Reporting Jim DeFede
South Florida Crime
MIAMI (CBS4) – The Miami Dade Police Department has fired a sergeant and two officers for dereliction of duty and suspended three others without pay in what is considered one of the worst incidents of delinquency in the department’s history.
The accusations vary against each officer, but they include: failing to respond to emergency calls, pretending to be on calls when they weren’t, and falsifying police records.
The officers – an entire squad assigned to patrol a large swath of Kendall – were followed and caught on surveillance video by Internal Affairs in 2010. Investigators even used tracking devices on the officers’ cars to catalog their movements. But it wasn’t until September 2012 that they were ultimately disciplined.
The officers comprised Platoon III, Squad A, and worked the 2 pm to 10 pm shift in the district that ran from Bird Road to SW 104th Street and included the Dadeland Mall.
One of the fired officers, Dario Socarras, reportedly ignored armed robbery and residential burglary calls so he could meet his girlfriend in the parking lot of the Dadeland Mall, He did this not just once, but on two different occasions. Video shows the pair kissing and cuddling as other officers were forced to respond to the emergency calls for help.
Socarras, along with Sgt. Jennifer Gonzalez and Officer Jose Huerta were fired after an internal police panel reviewed their actions.
The IA investigation, first reported by CBS4 News in 2010, documented 134 violations of departmental rules and procedures.
Investigators claim Gonzalez went shopping when she should have been working. Surveillance video catches her going to Lowes, Target and Kohl; loading the items she bought into the trunk of her police cruiser. In one case a store clerk actually helps her load her goods into the squad car.
Investigators also allege she would spend hours visiting her parents in Cutler Ridge – well outside her district – when she should have been on patrol or supervising the other officers in the squad.
Huerta was criticized for not immediately responding to a call where a five-year-old child was locked inside a vehicle. On a variety of occasions, investigators allege that Huerta would claim to be tied up on a call, such as a traffic accident, when in fact he was free to respond to calls the dispatcher had waiting.
And in addition to his romantic endeavors, Socarras allegedly misled a crime victim into believing he was going to fill out a report about items that were stolen from her, but instead told dispatchers no crime had occurred. Investigators noted he even gave the victim a phony case number.
“We’re talking about falsification of official records, stealing time that doesn’t belong to you, because they are supposed to be available for service or duty and they are not,” former Miami Police Chief Ken Harms told CBS4’s Jim DeFede.
The most egregious incident involved an emergency call in which a five month old child was unconscious and in need of medical attention. Both Socarras and paramedics are dispatched, with each being told to proceed with lights and sirens.
Socarras tells the dispatcher he is “en route.” In reality, he was sitting at an outdoor table at Casa Larios drinking coffee. He never tried to go to the call. Paramedics would reach and care for the child. And even though he didn’t go, Socarras wrote on his daily report that he went to the scene.
What made the incident especially troublesome for investigators is that sitting with Socarras at Casa Larios drinking coffee was his supervisor, Sgt. Gonzalez, as well as Officer Huerta.
Police officials argue Gonzalez’s attitude infected the entire squad.
When someone called 911 from a Winn Dixie and abruptly hung up, Officers Jeffrey Price and Fabian Owens, riding in a two man car, were assigned the call. Internal Affairs watched as they cruised through the parking lot – never getting out of their car or for that matter even stopping.
On another occasion, Price and Owens also rolled by a Chevron gas station where there is a reported problem. On at least one occasion they never even bothered driving to the scene of the call, IA charged.
Likewise investigators documented how Officer Ivan Tomas, hung out at La Caretta and Pollo Tropical rather than taking a series of emergency calls that were backing up.
Price, Owens and Tomas received suspensions ranging from five to twenty days for their actions.
CBS4 News requested interviews with the officers in the squad, but none were willing or able to speak.
An attorney for Sgt. Gonzalez Monday night said Gonzalez could not comment because she was planning on appealing her firing. Socarras and Huerta are also trying to get their jobs back.