Police chief ordered officers to pin crimes on random black people to improve conviction rate, probe reveals
The Biscayne Park police department is under investigation after a probe revealed it pinned crimes on black people and minorities to get perfect conviction stats
A former police chief in Florida and two of his deputies have been accused of pinning a series of burglaries on an innocent black teenager and the trio has now been charged with federal civil rights violations.
This week, Ray Atesanio, the former chief of the Biscayne Park police department, as well as officers Charlier Dayoub and Raul Fernandez, pleaded not guilty to wrongly charging a black Haitian American teenager with burglary. However, under the former police chief, officers and their deputies were encouraged to slap unwarranted charges on nearby blacks for reported crimes, according to an internal probe of the department back in 2014.
Records suggest that during the tenure of the former police chief in Biscayne Park, a tranquil suburb in the Miami area, the command staff pressured some officers into targeting black people to clear cases. #readlocal https://t.co/CINidNxioT— Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) July 12, 2018
In an attempt to bolster data surrounding successful convictions for crimes in Biscayne Park, Atesanio resorted to charging innocent minorities who may have had past criminal records, as per documents reviewed by the Miami Herald.
"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,” Anthony De La Torre told outside investigators conducting the probe, having once worked in the department under Atesanio. ”They were basically doing this to have a 100 percent clearance rate for the city.”
Furthermore, over a third of the police department revealed to investigators that they felt the pressure to oblige with the chief's demands, who regularly encouraged to file false charges on innocents.
According to a local community leader and village manager at Biscayne Park, Heidi Shafran, officers were particularly targeting racial minorities under the controversial chief.
"The letters said police were doing a lot of bad things,” she told the Herald. ”It said police officers were directed to pick up people of color and blame the crimes on them.”
During Atesanio's tenure, a 25-year-old black transient man, Erasmus Banmah, was arrested on five counts of vehicle burglaries in a single day. But after local authorities failed to cooperate in the case, all of the charges were dropped, giving more fuel to the ongoing investigation.
As of now, efforts are underway to build a case against the former police chief, who oversaw a 12-person department, and the two officers charged alongside him are reportedly cooperating with concerned authorities.
Nearly every case was resolved every year under the ex-police chief's command, with a vast majority of those charged being African-American males. As an obvious result, successful conviction rates under Atesanio skyrocketed at the time.
But after Atesanio resigned in the midst of the 2014 probe, the numbers fell heavily. Interestingly, none of the 19 open crime cases were closed that year.
The former police chief was known to tout his own apparent successes, with him claiming at a commission meeting in 2013: "This year, as we stand, we have a 100 percent clearance rate on burglary cases in the village of Biscayne Park. This is the first time I’ve ever known that to happen in any department that I’ve ever been in."
Following a racist order from police chief, cops in Miami suburb charged random black people for crimes. It doesn't get a lot worse than this. https://t.co/IgUOLg17F9 More excellent reporting from the @MiamiHerald— Dan Gillmor (@dangillmor) July 12, 2018
That being said, Atesanio, and Captain Lawrence Churchman, who worked under him and has not been indicted with a crime as yet, both denied ever having pressured their deputies into making baseless arrests.
“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,” Atesanio’s defense attorney, Richard Docobo, told the Herald.
On the other hand, Churchman has repeatedly been accused of making sexist and racist comments.
“The captain has said on several different occasions he doesn’t want any n-----s, f-----s or women bitches working at Biscayne Park,” officer Thomas Harrison told investigators.
Churchman officially left the department in 2014 after being suspended during the 2014 investigation.
He asserted that it was not his responsibility to oversee burglary cases or crime statistics, according to a statement obtained by the Herald.
“It is ridiculous to believe that I would encourage sworn officers to falsify crime reports and to pin crimes on innocent people when clearing crimes was not my responsibility,” Churchman said.
“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,” one officer alleged in an internal probe.— Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) July 12, 2018
The federal charges of framing a teen conflicted with the chief's reputation in the village, according to Ana Garcia, who served as village manager when Atesanio was first promoted to chief of the department in January 2013.
“Everyone thought highly of him,” Garcia said. “This comes as a total shock, not only to me but everyone in the community.”
In 2011, Atesanio was crowned Officer of the Year in by village officials. He was then promoted to replace the retiring chief two years later. Immediately after his elevation, he started touting impressive progress in solving property crimes, including break-ins -- thus gaining popularity with the residents.
Since the tainted chief's resignation, Biscayne Village's leaders say they have almost completely revamped the department.
“This all happened long ago,” said current village manager Krishan Manners. “And as far as the village is concerned, we have cleaned up the police department and continue to strive to make it better.”