The timing of last week’s press conference at the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office could not have been more obvious.
Eight days before this weekend’s Memorial Day Weekend hip hop festivities on Miami Beach; a million dollar, multi-agency, militarized seizure of the streets better known as Urban Beach Week, resulting in hundreds of arrests each year on baseless misdemeanors, including one of myself in 2009 for photographing a cop leaning against his car.
And two months after Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced there would be no charges filed against the cops who killed Raymond Herrise in a barrage of bullets on Memorial Day 2011, a Bonnie and Clyde style fusillade of more than 100 bullets that left four innocent bystanders shot, followed by a gun to the head of a witness who had recorded the shooting and was forced at gunpoint to hand over his camera to police.
Considering Fernandez Rundle did not call a press conference to discuss that long-awaited decision and considering she never charged the cop who unlawfully seized a citizen’s camera at gunpoint that year, it was a little bewildering why she would call a press conference on May 14 to announce that two high-ranking Miami Beach police officers were stripped of their badges for sending racist and pornographic emails from their work computers when neither of them were being charged with a crime.
Especially when one of the cops, Major Angel Vazquez, chose to retire last August to avoid getting fired and is now receiving $156,000-a-year in pension pay, so there was plenty of time to call a press conference for that.
But perhaps she wanted to provide a platform for Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates to tell the nation that racism and sexism will not be tolerated in the scandal-plagued police department he took over after last year’s Memorial Day Weekend.
Yes, this will be his first Memorial Day Weekend, which is better known as Urban Beach Week, when hundreds of blacks from all over the country come down to party. Everybody has a horror story, but I’ve been covering it every year since 2008 and my horror stories only involve cops.
But just because the new chief is promoting the new-and-improved, racist-free police department does not necessarily mean his officers will be less heavy-handed this year compared to previous year.
They already have two Miami-Dade Corrections buses parked outside the police department, ready to start bussing people to jail as they do every Memorial Day Weekend, so why should this year be any different?
It is what justifies budgeting almost $1.5 million to pay for cops from various agencies to roam the streets, making arrests and filling the jails, allowing them to validate the need to keep hiring them every year. For cops, this is the big money weekend. Most of the cases end up getting dismissed as my case did when the cop didn’t show up to court.
So why call the press conference in the first place?
The real reason is political. Anybody can see that, not that any of the journalists in the room admitted it in their reports.
Oates is an outsider who has not been well-received by the department. And the two cops in question, Major Angel Vazquez and Lt. Alex Carulo, were close friends with the department’s previous chief, Raymond Martinez, who would regularly receive their racist and pornographic emails.
One of the memes depicted a game board titled Black Monopoly filled with “go to jail” spaces rather than the high-end Boardwalk and Park Place and the low-end Mediterranean and Baltic avenues of the real monopoly. Click on this Miami New Times article to see all the memes they sent out, which describes the Black Monopoly meme as the “least offensive” of the bunch.
But Martinez was forced to retire last March after Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine took office in January 2014 on a campaign to clean up the corruption, which happens to be the most popular campaign slogan in South Florida but usually just mean replacing one corrupt administration with another corrupt administration.
Levine also happened to be at the press conference along with Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales. Quite a political display of power over a pair of cops who did nothing more than send out racist emails, which evidently, is quite a common practice within police departments from around the country, including Fort Lauderdale, San Francisco and, of course, Ferguson.
But Fernandez Rundle said up to 14 other officers are being investigated for the emails. And she said that their involvement in this scandal could jeopardize the cases of black suspects where the officers are listed as witnesses.
And she also added that Vazquez might face criminal charges for sending out an autopsy photo of Herrise’s bullet-riddled body, but she needs to do further investigate to determine if that is even a crime.
In other words, she had nothing.
If her team of attorneys were unable to determine if Vazquez broke the law when he sent out the autopsy photo after all this time, then it’s obvious she is not very interested in pursuing criminal charges against him. In fact, the only time she files charges against cops is when the evidence is so overwhelming that she has no choice.
But on the other hand, she has a tendency to jail citizens for months on flimsy evidence, only for them to be released without charges or a trial as we reported Thursday. And she prosecuted me three times for photographing cops since 2007, even though none of those resulted in convictions.
But that is just business as usual down here. If you’re not part of the Friends and Family Plan, then you will never catch a break.
And Vazquez and Carulo are both proud members of that plan as well as Fernandez Rundle because they’ve all been working at it for decades now.
In fact, Carulo is fighting to get his job back, which he probably will after he proves that a multitude of cops within that department have committed far more serious offenses and not lose their job.
And Vazquez might take it easy now that he is retired and financially set for life, but he doesn’t come across as a person who will do that, so don’t be surprised if he accepts another government job, allowing him to double-dip at the taxpayer’s expense.
This is a man, after all, who believes the lobby of the police department is a “private business” as he told me in 2013 when I went in with Joel and Robert Chandler to make a public records request as you can see in the video below.
Before the arrival of Oates, he was known as the man not to mess with because he was close friends with the chief.
So even though he has the money, he no longer has the power, so there’s no telling what he will do.
Below, beneath the video of Vazquez and his private business claim are videos I’ve recorded over the years on Memorial Day Weekend on Miami Beach just to give you an idea of what’s in store for the weekend. The final video is from the 2011 shooting where a cop pointed a gun at the head of the videographer to seize his camera.
That led to a new departmental photo policy informing cops what they should have already known, which means that these days, cops are less likely not to harass you for recording, but it’s never a guarantee.
Felipe Hemming contributed to this report.