Just over a month ago, public records activists Joel and Robert Chandler drove down to Miami to test out local government agencies’ knowledge of public records laws.
As I did in November, I tagged along with my video camera to document the exchanges.
And as expected, at least one agency had an issue with my camera – the Miami Beach Police Department, specifically Major Angel Vazquez.
Vazquez, who is considered to be the department’s second-in-command under Chief Raymond Martinez, claimed that he was unable to meet our request because of my camera.
He claimed that I was somehow disrupting “a private business” in a “private building.”
And he claimed that he could only meet the Chandlers’ request in his “private office” without my camera recording the exchange.
It was really a stupid thing to say, but we all know that police say the darndest things on camera.
I didn’t take too much offense to it because he never threatened to arrest me nor did he attempt to confiscate my camera.
But I did post a comment on Facebook about it that day along with the photo below, promising to post within the next few days the video showing Vazquez’s lame excuses to not abide by the Chandler’s public records request.
In fairness, it wasn’t a typical request because Joel wanted to inspect a historical ledger that was inside a glass case in the lobby of the police department. Not your everyday request.
But a high-ranking cop in one of the most high-profile police departments in the country should have handled the situation better than to order the camera shut off in the name of private enterprise.
I never got around to editing the video that week because my desktop computer is dying a slow death with frequent crashes and stifling lag times, especially with Final Cut Pro, the program I use to edit video (the dying computer is one reason why I put out a call for donations last month because I really don’t know how long this computer is going to last).
But a Miami Beach activist whom I’ve known for a few years saw my comment on Facebook and became very interested in seeing the video.
Peter Graves-Goodman sent me numerous emails over the next several weeks inquiring about the video, wondering when I was going to post it. I kept telling him I would eventually get around to posting it, but every time I tried to edit it, my computer would freeze up on me, forcing me to turn it off and back on again.
Graves-Goodman finally contacted Miami Beach police internal affairs who sent me an email last Friday inquiring about the video and then called me on Monday when I did not respond to that email.
I’ve never been a big believer in internal affairs because it is essentially police investigating police, so it’s nearly impossible for them to ever find wrongdoing against another officer.
And even in such a rare case when they find an officer in violation of a policy – as they did to Vazquez last year – the punishment usually ends up being a slap on the wrist.
According to the Miami Herald:
Miami Beach police closed a controversial and politically charged internal affairs probe Monday and ruled that a major tried to influence a drunk-driving case against an ex-wife’s brother.
Prosecutors declined to charge Maj. Angel Vazquez criminally with witness-tampering, Deputy Chief Mark Overton told The Miami Herald. But the department has recommended that Vazquez receive a letter of reprimand after he admitted to approaching the officer who arrested his former brother-in-law before a hearing on the case.
Officer Steven Cosner told internal affairs that Vazquez found him at the Richard E. Gerstein Courthouse before an October 2010 hearing and wanted him to change his testimony to help quash a case against Jason McFarland, whom Cosner arrested for DUI in Miami Beach in March of that year.
“The way it felt from, from where I was sitting was he, he was basically asking me to lie to the state attorney,” Cosner said.
I didn’t even bother filing an internal affairs complaint against Miami Beach police officer David Socarras after he arrested me in 2009 for photographing him against his wishes because I knew it wouldn’t go anywhere.
Nevertheless, I told Miami Beach Police Captain Gary Shimminger that I would edit the video, post it on my blog and send it to him.
He tried to convince me to send him the video without posting it online so it wouldn’t hinder the investigation, but there is really not much to investigate. The video speaks for itself.
Anything that is not addressed in this video is addressed in this post or at least in my phone conversation with Shimminger this week.
He said that if I don’t file a formal complaint, then they have nothing to investigate. I said fine, refusing to go though a bureaucratic formality when the evidence is on this blog.
The Chandlers, on the other hand, are more than welcome to file a complaint.
But I suspect they will be filing a lawsuit over having their public records request denied.