Crime

Judges side with public corruption probe into cops at tony Florida town of Golden Beach

A town of only 344 homes, Golden Beach has one of the highest police-to-resident ratios in Florida.
A town of only 344 homes, Golden Beach has one of the highest police-to-resident ratios in Florida. pportal@miamiherald.com

A federal appeals court has ruled against former Golden Beach police officers who sued after claiming they were falsely arrested for an off-duty billing scam.

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals this month ruled that public-corruption investigators indeed had “probable cause” to arrest ex-Golden Beach officers Lyndean Peters, Omar Paez and Yovany Diaz. A fourth officer, Jon Anterio, was not arrested but resigned after the probe.

“There was sound reason to believe each had engaged in an organized scheme to defraud,” Judge Stanley Marcus wrote in the unanimous opinion.

The ruling means the lawsuit will likely be dismissed. The reason: The appeals court ruled that public-corruption investigators from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Miami-Dade police are entitled to “immunity” from lawsuits.

“It’s complete vindication,” said Christopher Whitelock, an attorney representing former FDLE supervisor Robert Breeden. “The officers did a thorough investigation. They did a competent investigation.”

It was back in 2011 that the Golden Beach officers were accused of under-reporting or not reporting off-duty security jobs they worked for local businesses or road projects to avoid paying a cut to the town. Peters was also accused of working off-duty when he was actually supposed to be patrolling the small and exclusive beach community on the Miami-Dade/Broward border.

Public corruption police investigators, working with a prosecutor, obtained an arrest warrant from a judge to arrest the Golden Beach officers. The case churned through the courts for several years.

But Miami-Dade prosecutors, after taking depositions with Golden Beach town officials, realized that much of how the department ran its off-duty program was off-the-books and against official policies, casting serious doubt on the state’s ability to secure a conviction. The charges were dropped in March 2014.

In 2015, the officers filed a lawsuit against investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Miami-Dade police Department. Named in the suit: FDLE agents Claudia Mulvey, her former supervisor Breeden; Miami-Dade Detective John Loyal, and his former supervisor, Kelly Sullivan.

The suit alleged that investigators, in securing arrest warrants, intentionally left out references to documents and statements from officials that showed the cops were acting within police department guidelines. The suit called the investigation “bad faith” police work.

A Miami federal judge refused to grant the corruption investigators “qualified immunity” from the lawsuits, clearing the way for a civil trial. Lawyers for Mulvey, Breeden, Loyal and Sullivan appealed.

The appeals court ruled that the investigators were entitled to immunity. The evidence described in arrest affidavits “still would have led a reasonable officer to believe that Paez, Peters, and Diaz intentionally failed to report off-duty work hours that would have required them to pay administrative fees,” the court ruled.

David Ovalle covers crime and courts in Miami. A native of San Diego, he graduated from the University of Southern California and joined the Herald in 2002 as a sports reporter.


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