In 2013 and 2014, the Biscayne Park Police chief and at least three of his officers denied the civil rights of three Black males by arresting them for crimes they knew the men did not commit.
The phony arrests were all because former Biscayne Park Police Chief Raimundo Atesiano wanted to maintain a record that the city clears 100 percent of its burglary cases, a justice department complaint said. But prominent Miami attorney H.T. Smith said what the police officers did was to continue a systemic way to control Black men.
Atesiano, who headed the 12-officer department, pleaded guilty Sept. 14 to “willfully conspiring to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate,” violating three Black youth’ “right to be free from unreasonable seizures,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice. He faces up to 10 years in prison when sentenced on Nov. 27.
“The right to be free from false arrests is fundamental to our Constitution and system of justice,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore. “Law enforcement officers who abuse their authority and deny any individual this right will be held accountable. As the Chief of Police, Defendant Atesiano was trusted by his community to lead their police officers by example; he has failed his community and the officers of Biscayne Park.”
The officers violated the rights of the victims, who are named in the indictment C.D., E.B. and T.D.
Former officers Charlie Dayoub, Raul Fernandez, Guillermo Ravelo already pleaded guilty to framing the innocent Black men. Ravelo on July 26 was indicted on three counts of civil rights violations and faces a 10-year maximum sentence, “three years of supervised release, and up to a $250,000 fine.” Ravelo’s sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 4 in U.S. District Court in Miami.
The indictment said that Ravelo on Jan. 23, 2013 and Feb. 26, 2014, arrested C.D. and E.B. in connection with residential burglaries “despite Ravelo knowing that no evidence existed linking either of the victims to these crimes.”
Both Fernandez and Dayoub are accused of falsifying and signing actual affidavits, which led to the unjust convictions.
The indictment said that on June 13, 2013, Fernandez and Dayoub’s supervisor told them to arrest and charge T.D. for unsolved burglaries. Atesiano and Dayoub knew T.D. They both face up to a year in prison when they are sentenced Oct. 16.
T.D., a 16-year-old boy was falsely charged for four felony burglaries.
“This is a vestige of slavery and keeping Black people in check,” said Smith. “They want to frame Black men and make sure Black men have records to keep Black men down.”
Richard Docobo, Atesiano’s attorney said, “the facts do not demonstrate that any of the arrests in question were predicated on the arrestee’s race or ethnicity. There simply is no credible evidence to suggest such a thing happened,” during an interview with the Daily Business Review.
“There is nobody but Black people who were being targeted, and only Black people were being framed,” said Smith.
This situation is nothing new to Black people, said Smith. But he said white people will have a better understanding of the system they support.
The fact that the police chief and officers facing prison sentences are Hispanic did not distract Smith from the bigger picture.
“It doesn’t make a difference what race they [the police] were,” said Smith. “The key is the police officers, irrespective of race and ethnicity, are doing what the power structure wants them to do. They don’t do this to their own.”
Atesiano reportedly sought to clear all open cases of home burglaries. He even announced a 100-percent success rate for solving burglaries at a village council meeting. At the same meeting, Atesiano gave reserve police officer Fernandez a certificate for his help in reaching a 100-percent burglary success rate.
The actual indictment states, “the existence of this fictitious 100-percent clearance rate of reported burglaries was used by Atesiano to gain favor with elected officials and concerned citizens.”
“Most whites see the police as the entity to keep the savages away from them,” said Smith. “They say, ‘whatever you have to do to keep Black men in check, you do it.’”
“Police departments historically have been used to keep Black men in their place, from not participating in voting, from acquiring firearms, or from owning their business. There’s no better way to do it than arrest them, and put them in jail,” Smith continued.
Melba Pearson, deputy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said by not truly solving these cases, the officers involved got away with not making the community safer and destroying the lives of innocent Black men.
“This is the kind of thing that perpetuates the distrust that communities of color have towards police,” she said.
Pearson said an Independent Review Panel would be helpful in holding police departments accountable.
“It would be a way to shine a light when officers are behaving in an inappropriate manner,” she said.
However, Pearson said law enforcement needs to take more proactive approaches to training and develop a better-policing culture.
T.D. and other victims of the Biscayne Park Police’s systemic framing are eligible for $50,000 for each year they were wrongfully incarcerated, according to a global compensation bill passed by the Legislature in 2007.
The Innocence Project of Florida has been advocating and helping innocent prisoners in Florida obtain their freedom since 2003. So far, Florida has had to release 13 men after DNA evidence proved their innocence. Altogether, these men served more than 20 years.
A caveat to being eligible is not having any prior felony convictions, including the felony received while wrongfully imprisoned. The Innocence Project has been trying to change this caveat in Florida, which is the only state with a compensation law with such a provision.