HOMESTEAD (CBSMiami) – The arrest of three Homestead police officers for alleged misconduct has brought some harsh words from the head of the Dade County PBA aimed at the State Attorney’s Office.
Meanwhile, Homestead Police Alexander Rolle says he stands by the arrests.
“This is a sad day for us and law enforcement,” said Rolle. “We take all allegations seriously. We stand firm in what we what did and believe these were the right actions for the community. We are fact finders. I can’t say whether there was racial profiling or not but this sort of activity will not be tolerated. This was not a witch hunt.”
Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman said, “This is tough. It is always tough because police don’t like to arrest police officers. We will not tolerate this sort of activity involving anyone’s race, creed or color. This just can not be tolerated.”
Community activists commended the work of Homestead Police and told reporters at a news conference inside the Homestead Police Department that they hoped other victims of possible police brutality would not be afraid to come forward.
“There are probably other incidents and we would hope that others in the community would come out and speak about them,” said Martha Torres, a member of Title 1 Immigration.
Jonathan Fried, an activist from “Wecount,” said “I am disgusted but I am not surprised by the abuse in the immigrant community. We commend the police for their actions and hope that others would not be afraid to go to the police to report any abuse.”
‘Sgt. Jeffrey Rome, 56, Sgt. Lizanne Deegan, 44 and Giovanni Soto, 40, were booked into Miami-Dade County Jail Monday night. Sgt. Deegan is charged with Official Misconduct, Soto is charged with Official Misconduct and Battery and Sgt. Rome is charged with Battery. All three bonded out hours later.
PBA chief John Rivera said Tuesday the arrests were an attempt by State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle to bolster her re-election bid.
“All, all, all the charges trumped up. They blew up the charges to make it look really horrific. He (Rome) is innocent of all charges and the other two officers were innocent of all charges,” said Rivera.
Fernandez Rundle took issue with that Tuesday.
“Police brutality is wrong no matter what form it takes. The covering-up of police brutality is equally wrong,” she said in a statement released by her office. “That’s why we are prosecuting these cases in cooperation with te he U.S. Department of Justice who played an essential role in helping make these cases possible.”
Rivera told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench Rundle’s right hand Assistant State Attorney Jose Arrojo raised questions about the credibility and strength of this case, stating it was flawed. According to Rivera, Arrojo also found the Homestead Police Department’s Internal Affairs Investigation to be substandard and sloppy.
Last Spring, Rome reportedly dragged a 69-year-old man to the ground outside Celio’s Latin Quarter Bar. He then allegedly kicked him in the head.
Rome also faced additional charges for allegedly obstructing a firefighter, false imprisonment and battery for a case in which he’s accused of pepper spraying a man, handcuffing him to a fence and prohibiting him from getting medical treatment when a rescue crew arrived.
During these incidents, Rome was working off duty at the club which is frequented by migrant workers.
Victoria Perez and her husband Cristian Jimenez say they saw Rome using pepper spray on more than one occasion.
“when he sees something going down, he quickly gets his pepper spray,” said Jimenez. Perez said she saw him “pepper spraying the Guatemalans because they aren’t from here and they were scared to get deported so they never actually said anything to the police.” One of the alleged victims is described in an arrest warrant as an undocumented Agricultural worker from Guatemala.
Rome’s neighbor painted a much different picture of the officer. She said he’d helped out her son when he was going through hard times and described him as a kind caring neighbor. Isabel Maytan said Rome is,”always there to help – if i needed anything he was there for me.” She said she’s never seen him act violent in the 20 years she’s known him.
Michael Cornely, Rome’s attorney says he will vigorously defend his client. He said he was, “appalled at the scarcity of concrete evidence in the warrants,” and saw “various things in the warrants that are not true.”
Officer Soto is accused of striking a man on the face at the club with such force that it caused permanent disfigurement. Sgt Deegan was charged with official misconduct after she followed the man to the hospital, took pictures of his injuries and gave him her card. She, however, failed to properly report a battery involving a Homestead Police officer.
“Sometimes when we have bad cops we don’t represent them. Sometimes they make mistakes, they gotta pay the price. This is a political arrest,” said Rivera. “In this country, that is not permissible. You want to play those games, go and run Cuba, it’s only 90 miles away. You can swim there, I’ll take you in a boat, but do it there and not here.”
Rivera said the PBA plans to contact the Department of Justice to see if they will launch an investigation into the State Attorney’s and Homestead Police Department’s handling of this case.
“We are committed to making sure that every officer’s rights are respected and investigations are properly conducted — without political agendas,” said Rivera.
The PBA endorsed Fernandez Rundle’s opponent for State Attorney after they questioned her alleged misuse of funds from the Value Jet Flight 592 Memorial Fund and the Denise Moon Memorial Fund.