The home surveillance video was jarring: A Miami-Dade police sergeant suddenly slapping a handcuffed teenager in the face as he is about to be led away to a patrol car.
Prosecutors have now charged the sergeant — and another officer who is suspected of trying to destroy the video surveillance system that captured the slap.
Miami-Dade Sgt. Manuel Regueiro was charged Tuesday with misdemeanor battery, prosecutors announced. Officer Alex Gonzalez was also charged with a count of third-degree felony tampering with evidence, and misdemeanor petty theft.
“It’s infuriating. This is happening at a time when police and community relations are already stressed,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle told the Miami Herald.
Regueiro was not jailed. Because the case is a misdemeanor, he was mailed a court date. Gonzalez surrendered, spent a few hours in jail and posted a $6,000 bond.
The charges were the latest in a series of criminal cases in Miami-Dade against police officers in on-duty attacks caught on video camera. Two others officers — one from Miami, another from Miami-Dade — are facing trials in unrelated cases involved kicks directed at handcuffed suspects.
The teen who was slapped, Bryan Crespo, then 18, was being investigated in March of 2018 for allegedly dealing in stolen airbags.
The officers were part of the auto-theft unit attached to the Northwest District Station. They’d gotten arrest warrants for Crespo and two others, and were also accompanied by a Spanish-language television news crew on the night of March 15, 2018.
Detectives raided Crespo’s Allapattah home, which had a surveillance camera rolling inside his living room. The footage shows Crespo, shirtless and cuffed, being led away when he was slapped by Regueiro.
Regueiro’s defense lawyer, C. Michael Cornely, ripped the arrest, saying Regueiro and his team in the auto-theft unit of the Northwest District had worked hard to find the gang of thieves. He said Crespo was about to spit on Regueiro, justifying the slap.
“It’s ridiculous, the whole thing,” Cornely said of the arrest. “It just shows you that police work is thankless.”
Afterward, Crespo told the cops on the scene that the slap had been captured on his internal video. Footage showed them re-entering the apartment and spending time in one of the bedrooms, where the recording system was set up, authorities said.
The footage cut off when disconnected from its power sources. Miami-Dade internal-affairs investigators uncovered additional footage, from a home next door, that appears to show Officer Gonzalez taking a rectangular object, wrapped in a pillowcase, from the home and placing it in his police SUV.
Investigators believe the item was a surveillance system’s power pack, which Gonzalez mistakenly believed was the recording system itself.
The battery pack vanished. “No property was impounded by Gonzalez or any other officer in connection with that warrant,” Rundle said at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
Crespo’s mother found that the cables connecting the power supply to the recording system had been cut, according to an arrest warrant.
Crespo himself later told internal-affairs investigators that when he was hit, he heard someone say: “This is for the airbags you stole, you p***y,” the warrant said.
A Miami-Dade police lieutenant, Michael Landestoy, involved in the case has also been suspended with pay pending an internal affairs investigation. He claimed nothing was impounded that day
Another officer seen in the video, Jennifer Alvarez, was relieved of duty on Tuesday as investigators probe her role in the incident. She claimed she did not recall seeing the slap, and insisted the cops got permission to search the house from Crespo’s stepfather. Body-camera footage, however, showed permission was only given to search a shed, the arrest warrant said.
Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez said he was “extremely disappointed” by the actions of the cops. “Both of them, for their lack of judgment, have ruined their careers,” Perez said Tuesday afternoon.
As for Crespo, he is not off the hook criminally. He is still awaiting trial on the airbag theft case. His attorneys have said they plan on filing a lawsuit against the officer.
His attorney, Cam Cornish, hailed the criminal charges filed Tuesday.
“It took the better part of a year, but it’s a step toward applying justice equally,” Cornish said.