The Usual Suspects? Florida Police Force Targets Innocent Blacks, Report Says

Written by Ann Brown


Police in a Miami-area town decided to rely on pulling in the “usual suspects” when it came to crimes. And in this case, the usual suspects were innocent Blacks. The police force in Biscayne Park, Florida, was told by their chief to arrest any Black person with “somewhat of a record” and charge them with unrelated crimes, the Miami Herald reported.

The reason? To look like an efficient, crime-solving force.

“It worked, for a time at least. In 2013 and 2014, the police in Biscayne Park, Florida, a quiet suburb of Miami, solved 29 of 30 burglary cases,” NYMag reported. “It was a point of pride for former chief Raimundo Atesiano, and according to one officer who worked under him, he wanted to keep those stats by any means necessary.”

Now Atesiano and two officers are charged with falsely charging a teenager with four burglaries they knew he did not commit. There is an FBI probe into this and many other arrests that happened in 2013 and 2014, such as the officers drinking on duty, and racist and sexist insults being spewed by Capt. Lawrence Churchman.

According to more than one officer, Churchman used racial, homophobic and gender slurs.

“The captain has said on several different occasions he doesn’t want any n—–s, f—–s or women b—–s working at Biscayne Park,” according to the investigative report.

“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,” said one cop, Anthony De La Torre, in an internal probe ordered in 2014. “They were basically doing this to have a 100% clearance rate for the city.”

In a report from that probe, four officers — a third of the small police force — told an outside investigator they were under marching orders to file the bogus charges to improve the department’s crime stats.

“The (eport) said police were doing a lot of bad things,” former Biscayne Park village manager Heidi Shafran told the Miami Herald. “It said police officers were directed to pick up people of color and blame the crimes on them.”

Atesiano denies all the allegations and had pleaded not guilty in the federal case. He is awaiting trial on charges of civil-rights violations. Two of his former officers, Raul Fernandez and Charlie Dayoub, also pleaded not guilty. They are both awaiting trial.

“Encouraging, or even demanding, that public employees raise their performance levels to meet the citizens’ expectations is not an invitation for those public employees to cut corners or falsify documents,” Atesiano’s defense attorney, Richard Docobo, told the Herald.

The police force is small with about a dozen sworn officers to cover a population of just over 3,000 residents.

In 2013, Atesiano boasted about his force’s successes.

“This year, as we stand, we have a 100 percent clearance rate on burglary cases in the Village of Biscayne Park,” Atesiano declared to hearty applause during a commission meeting in July 2013. “This is the first time I’ve ever known that to happen in any department that I’ve ever been in.”

The Biscayne Park police had their favorite suspects.

“In the federal case, the apparent patsy picked to take the rap for four unsolved 2013 burglaries was a Black Haitian-American 16-year-old who lived with his family in a duplex on Northwest 12th Court. It’s alongside the railroad tracks in an area Biscayne Park cops used to call ‘The Badlands,’” the Miami Herald reported.

T.D. was arrested numerous times — for trespassing, for not having a valid driver’s license while driving a BMW with temporary tags, for raping a teen girl after daring her to drink a bottle of Barbancourt rum, according to an arrest report.

“The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office soon dumped all the cases, including the accusations of fleeing and eluding and the rape case. No formal charges were ever filed against T.D.,” the Miami Herald reported.