A former police chief in a Southern Florida suburb has been indicted for pressuring his officers to pin crimes on any African American with “somewhat of a record” to keep the crime stats in his jurisdiction perfect.
The Miami Herald reports that Raimundo Atesiano created a culture in the Biscayne Park Police Department that targeted black people, as well as overlorded a hornet’s nest of unethical, unconscionable and most likely illegal practices.
The Herald reports that the rot started at the top:
“If they have burglaries that are open cases that are not solved yet, if you see anybody black walking through our streets and they have somewhat of a record, arrest them so we can pin them for all the burglaries,” one cop, Anthony De La Torre, said in an internal probe ordered in 2014. “They were basically doing this to have a 100% clearance rate for the city.”
In a report from that probe, four officers — a third of the small force — told an outside investigator they were under marching orders to file the bogus charges to improve the department’s crime stats. Only De La Torre specifically mentioned targeting blacks, but former Biscayne Park village manager Heidi Shafran, who ordered the investigation after receiving a string of letters from disgruntled officers, said the message seemed clear for cops on the street.
“The letters said police were doing a lot of bad things,” Shafran told the Herald. “It said police officers were directed to pick up people of color and blame the crimes on them.”
The paper also says the department ran like “a frat house.” Top officers allegedly drank on duty; engaged in financial improprieties (i.e., Atesiano got a $2,000 loan from one of his officers, and paid him back by giving him plum overtime and off-duty security shifts); and the second in command, Capt. Lawrence Churchman, known as Atesiano’s henchman, routinely spouted racist and sexist insults including this: “The captain has said on several different occasions he doesn’t want any n——-s, f——-s or women b——-s working at Biscayne Park,” said an officer in the investigative report.
Atesiano, 52, pleaded not guilty in the federal case and is now awaiting trial on charges of civil-rights violations. Two of his former officers have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial, and sources say they are testifying against their former boss.
Records show that false charges were filed against a black Haitian-American 16-year-old (now 21) identified only as T.D. in the indictment. T.D.’s first encounter with Biscayne Park cops came when he was arrested for trespassing —crossing the Florida East Coast railroad tracks to get home. Note that T.D.’s first interaction with law enforcement was for something trivial, but now that he had a “record” he was a target.
The Herald reports:
In February 2013, an officer named Guillermo Ravelo claimed he tried to pull T.D. over. After a dangerous high-speed car chase, Ravelo claimed, the teen bailed out on foot and ran off. Ravelo later wrote he identified T.D. from “a records check.” But that claim contradicted the officer’s own account, which noted T.D. had no valid driver’s license and was driving a BMW with temporary tags. T.D. wasn’t arrested right away — instead, Ravelo entered a juvenile “pick-up order” for him.
(Ravelo now faces charges himself. He plans to plead guilty this month to unrelated federal civil rights charges that he assaulted two people and falsified arrest reports in that case.)
Four months later, North Miami police arrested T.D. and accused him of raping a teen girl after daring her to drink a bottle of Barbancourt rum, according to an arrest report. Because of the outstanding pick-up order, Biscayne Park police were notified the same day: June 13, 2013.
That was the same day federal prosecutors say Biscayne Park officers Fernandez and Dayoub — at the direction of Atesiano — charged the teen with four previously unsolved burglaries of unoccupied homes.
Apparently, Biscayne Park’s little police department has been on the radar of state and federal prosecutors for years, long infamous for excessively ticketing speeders. Its officers have also been involved in brutal force cases.
Because whiteness, Atesiano had a checkered past in law enforcement but was still hired as a cop in the town of about 3,000. According to the Herald:
Atesiano had come to the village after an earlier case involving a doctored arrest record. In 2006, Atesiano, then a sergeant in Sunny Isles Beach, agreed to leave there after investigators discovered he’d forged a man’s name on a notice to appear in court after police arrested him for marijuana. Prosecutors told him to resign or face arrest.
Atesiano left but landed with Biscayne Park two years later and rebuilt his reputation. The village named him officer of the year in 2011. Two years later, he was promoted to replace the retiring chief and he immediately began touting impressive progress in solving home break-ins and property crimes, always a priority issue in otherwise quiet suburbs.
“This year, as we stand, we have a 100 percent clearance rate on burglary cases in the Village of Biscayne Park,” Atesiano declared to hearty applause during a commission meeting in July 2013. “This is the first time I’ve ever known that to happen in any department that I’ve ever been in.”
However, in April 2014, in a village that is about 25 percent black, the town manager Heidi Shafran began receiving letters (10 in total) from fed-up police officers, stating that cops were being told to target black residents for crimes they didn’t commit. The number three in the department was fired, and five days after Shafran sent a letter to Atesiano to cooperate fully with the investigator, he resigned.
Predictably, the village’s crime stats rose after the disgraced chief left. In 2015, records show village cops did not clear a single one of 19 burglary cases. During Atesiano’s tenure, 29 of 30 burglary cases were solved, including all 19 in 2013.
Of the 30 burglary arrests documented in 2013 and 2014, nearly all were of black males.