Federal prosecutors abruptly drop beating charges against 4 Miami cops “Four Miami police officers charged with beating a career criminal were set free Tuesday morning after federal prosecutors admitted the foundation of their case was constructed on perjury concocted by the criminal and his family.”
On its face this sounds like the Miami version of a 'man bites dog' story, with a dash of Perry Mason. With the extra added dollop that this is a re-trial of a long-running case.
Not only does it appear that the cops were telling the truth and the accused beating victim committed perjury, but the truth came out in a made-for-TV moment,
Former officers Aguero and Jorge Castello and suspended cops Jorge ''Termite'' Garcia and Wilfredo Perez were charged with beating, kicking and burning Anazco after he had been picked up.
Tuesday's shocking development started falling into place late Friday when federal prosecutors Curtis Miner and Jacqueline Becerra called Hialeah brake shop manager Armando Rodriguez to the stand.
Rodriguez did not testify at the 2002 trial, but his testimony was key to the prosecution in the retrial. On Friday, Rodriguez said he ordered parts to repair Anazco's Supra — corroborating Anazco's contention that the cops had beaten the wrong man because his car was in the shop when the rock was tossed.
But defense attorneys, led by Castello's attorney, Richard Sharpstein, quickly ripped apart Rodriguez's story.
Over the weekend, Miner said Rodriguez confessed that he fabricated the receipt showing that he ordered parts for the Supra and that he was asked to lie ''by others'' whom Miner did not name.
Rodriguez, who initially testified that he did not know Anazco before he came to his shop, later admitted he had known the career criminal at least 12 years and had even employed his uncle.
On Friday, Sharpstein confronted Rodriguez with forms Rodriguez and his wife signed in September 2001 to visit Anazco in a state prison. On the forms, Rodriguez said he was ''friends'' with Anazco.
During Friday's cross-examination by Sharpstein, Rodriguez admitted that Anazco's father, Asbert, had asked him to visit his son.
''This isn't hyperbole,'' Sharpstein said Tuesday. “In my 28 years as an attorney, I've never had a guy admit on the stand that he committed perjury. It just doesn't happen.''
I would like to write a heartwarming story about honest cops and the truth will out. But wait a minute. This is Miami we're talking about. It's not nearly that simple. For one thing, the victim's account of how he sustained his injuries was partly corroborated by two independent witnesses—both police officers.
Further, two of the defendants were recently convicted on charges arising from a separate incident of helping cover up planted guns after questionable police shootings; the other two are to be retried after a hung jury. So the cops are unlikely angels.
In opening statements, prosecutor Jacqueline Becerra said police struck a defenseless Anazco on the head and shoulders with a flashlight and a walkie-talkie and burned him with a cigarette after his 1997 arrest.
Brake shop manager Armando Rodriguez offered an alibi for Anazco for a rock-throwing incident that allegedly triggered the beating. But it turned out Rodriguez was a longtime friend and visited Anazco in jail.
As for the victim, as a legal matter the question of where he was two days before the alleged beating, or whether he was in fact the guy the cops were looking for, is legally irrelevant. It's unclear to me why the evidence of the perjured alibi was even admissible given that it had little to do with charges at issue.
Federal prosecutors Jacqueline Becerra and Curtis Miner say the four officers bloodied, battered and burned Alexander Anazco because they believed he had thrown a rock at a police car on Interstate 95 two days earlier.
''All of this happened while he was handcuffed and defenseless,'' Becerra said during opening arguments.
But defense attorneys for former officers Jesus ''Jessie'' Aguero and Jorge Castello and suspended officers Wilfredo Perez and Jorge Garcia argued that the four did what they are paid to do: protect the public from repeat felons such as Anazco.
On Feb. 24, Castello and his partner were driving on I-95 when someone in a souped-up Toyota Supra tossed a rock and then outran them at speeds exceeding 100 mph.
Two days later, undercover officers including Aguero, Garcia and Perez stumbled upon Anazco in a car matching the description of the vehicle from the rock-tossing incident.
So the perjured testimony, the phoney alibi, was for a rock-throwing incident TWO DAYS EARLIER. Why it was necessary is completely opaque. After all, it was already clear that the victim was not a nice guy:
Anazco, 29, has been convicted of at least 25 crimes in 12 cases since 1991. Among the convictions: grand theft, armed robbery, aggravated assault with a weapon, and possession of cocaine.
He is awaiting trial on false imprisonment and sexual battery charges.
Given that the core accusations against the cops were that they beat and burned the guy after they had him handcuffed and helpless, what possible difference can it make whether he threw a rock two days earlier? Or even if he, say, had killed a large number people?
Part of the answer relates to how the advocates framed the issues in the original trial,
“Did Alexander Anazco try to escape and was he subdued justifiably by the police officers? That's the issue. It's simple,” prosecutor Allan Kaiser said. “He was bloodied. He was beaten. He was moaning in the back seat of that car.”
Hugo Rodriguez, attorney for officer Jessie Aguero, said only two officers were involved, and they used justifiable force to subdue Anazco when he tried to get away again.
Rodriguez also implied the jury should excuse excessive force, because that's sometimes necessary to keep streets safe from predators and thugs.
“Don't send the wrong message to police that are out there all the time,” he said, drawing a prosecution objection. “Tell these police officers you're willing to protect them the same way they protect you.”
You can see why the prosecution, stung by a hung jury, would want to paint Anazco as guiltless as possible. And you can see why, once it appears that they relied on perjured testimony, they might think their whole case was tainted, and throw in the towel. Nevertheless, you would think that there were virtually no set of circumstances in which police could argue with a straight face that it was justifiable to burn a suspect with a cigarette.
Criminal law is not an area I work much in, and criminal procedure and evidence least of all, but what I can't see is why the judge allowed the testimony in as relevant in the first place. Not to mention that any seasoned Miami trial watcher has come to be very suspicious of any convenient testimony. Even convenient perjury.