MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – A Melbourne police officer charged with having on-duty sexual trysts with at least three suspected prostitutes in his patrol car could soon learn whether he can keep his law enforcement job, officials report.
Officer Jose Otero, 42, was charged last month with five misdemeanor counts of purchasing the services of a person engaged in prostitution, and one count each of setting up and maintaining a place for lewdness or prostitution and solicitation of prostitution, court records show.
A pre-termination hearing on Otero’s employment with the Melbourne Police was held late Monday. No decisions have been made.
“He still is suspended with pay and the chief has not yet made a decision,” said Sgt. Sheridan Shelly, spokesman for the Melbourne Police Department, whose agency has taken on a high-profile, proactive role in recent years to try to rid city streets of prostitution.
Melbourne police administrators ordered the officer to turn in his badge, gun and police radio May 26 following findings from their initial investigation.
The case — including possible surveillance video and investigative notes on the reported encounters — was turned over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The state agency issued Otera, who was never physically arrested or jailed, a notice to appear citation in early July.
Michael Bross, Otero’s attorney, said his client is innocent and adds that he did not have any sexual contact with the suspected prostitutes.
“There are no photos, no videos. It is an allegation. I’ve had the chance to talk to all three prostitutes and these allegations are spurious,” said Bross. “My client knows a lot of suspects and people on the road.” Bross said he believes the women may have crafted the stories to get a better outcome on their own cases.
Otero, hired in March 2008, did not attend the pre-termination hearing. His attorney did. Melbourne police would not comment on the specifics of the case.
“The chief had his meeting and is now taking everything into consideration,” Shelly said.
Melbourne police were tipped off to the allegations of wrongdoing involving Otero earlier this year and carried out surveillance of the officer.
Melbourne officers allege Otero used his patrol car for at least a year to pick up suspected prostitutes and then drive them to a secluded area in the 1000 block of South Harbor City Boulevard near the House of Lights and Home Accents store, which is not far from the police department’s substation on Apollo Boulevard, according to records.
Officers said that Otero, whose salary is $37,000 a year, repeatedly paid the suspected prostitutes for sexual acts while sitting in the marked Melbourne police cruiser, according to police records.
Police reported that Otero would then drive the suspected prostitutes to an unknown destination.
Otero could not be reached for comment.
“He’s doing fine,” Bross said. “My client has a right to resign, but he hasn’t. He chose not to because he’s not guilty.”