An investigation into a false arrest has uncovered a former Florida police chief's scheme to boost his department's clearance rate by arresting innocent people.
The authorities are charging former Biscayne Park Police Chief Raimundo Atesiano and two officers, Charlie Dayoub and Raul Fernandez, with conspiracy to violate civil rights. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Atesiano's department arrested a 16-year-old citizen for a series of burglaries, without evidence, all "to maintain a fictitious 100 percent clearance rate of reported burglaries." If convicted, the trio faces a maximum sentence of 11 years in prison.
At least one other arrest is now being investigated as well. In 2014, Erasmus Banmah, 35, was charged with five vehicle burglaries in one day. Those charges were dropped after police did not cooperate with prosecutors.
Former Biscayne Park village manager Heidi Shafran ordered an internal probe of the department in 2014 in response to allegations about the department's racial bias. The probe's results, published in the Miami Herald last week, indicate that Atesiano directed his officers to pin crimes on random black men to boost the department's clearance rate. As Officer Anthony De La Torre described the method to an investigator, "If they have burglaries that are open cases that are not solved yet, if you see anybody black walking through our streets and they have somewhat of a record, arrest them so we can pin them for all the burglaries." De La Torre said the tactic was used so the department would have "a 100% clearance rate for the city."
During [Atesiano's] roughly two-year tenure as chief, 29 of 30 burglary cases were solved, including all 19 in 2013. In 2015, the year after he left, records show village cops did not clear a single one of 19 burglary cases.
Arrest records also reportedly show that black males were arrested in nearly all of the 30 burglary cases in 2013 and 2014.
The probe contained similar accusations from four officers about arresting innocent residents, though De La Torre was the only officer to mention a racial aspect to the scheme. The officers, who make up a third of the force, said the instructions came from the top down. The report concluded that the department was run like a frat house.
In another part of the report, Officer Thomas Harrison accused former Captain Lawrence Churchman of using homophobic, racist, and sexist language in the workplace. At one point, Churchman allegedly said he didn't want "any niggers, faggots, or women bitches working at Biscayne Park." Churchman was suspended alongside Cpl. Nicholas Wollschlager, who was also accused of ordering suspicious burglary arrests and of drinking on the job. (Wollschlager was later rehired.)
Atesiano stepped down in 2014, just days after Shafran told him to cooperate fully with the investigation. The department is now being run by a new chief, Luis Cabrera, who has made an effort to show transparency by auditing the evidence room.