Police Officer Found With Stolen Golf Cart Suspended - NBC 6 South Florida

Police Officer Found With Stolen Golf Cart Suspended

Officer Said He Found Golf Cart with "Take Me" Sign

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    Stolen Golf Cart Found With Officer

    NBC 6's Myriam Masihy reports. (Published Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017)

    What started as a break-in at his Southwest Miami-Dade County nursery became a year-long saga for Julian Martinez.

    On May 16, 2016, someone broke into JMart Nursery and stole thousands of dollars worth of equipment.

    "This golf cart, lawn mowers, power tools," Martinez listed the missing items.

    He filed a police report with Miami-Dade's Agricultural Patrol, a unit created to combat this type of crime in his area of the county. But before a detective could be assigned to the case, Martinez found the cart on June 4 just blocks from his home.

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    "I saw my golf cart and two kids were driving it," Martinez said.

    He followed the cart to the home of a mechanic who told detectives in a recording that Ag Patrol Officer Elton Mathis had brought it to him.

    Internal Affairs Detective: Why was he dropping the golf cart off?
    Mechanic: To get it painted.
    Internal Affairs Detective: And when Officer Mathis delivered the golf cart to you, did he tell you that he was the owner of the golf cart?
    Mechanic: Yes.

    The day Martinez found the golf cart, the mechanic called Mathis and put Martinez on the phone.

    "He asks me who I am and I said, 'Well, I’m the owner of the golf cart and you have a lot of explaining to do,' and he goes well, 'If that’s your property then go ahead and take it and leave," Martinez recalled. 

    Martinez says he refused to take his cart back until Internal Affairs arrived. When they did they began investigating how the stolen golf cart wound up with Officer Mathis.

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    Under oath, Mathis told investigators he found it "attached to a stop sign around the corner from my house abandoned." He told them threre was a "sign that taid "Take Me" on it. He said he was off-duty at the time.

    "In those rural areas that’s not an uncommon thing," said John Rivera, President of the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association, on behalf of Mathis who declined to be interviewed.

    Rivera says Mathis' version checks out even if Martinez has questions about it. 

    When asked why somebody would go through the trouble of stealing a golf cart and then dumping it on a road, Rivera said it could have been kids out for a ride.

    "Kids joyride golf carts all the time," Rivera said.

    Last December, the internal affairs investigation wrapped up and recommended Officer Mathis be dismissed from his job as a Miami-Dade police officer.

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    According to documents with findings of the investigation, Mathis admitted that he took possession of the golf cart and took it home for his personal use. It went on to say that "Although off-duty, Officer Mathis should have called the police to investigate or conduct an official record check of the serial number or area canvas in search of ownership."

    "There are no policies that mandate a police officer that when they find something in the trash just like you and I and it says free, that you can’t take it," Rivera said in Mathis' defense.

    And he said he understood why Mathis didn't use a work computer to search for the vehicle's owner.

    "If you use the computer to run information for your personal gain, you could be terminated," Rivera explained. "So, it’s sort of a Catch 22."

    With the help of the union, Mathis appealed the Internal Affairs recommendation that he be dismissed. He was able to keep his job. Instead he was suspended for 30 days without pay.

    The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office said there was not sufficient evidence to charge the officer with a crime. 

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    Mathis has completed his suspension and remains on the department.

    Martinez said he never heard from detectives about the outcome of the investigation and the discipline for Mathis.

    NBC 6 Investigator Myriam Masihy showed him the results.

    "He didn’t do what he was supposed to do," Martinez said. "He was supposed to report it and not take it home."

    When asked if he was satisfied with the outcome, Martinez shook his head.

    "No, not at all," he said. "I completely lost all the trust in the police department."

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