Three Medley cops ordered fired for traffic accident cover-up

Oct 21, 2012

The following article was published in The Miami Herald on October 21, 2012:

Three Medley Cops Ordered Fired for Traffic Accident Cover Up

By David Ovalle

One night last fall, Leovigildo Bravo Fraga was driving to work when a Medley police car, turning left at an intersection, crashed into his mini-van.

The result: Fraga, 49, was accused of failing to yield, arrested on a charge of drunk driving and sent handcuffed to the police station.

But the case unraveled quickly. Bravo was “unarrested” when fellow police from Hialeah, called in to assist the Medley cops, realized Fraga was not drunk.

And an auto insurance adjuster later noticed that Medley police reports and scene photos did not jibe with the evidence: The Medley cop, not Fraga, was at fault in the accident. A criminal probe also uncovered surveillance video of the crash – and it showed Fraga was not at fault.

Ultimately, Miami-Dade prosecutors said they could not prove three Medley cops committed crimes. But the Medley police department has fired Officer Freddy Romero, Sgt. Jorge Perez and Lt. Joseph Olmedo for writing false police reports and other misconduct.

Said Fraga: “My car is still damaged and nobody’s paid me anything. My license is suspended and I don’t know why. I have to depend on friends to take me to work.”

The episode is a black eye for the police department of Medley, the eight-square mile Miami-Dade industrial town just west of Hialeah.

John Rivera, president of the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association, which is representing two of the three officers, called the firing “harsh and unfair.”

The three officers are also suing Medley, saying the investigation is severely flawed and the police chief violated the city’s charter by ordering their firings.

“This is a biased witch-hunt and willful violation of every concept of fairness,” said their lawyer, Jose M. Herrera.

The incident was detailed in over 800 pages of internal documents obtained by The Miami Herald:

On Oct. 8, 2011, Fraga was driving south on Northwest 72nd Avenue at about 11 p.m. The traffic light was green at the intersection of Northwest South River Drive, where officer Romero was trying to turn left.

Romero, on duty and driving his marked patrol car, failed to yield, striking Fraga’s car. Neither car sustained serious damage, and no one was hurt.

The auto wreck was Romero’s fourth in his 18 months as a Medley cop. The crash opened him up to serious discipline. He called Sgt. Perez, who immediately claimed Fraga’s breath smelled of beer.

Fraga, an airport cargo loader, admitted he had indeed drunk two beers — seven hours earlier during a barbecue and before a nap.

Nevertheless, Romero himself administered a roadside sobriety test, which he said Fraga failed.

Romero later claimed he never actually arrested Fraga. But Romero handcuffed Fraga, read him his Miranda rights and drove him to the Hialeah police station, logging him in as an “arrestee.”

“Your assertion that Mr. Fraga was never under arrest is inconsistent with your treatment’’ of him, Medley Police Chief Jeanette Said-Jinete wrote in her final discipline report.

At the Hialeah police station, an officer specializing in DUI gave Fraga a breath test. Twice, his blood alcohol level came back at 0.00 — sober.

Faced with a man who was clearly not drunk, Medley officers released Fraga but cited him for the traffic crash. Fraga, his car towed, had to pay $151 to the tow yard to retrieve it.

Herrera, the cops’ lawyer suing the city, said he believes Fraga, who works the night shift, was impaired “by exhaustion.”

Perez wrote in his report that Fraga was traveling at least 60 mph, a fact shot down later by the surveillance video.

In his traffic crash report, Perez also wrote that motorist Nicole Beltran witnessed the accident, even though the woman told police that day she never saw what happened. The sergeant even claimed he called Beltran twice for additional info — a lie, based on phone records.

At the time, Lt. Olmedo was the acting chief because Said-Jinete was out of town.

The investigation revealed that Olmedo quickly approved the report and authored a memo riddled with lies, including that Romero had been pulling Bravo over when the accident happened, and that “the incident was non-preventable.”

Olmedo, the investigation revealed, also broke Medley rules by filing the report directly with the department’s insurance company, not with the town’s legal department.

The coverup did not surface until an adjuster with United Automobile Insurance noticed that Romero’s claim did not match the accident report and photos. The company denied Romero’s claim, sparking red flags. The chief’s office asked Hialeah police to initiate an internal-affairs probe.

“Frankly, upon review of the police report, I was surprised that Mr. Romero was not faulted for the accident. He did turn left in front of the other party and he did have a duty of greater care” under state law, a claims manager wrote to the city.

As Chief Said-Jinete ordered Olmedo suspended last year, she recalled, he stood up from his office chair.

“I f—ed up, Chief. You don’t even have to do an investigation. Just demote me to an officer and send me to the range,” Olmedo said, according to Said-Jinete’s report detailing the findings of an investigation.

The possible crimes: unlawful compensation, official misconduct and fraudulent insurance claim.

The final investigation was presented to Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Johnette Hardiman, of the public corruption unit. The evidence showed “very sloppy police work” but could not sustain a criminal case, according to her May 30 final memo.