MIAMI (CBS4) – In his final act as Miami Dade Police Director, James Loftus summoned Sgt. Jennifer Gonzalez and police officers Dario Socarras and Jose Huerta to his office. One at a time he met with them. And each conversation ended with Loftus delivering the same message: “You’re fired.”
Gonzalez, Socarras and Huerta were members of a squad of Kendall cops investigators say routinely ignored calls, falsified records and betrayed the trust of their fellow officers.
Although the trio was fired in September and three other officers were disciplined last summer, the investigation and the punishment only came to light this week after CBS4 News obtained the surveillance video taken by the police department’s Internal Affairs unit.
“It really goes to the marrow of what we do,” Loftus told CBS4 investigator Jim DeFede. “And if you don’t want to go to calls then don’t sign up for the place and don’t wear a badge. I don’t want to be melodramatic about it, but that’s a really minimum requirement: We tell you you need to go. You go.”
As CBS4 revealed, Officer Socarras can bee seen on the surveillance videos kissing and cuddling his girlfriend at the Dadeland Mall when investigators say he should have been responding to calls. The tapes also showed Sgt. Gonzalez shopping at Lowes, Target and Kohls when she was supposed to be on duty and reports document how she spent hours at her parents’ house in Cutler Ridge when she was supposed to be in Kendall. And Huerta can be seen sipping coffee at a restaurant instead of working.
“It honestly sickens you,” Loftus said. “In our culture, that’s one of the most egregious things you can do.”
Not only did the officers betray the public’s trust, Loftus noted, but they also betrayed their fellow officers by making them pick up the slack.
“When I think about someone not going to a call and not going to an alarm call I still can’t get my mind around that,” Loftus said. “That someone would just choose not to go, or get there and chose not to get out of the car.”
For Loftus, though, no moment captured his outrage more than video of Gonzalez, Huerta and Socarras drinking coffee when a call came in of an unconscious five month old baby in need of help.
The call came in for Socarras who responds that he is “en route.” In reality he never moved, deciding instead to just let paramedics handle the call. Loftus said he found it outrageous that both Socarras’ supervisor, Sgt. Gonzalez, and fellow officer Huerta, just sat there with him.
“When I heard what had happened, and specifically when I heard about the surveillance that was conducted when a five month old was [in need of help] and the officers that were assigned the call did nothing and didn’t respond,” Loftus said. “I had hoped for Internal Affairs to walk in and arrest them on the spot as they sat in the restaurant.”
Instead investigators continued their surveillance.
One difficulty in firing the officers: Members of the squad had recently been given glowing evaluations. Socarras and Huerta were described as individuals who could be “trusted to use good judgment” and “highly dependable.” The person who gave them those evaluations: Sgt Jennifer Gonzalez.
In the end, the IA investigation lasted almost two years. Hundreds of pages of reports were written detailing more than 130 departmental violations.
Before Loftus did fire the trio, the case was reviewed by the Miami Dade State Attorney’s Office for possible criminal charges. Prosecutors decided to allow the police department to handle the matter administratively.
Loftus said he disagreed with Rundle’s decision not to pursue a criminal case.
“My feeling is if you purposely avoid your responsibilities that that is criminal,” he said. “And whether that’s seen that way in the eyes of the state attorney’s office, or it’s seen that way in the eyes of their [union] representation or society, I don’t know, but that’s my personal opinion.”
Three other members of the squad were suspended without pay for periods ranging from five to twenty days. Loftus doesn’t believe there is a wide spread problem within the department. Nevertheless he did institute changes to the way the department operates.
“I was concerned enough to put some additional checks into place, checks that I never thought we would do – integrity checks,” he said.
Because of this case, Internal Affairs will now randomly follow officers to make sure they are going to calls
“There are people out there watching to make sure that people respond to calls,” Loftus said. “They are beyond the regular supervisory controls. They are Internal Affairs folks who are tasked at times for going out and making sure that someone shows up where they are supposed to.”
Loftus then sighed such a move was even necessary. “That’s almost inconceivable to me, that we would be doing that now,” he said. But by all means get your rear end in the car and drive over there and get out and do something.”
Click Here to see Part 1 of this investigation
Click Here to see reaction of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Newly Sworn In MDPD Director J.D. Patterson