The arrests of three Homestead officers on misconduct charges is an attempt to boost State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's re-election bid, the Dade County Police Benevolent Association said.
A written statement issued Tuesday by PBA President John Rivera questions the credibility and strength of the case against officers Giovanni Soto, Lizanne Deegan and Jeffrey Rome, who were charged Monday in connection with two 2011 assaults outside a Homestead bar.
Soto, 40, faces charges of felony battery and official misconduct of a public servant, while Deegan, 44, faces a charge of official misconduct of a public servant related to an alleged beating outside Celio's Cuartel Latino at 38 Northeast 9th Street on Feb. 6, 2011.
Rome, 56, of Homestead, faces a charge of battery after he pepper-sprayed a 24-year-old Hispanic man outside the same establishment on April 17, 2011, according to an arrest warrant.
In his statement, Rivera said Assistant State Attorney Jose Arrojo said the case was flawed and the Homestead Police Department's Internal Affairs investigation was "substandard and sloppy."
"These concerns, the amount of lapsed time, and use of obscure charges support the PBA’s concerns that Rundle is using this case to garner media time, increase her stats and bolster her reputation close to her re-election bid," Rivera said.
Rivera said the PBA will be reaching out to the Department of Justice to ask that they conduct an investigation into the state attorney's and Homestead Police's handling of the case.
"We are committed to making sure that every officer’s rights are respected and investigations are properly conducted – without political agendas. We feel the state attorney certainly has an agenda in this case and that there are serious problems within Homestead Police Department’s Internal Affairs unit and with Chief Alexander Rolle’s management," Rivera said. "I want to be clear, the PBA does not condone the behavior of rogue cops, however, each situation is different and all officers facing charges cannot be painted with the same brush. In my years of experience, this is one of the worst cases I have seen of bad prosecution, bad investigation and bad administration."
Fernandez Rundle's office responded with a statement Tuesday, saying the Department of Justice helped make the cases possible.
"Police brutality is wrong no matter what form it takes. The covering up of police brutality is equally wrong," the statement read. "That’s why we are prosecuting these cases in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice, who played an essential role in helping make these cases possible."
The three officers were released on bond Monday night. All three were placed on paid administrative leave last year as the incidents were investigated.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Rolle said it was a sad day for law enforcement.
"We're not happy that this happened, and we're not smiling and high-fiving anyone about what took place in our community," he said.
Flanked by Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman and immigrant advocates, the police chief said the arrests were not a witch hunt, but were something that detectives fell into as they worked an unrelated investigation into allegations of human trafficking taking place at the bar.
"We did what the law enforcement community and this community expects us to do," Rolle said.
The man Rome pepper-sprayed was an undocumented agricultural worker from Guatemala, his arrest warrant said. Police acknowledged that at least two incidents involving Rome and undocumented immigrants are captured on surveillance video.
Bateman promised, "We will not profile in any way, shape or form, is what I'm saying."
Immigrant advocate German Martinez said he hopes the arrests set an example.
“And now somebody will open their mouth and is going to start saying this happened. Homestead’s example was to be a like a bell ringing everywhere, for everyone," he said.