Crime

Cops didn’t review security footage and arrested the wrong man. Now, he wants a change

It took nearly six months for police to arrest the person who stabbed a man in the face during a March bar brawl in Flagami.

Only thing was, the man they arrested — 52-year-old Jorge Crusellas-Sotolongo — was nowhere near the scene on March 31. Now, Crusellas-Sotolongo and his attorney Mark Eiglarsh are demanding institutional change.

“It seems ludicrous that it takes a lawyer from the outside to get them to change policies to force officers to look at available surveillance video that could exonerate an arrestee,” Eiglarsh said in a phone interview.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office and Crusellas-Sotolongo’s defense agreed to drop the case Monday morning, both sides announced later that day. A review of the security footage from Asturias Liquor & Lounge, 4687 W Flagler St., proved Crusellas-Sotolongo’s innocence.

“We dropped the charges against Mr. Crusellas-Sotolongo because it was the right thing to do,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a statement. “None but the guilty benefit when an innocent person is wrongfully charged and jailed.”

Crusellas-Sotolongo had no intention of spending the night of Sept. 28 in jail. But that’s exactly what happened after the victim falsely identified Eiglarsh’s client as the knife-wielder and he was subsequently charged with aggravated battery. Miami police took him to jail.

“I used to weigh 185 pounds,” Crusellas-Sotolongo told reporters through a translator at a Monday news conference. “Now I weigh 155 — horrible. I was put in a place with a lot of people. I’ve never been arrested before in this country..”

A review of Miami police Departmental Orders shows that the complaint investigator’s responsibilities include examining “all related photographs and technologies which utilize digital, audio, and video recordings.” Eiglarsh, however, says police are not required to check security footage before making an arrest.

To him, that doesn’t make sense.

“It seems like its common sense,” Eiglarsh said. “My 13-year-old couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t do it.”

Now Eiglarsh and Crusellas-Sotolongo, who his attorney says spent “thousands of dollars in bail and legal fees,” want to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Eiglarsh said he has spoken with Capt. Sean MacDonald, Miami police’s Deputy Commander of the Professional Compliance Section, who assured him that the agency is reviewing their policy. MacDonald and Miami PD declined to comment.

In the interim, Crusellas-Sotolongo, a father of two with two grandchildren, must adjust to life with a blemished record. While he and Eiglarsh are exploring the possibility filing a civil suit, the attorney says the time and money might not be worth it.

“Mere negligence is not enough,” Eiglarsh said, predicting their defense, “that under the law, it takes a lot more than that to be able to recover from a police agency.”

C. Isaiah Smalls II is a reporter covering breaking and trending news for the Miami Herald. Previously, he worked for ESPN’s The Undefeated as part of their inaugural class of Rhoden Fellows. He is a graduate of both Columbia University and Morehouse College.
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