Miami-Dade prosecutors on Thursday dropped child pornography possession charges against a South Miami police detective whose 30-year-old girlfriend claimed she was the one depicted in the images.
Lawyers for Joe Mendez insisted that photos found on his cell phone were actually of the youthful looking woman who was 27 or 28 at the time the pictures were taken.
Unable to date the photos or determine how old she was when they were taken, prosecutors could not disprove the woman’s claim and dropped the eight felony counts.
Mendez, however, still faces legal trouble. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office added a felony count of showing obscene photos to a minor, to go along with a slew of misdemeanors alleging Mendez gave booze to underage cadets in a police student program.
He is relieved of duty without pay while awaiting trial.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested Mendez, 47, in September. He had received awards for his work with South Miami Police's Explorer program, which gives students a glimpse into the world of law enforcement.
But in June 2014, South Miami police's internal affairs unit asked agents to investigate a complaint that Mendez was involved in “inappropriate” behavior with underage cadets.
One girl told FDLE agents that Mendez picked her up at home, then dared her to flash her breasts before repeatedly trying to get her to drink wine. He also tried kissing her, an arrest warrant said. With another girl, Mendez allegedly tried to play “truth or dare,” asking her to “let me slap your a**” and eventually kissing her over beers, the warrant said.
According to evidence in the case, Mendez admitted to buying the drinks while with the girls only to “loosen up” and get “fresh ideas” for the Explorer competitions. Agents later seized his smartphone, finding 31 images that “depicted females under the age of 18.” Eight of those purported to show “sexual performances by children,” according to an arrest warrant.
But the unidentified adult girlfriend, in April, gave a sworn statement identifying herself as the one in all 31 of the photos.