Ex-Florida Police Chief Sentenced To 3 Years For Framing Black Men And Teen
Raimundo Atesiano told a federal judge in Miami the pressure simply became too great for him to bear.
Crime rates in Biscayne Park, Fla., a village of about 3,200 people, remained stubbornly stagnant, and as the town's new police chief, Atesiano just couldn't stand for it. Plus, he wanted to impress elected officials by achieving a 100 percent crime-solving rate.
So he came up with a scheme: Atesiano decided to frame black alleged criminals for some burglaries and car thefts that troubled the mostly white community. According to court records, he "encouraged officers to arrest persons without a legal basis in order to have arrests effectuated."
Along the way, the chief roped three subordinate officers into the plot. By the end of his 16 months in the job, Atesiano, along with Charlie Dayoub, Raul Fernandez and Guillermo Ravelo, conspired in various combinations to falsely pin four residential burglaries on a 16-year-old boy identified as T.D., two residential burglaries on a man later identified as Clarence Desrouleaux, and five vehicle burglaries on a man identified as Erasmus Banmah. All three are black.
Then he boasted about his triumphs.
A few weeks after the teen's arrest in July 2013, Atesiano addressed the village council. "This year, as we stand, we have a 100 percent clearance rate on burglary cases in the village of Biscayne Park," he said. "This is the first time that I've ever known that to happen in any department that I've ever been in," he boasted to applause.
Atesiano was initially adamant in his denials of the allegations filed by federal prosecutors, but the Miami Herald said the disgraced 53-year-old accepted responsibility for his actions at a sentencing hearing on Tuesday.
"When I took the job, I was not prepared," he told a federal judge, according to the newspaper. "I made some very, very bad decisions."
U.S. District Judge Michael Moore agreed, sentencing Atesiano to three years in prison, due to start in two weeks. (Moore allowed the ex-police chief the extra time to care for his dying mother.)
The Biscayne Park Police Department referred questions to the city manager's office, which did not respond to requests for comment.
Atesiano pleaded guilty in September and admitted in court documents that he had "ordered" officers under his command to make the illegal arrests. In a statement, then-U.S. Attorney Benjamin Greenberg's office said the police chief admitted in court documents that:
"... on one occasion he instructed an officer to falsely arrest and charge an individual for several vehicle burglaries based upon what Atesiano knew were false confessions. According to the documents, Atesiano intentionally encouraged officers to arrest individuals without a legal basis in order to have arrests effectuated for all reported burglaries, which created a fictitious 100% clearance rate for that category of crime."
Meanwhile, Atesiano's accomplices also entered guilty pleas for the involvement in the corruption scheme.
Ravelo, who was responsible for the arrests of Desrouleaux and Banmah "despite knowing that no evidence existed linking either of the victims to the two crimes," pleaded guilty in July for his role in the conspiracy with the police chief to violate individuals' civil rights. During the same hearing, Ravelo also pleaded guilty to assaulting a driver by striking him with his fists while the victim was handcuffed. A federal judge sentenced him two years and three months behind bars.
The Miami Herald reported Desrouleaux eventually pleaded guilty, was sentenced to five years in prison and deported to Haiti. However, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office has thrown out his wrongful conviction.
The charges against the boy were eventually dropped "after the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office noticed the four arrest affidavits all used similar vague language," the Herald reported.
"The right to be free from false arrests is fundamental to our Constitution and system of justice," acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore said after Atesiano's guilty plea.
"Law enforcement officers who abuse their authority and deny any individual this right will be held accountable," Gore added.
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.