edward Lugo, president of Miami’s Fraternal Order of Police, said his union “supports the actions of the police department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI.”
According to the criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court, after the feds joined the investigation in April, someone being investigated for drug trafficking agreed to wear a wire and record conversations with Schonton Harris. In addition to the informant, FBI agents worked undercover and audio and video recordings were made of the trio’s actions. The complaint says Schonton Harris agreed to join the informant in taking payments for protecting drug couriers. The complaint says she subsequently recruited Kelvin Harris and Archibald.
The informant told Schonton Harris that he was collecting drug proceeds from pharmacies and clinics engaged in the illegal sale of opioids and then driving to a bank to deposit the money, the complaint says.
During an escort on June 26, the complaint says, Schonton Harris told the informant she spotted a suspicious person along the protection route who she believed might try to rob them.
“I take the damn seatbelt off and I was sitting with my gun in my lap, and when the mother... started walking, I pulled that shit up. I let the window down a little bit, and I set [the gun] just like this,” Schonton Harris said in the recording according to the complaint.
A month later, during another recorded conversation, Schonton Harris admitted to using and dealing narcotics and managing to fake a police-administered drug test while employed as a cop. During a meeting in September with an undercover FBI agent who was portrayed as a high-level member of the drug organization, Schonton Harris identified Archibald as a willing participant. Kelvin Harris had been recruited earlier.
The complaint goes on to say that in mid-September Schonton Harris made it clear to the undercover agents acting as drug traffickers that she would not tolerate disloyalty. During a discussion about whether Archibald could be trusted in future protection work, the complaint says Schonton Harris didn’t hesitate with an answer.
“The thing about [James Archibald,” Schonton Harris is quoted as saying in the complaint, “it ain’t shit for that mother... to swim in Biscayne Bay.”