Biscayne Park’s former police chief, Raimundo Atesiano, and two officers have been charged with falsely charging a teenager with four burglaries to obtain a perfect crime-solving record. According to an article in the Miami Herald, the arrests were motivated by racial bias against black people.
Records uncovered by the Herald suggest that under Atesiano’s 2-year tenure as chief, command staff forced officers into targeting random black people to clear cases.
The Herald reports an alarming account from one cop, Anthony De La Torre, about the department’s racially unjust practices: “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 in an internal probe ordered in 2014. “They were basically doing this to have a 100% clearance rate for the city.”
In another report from the internal probe, four officers—amounting to one third of the entire Biscayne Park Police Department—told an outside investigator they were ordered to file false charges to enhance the department’s crime statistics.
The department’s near-perfect crime clearance rate during Atesiano’s time as chief certainly reflects these officers’ reports: 29 of 30 burglary cases were solved, including all 19 in 2013.
Although De La Torre was the only officer to report that officers were ordered to target blacks, former Biscayne Park village manager Heidi Shafran said that other officers were undoubtedly aware of these practices. After receiving 10 separate letters about problems within the department, she instantly hired a private investigator to examine the claims.
“The letters said police were doing a lot of bad things,” Shafran told the Herald. “It said police officers were directed to pick up people of color and blame the crimes on them.”
Additional allegations in the letters included: officers openly drank on the job; officers were involved in financial mischiefs; and, the No. 2 in command, Captain Lawrence Churchman, would often spurt racist and sexist insults.
As the investigation continued, the village suspended Churchman and Cpl. Nicholas Wollschlager, the department’s third in command. Shafran also sent Atesiano a letter that instructed him to cooperate with the investigator. Five days later, he resigned.
In 2015, one year after Atesiano’s resignation, the department’s crime statistics changed drastically: not one of its 19 burglary cases were cleared. Village leaders have since worked to repair the department and appointed a new chief, Luis Cabrera, a former high-ranking Miami police officer.
“This all happened long ago,” current village manager Krishan Manners told the Herald. “And as far as the village is concerned, we have cleaned up the police department and continue to strive to make it better.”
A trial date for Atesiano and the two officers has been scheduled for July 23.