MIAMI (CBSMiami) — State agents arrested a South Miami police officer for allegedly having inappropriate interactions with underage girls.
South Miami cop Joe Mendez walked out of the Broward County Jail on $42,000 bond around 8 p.m. Tuesday. The officer spent hours at the jail being booked in, having his mugshot taken and awaiting bond. When he saw our cameras he had lots to say about the allegations that he possessed child pornography and contributed to the delinquency of a minor. Specifically, he had a message for the community.
“They know who I am,” he said. “They know I didn’t do anything.”
But the Florida Department of Law Enforcement says Mendez, the former coordinator of the South Miami Police Explorers Program for young people 14 to 20 years old, did lots wrong.
They accuse him of buying alcohol for a pair of underage female cadets, asking them to play truth or dare with him and asking to show him their private parts. Mendez denied all of it.
“Detective were you playing truth or dare with underage girls?” a reporter asked.
“I have no comment,” he replied.
FDLE says the allegations came to light by a fellow South Miami Police officer. We asked Mendez if he believes there’s a vendetta against him.
“What do you guys think?” he replied.
Authorities said a complaint of misconduct from a fellow officer in June 2014 triggered an investigation into allegations he had inappropriate interactions with a number of female cadets in the program and that the interactions may have been sexual in nature. He is also accused of buying alcohol for the girls.
His arrest affidavit said on more than one occasion with a minor female he would play a game of truth or dare or a game of chair-air. According to the affidavit, he would ask them to flash him (show their breasts). If they did not, he would tell them to drink and hand them alcohol. It allegedly didn’t stop there.
FDLE Special Agent Donald Cannon said agents searched Mendez’s home and they took several electronic devices.
“We found what we know to be child pornography on there,” Cannon told CBS 4 News.
Mendez denied that, too.
“Why did you have child pornography on your phone?” a reporter asked him.
“I didn’t,” he replied.
But investigators say Mendez told them that he took over leadership of the Explorers after having trouble in his marriage and needing another focus. Mendez coordinated the South Miami Police Explorer program from 2009-2014.
FDLE says Mendez admitted purchasing alcohol for two underage girls. Again, Mendez denied that.
Cannon says this case again points out to parents that they must know who is involved in their children’s lives, no matter how trustworthy they believe the person to be. Cannon said parents need to keep open lines of communication with their kids. He said there’s a message here for young people, too.
“If you know it’s not right, it doesn’t feel right to you, sit down with your parents or your guardian and talk to them about it,” Cannon said.
State agents believe there may be more alleged victims. They are urging anyone with information to call FDLE Miami Regional Operations Center at (800) 226-3023.
Meantime, Mendez, who has been working with South Miami Police since 2005, is facing charges of sexual performance by a child and selling, giving or serving an alcoholic beverage to a person under 21.
Mendez has been on unpaid leave for 15 months since the investigation began. The State Attorney’s Office will prosecute his case.