A Miami-Dade police public service aide is under internal investigation after an allegation surfaced that he said a black sergeant “looks like a monkey.”
Pablo Espinoza, a longtime public service aide, has now been reassigned to “administration duties” as the department conducts an investigation into the alleged conduct, according to a department spokesman.
Espinoza, who is Hispanic, allegedly made the comment to a lawyer before he was to testify during a hearing in September.
“The Miami-Dade Police Department takes all complaints seriously and are committed to the highest performance standards and ethical conduct,” the department said in a statement. “We hold ourselves accountable for our actions and take pride in a professional level of service and fairness to all.”
Espinoza is in charge of maintenance for breath-test machines used to identify drunk drivers. He is a frequent witness at administrative and criminal hearings, and has been lauded by organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“I can’t talk to you, bro. You know that,” Espinoza said Monday when reached by cellphone.
Public service aides are not sworn officers. Generally, their duties include writing traffic-accident reports, directing traffic and answering questions from the public.
The target of the alleged racial slur was Miami-Dade Schools Police Sgt. Tracy Moore, an African American woman who was arrested on a charge of drunk driving back in July. Her defense lawyer. Michael Catalano, is fighting the charge, saying the breath test was skewed because the woman had recently undergone gastric bypass surgery.
The comment was allegedly made before a Sept. 4 administrative hearing at a Florida Department of Motor Vehicles office in West Miami-Dade. The hearing was to determine whether Moore could keep her driver’s license. That day, she had been sitting in a waiting area.
Catalano told the Miami Herald that as they walked into the hearing room, Espinoza grabbed him by the shoulder and said: “Your client looks like a monkey sitting there.”
“I was shocked. Nobody talks like that in 2019,” Catalano told the Miami Herald.
Catalano later told Moore, who became upset. He didn’t confront Espinoza during the Sept. 4 hearing. But afterward, he sent Espinoza a text message aimed at getting him to admit in writing to the slur.
“Pablo. You have 2 hours to [apologize] for saying my [client] looks like a monkey or I report it to the director,” Catalano wrote in a text message. “I was disgusted by that and they have video in the hallway. Apologize and we drop it.”
Espinoza replied: “I’m apologizing. Done.”
But Catalano didn’t drop it. Instead, during an Oct. 7 deposition in the criminal case, the lawyer got Espinoza to acknowledge he’d made the comment. A day later, Catalano emailed Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez and the schools’ police chief to report the public service aide.
“My client and I are very upset about this,” Catalano wrote, according to a copy of the email. “How would he even think to say that? My client wants PSA Espinosa fired immediately.”