Many Criminal Cases Under Review After Dash Camera Catches Four Hollywood Florida Police Officers Staging Crime Scene After Officer Rear-Ended Woman’s Car

July 31, 2009

HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA – Broward public defenders have begun reviewing some pending and past cases in the wake of a police video that shows four Hollywood police officers possibly conspiring to falsify an official report after a crash.

Three categories of cases are being reviewed by the public defenders.

For those closed within the last 30 days, and in which the officers testified, there’s still time for a defendant to withdraw a plea, officials said.

The office plans to then review cases going back further, starting with two years, to see whether any convictions could be thrown out or other motions filed in light of the officers’ diminished credibility, said Mindy Solomon, chief assistant public defender.

The public defender’s office also has at least 27 pending cases in which the officers are due to testify.

“We’ve also filed public records requests for the internal affairs files on these cops, in preparation for what we believe will be many battles,” Broward Chief Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said. “I don’t know if these officers will ever be able to remove that cloud over their heads.”

A dashboard camera installed in a Hollywood patrol car recorded the officers at the crash scene discussing ways to write their report to blame the other driver involved, though it appeared the officer may have been at fault.

Broward prosecutors on Wednesday dropped the case against Alexandra Torrensvilas, 23, a Hollywood resident who was arrested on drunken driving charges after crash about midnight Feb. 17 in the 2800 block of Sheridan Street.

Finkelstein has called on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI to investigate, sending them a copy of a letter he sent to Hollywood Police Chief Chad Wagner demanding answers.

Wagner could not be reached to comment Thursday despite attempts by phone, nor could an official with the department’s police union.

Echoing Finkelstein’s concern, the Florida Civil Rights Association, based in Orlando, on Thursday called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.

Federal and state officials said it’s too soon to know whether they would get involved. Typically, they wait for a police department to complete an internal review, they said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, at times, steps in if an agency requests it. Hollywood police officials have not made such a request, said FDLE spokeswoman Heather Smith.

Hollywood police officials this week – after the video became public – began an internal investigation and placed Officers Joel Francisco and Dewey Pressley, Sgt. Andrew Diaz and community service Officer Karim Thomas on administrative duty.

Police officials said Thursday that they were still in the process of fulfilling several public records requests, including one from the Sun Sentinel, for copies of the officers’ personnel and disciplinary records with the department.

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Charges Dropped Against Woman Framed By Four Hollywood Florida Police After Officer Rear-Ended Her Car And Lied

July 30, 2009

HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA – Public humiliation for Hollywood police continued Wednesday as state prosecutors dropped criminal charges against a driver some officers tried to blame for a rear-end crash that may have been an officer’s fault.

As the four officers talked about what to do late one night last February, a video recorder in one of their cruisers captured their words.

After reviewing the video, Broward prosecutors opted Wednesday not to charge the female motorist because the recording had thrown the police version of events into question, said State Attorney’s Office spokesman Ron Ishoy.

The 23-year-old Hollywood woman, who had been accused of drunken driving, could have gone to prison for close to three years had she been convicted as charged.

The video, seen by tens of thousands of South Floridians on the Sun Sentinel website and on news broadcasts, was the latest black eye for Hollywood police.

The episode also had justice officials and defense attorneys raising questions about the Hollywood officers’ credibility in other cases, and demanding answers from the top brass.

“If these officers were willing to lie and manipulate their story when nothing was at stake, what would they have been willing to do when there was something at stake?” said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.

If the officer who rear-ended a woman’s car on Sheridan Street had been found legally responsible, he likely would have faced only a ticket, Finkelstein said.

The public defender’s office is involved in at least 27 other criminal prosecutions in which the four officers are supposed to be material witnesses, Finkelstein said. Those cases could be affected if doubts about the officers’ credibility remain.

Finkelstein said he sent a letter demanding an explanation to Hollywood Police Chief Chad Wagner, who could not be reached to comment Wednesday.

The allegations against the officers stem from a videotaped exchange among them after Officer Joel Francisco, 36, rear-ended a car late Feb. 17.

A dashboard camera in one of the patrol cars at the scene recorded what the officers said, including this remark: “We’ll do a little Walt Disney to protect the cop because it wouldn’t have mattered because she is drunk anyway.”

Officer Dewey Pressley, 42, wrote the report detailing the midnight crash in the 2800 block of Sheridan Street. Pressley wrote “a large gray stray cat” that had been sitting on Alexandra Gabriela Torrensvilas’ lap jumped out of her car window. That caused her to veer into Francisco’s lane, where she abruptly braked, and Francisco’s car hit hers, the officer wrote in his report.

Torrensvilas subsequently was charged with four counts of drunken driving and given a citation alleging she made an improper lane change.

The case against her evaporated after the video recording and a transcript of the officers’ remarks surfaced Tuesday.

The same day, the Hollywood Police Department began an internal investigation and put Francisco, Pressley and the others involved at the Sheridan Street crash scene – Sgt. Andrew Diaz, 39, and civilian community service officer Karim Thomas – on administrative duty.

Publicity about Torrensvila’s case prompted another woman to come forward Wednesday and accuse Hollywood police of misrepresenting the facts of her case. She had been charged with leaving the scene of an accident. Pressley wrote the arrest report.

Jacelyn Glinton, through her lawyer, said she did not flee the accident scene in May.

“My client’s version of what happened is very different than what’s in the report,” said defense attorney David Williams. “The case filing attorney who investigated this matter seems to be in agreement with my client’s view, as he has chosen not to file some of the charges that were presented.”

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Dashboard Camera Catches Hollywood Florida Police Officers Lies – Woman Framed After Officer Rear-Ended Her Car

July 29, 2009

HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA – After a Hollywood police officer rear-ended a car in February and then arrested the driver on drunken driving charges, he and other officers talked about doctoring the report — it said a jumpy cat created a distraction — to cover up the crash.

The exchange was recorded by a dashboard camera in one of the patrol cars. The officers apparently didn’t realize it was on.

“I don’t want to make things up ever, because it’s wrong, but if I need to bend it a little bit to protect a cop, I’m gonna,” one of the officers can be heard saying. “We’ll do a little Walt Disney to protect the cop because it wouldn’t have mattered because she is drunk anyway.”

Alexandra Gabriela Torrensvilas, 23, of Hollywood, ended up charged with four counts of drunken driving and cited for improper lane change.

On Tuesday, Hollywood police officials placed Officer Dewey Pressley, 42, Officer Joel Francisco, 36, Sgt. Andrew Diaz, 39; and civilian Community Service Officer Karim Thomas, age unavailable; on administrative duty pending an internal affairs investigation and a review by the Broward State Attorney’s Office, said spokesman Lt. Scott Pardon.

Francisco was driving the car in the crash; Pressley wrote the report and made the arrest.

Pressley’s report detailing the Feb. 17 midnight crash in the 2800 block of Sheridan Street said “a large gray stray cat” that had been sitting on Torrensvila’s lap jumped out of her car window and distracted her, causing her to veer into Francisco’s lane, where she abruptly braked, and he hit her.

“I will do the narrative for you,” one of the officers says on the tape. “I know how I am going to word this, the cat gets him off the hook.”

Torrensvilas’ attorney, Larry Meltzer, said this is a disturbing “abuse of power.”

“Actually seeing it transpire on video in front of you, it really kind of sickens you,” he said. “It’s really nauseating to sit there and watch your client’s rights go out the window.”

Torrensvilas’ four DUI charges carry a maximum penalty of nearly three years in jail, Meltzer said. He declined to say what will become of her case: “In my opinion, as of this time, it’s being handled appropriately.”

A spokesman for the Broward State Attorney’s Office declined to comment .

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Drunk Driving Charges Dropped After UK Lawyers Prove Cops Are Stupid

July 25, 2009

LONDON, UK – Leon De Jager, a 31-year-old IT consultant from north London, was astonished when he was charged with failure to provide a sample after blowing into a breathalyser machine exactly as was told by police.

But the case was dropped after Driving Defences, a specialist road traffic law firm, proved that officers had incorrectly fitted a one-way valve into the breathalyser machine, making it impossible for the driver to provide a sample.

Every year thousands of motorists who are suspected by the police of driving while under the influence of alcohol are banned from driving because they fail to give a breath test at a police station.

Failure to provide breath test when asked by a police officer carries an automatic two year driving ban.

Mr De Jager, who had been stopped by police while driving back home from a friend’s house late at night in May 2008 in his Renault Clio, said: “I couldn’t understand it. It didn’t matter how hard I blew, it didn’t register my breath.

“The police thought that I was deliberately avoiding the test and charged me – I couldn’t believe it. I even asked for another chance so that I could prove that I wasn’t over the limit.

“But the police weren’t interested. They said that I’d had my chance. They just wanted to charge me with failure to provide.”

The case against Mr De Jager was dropped in December last year when legal experts at Driving Defences asked to see the valve through which he had attempted to give the breath test.

A simple DNA test carried by the Crown Prosecution Service revealed that he had been blowing through the wrong end.

Martin Hammond, a principal at the firm, said the case meant thousands more drivers may have grounds for appealing against convictions.

“The problem lies in the mouthpiece,” he said. “It is designed to allow air to pass in only one direction. But we have shown that with a breath testing machine used by many of country’s police forces, the mouthpiece can easily be inserted into the device the wrong way.

“This means that no matter how hard they try, it’s impossible for innocent motorists to provide a specimen. If they are charged with failure to provide a sample, drivers can face more serious consequences than drink driving itself.

“Thousands of motorists could have been wrongly convicted and they can now appeal.”

A survey by The Daily Telegraph found that some of the biggest forces in the country, such as the Metropolitan Police, use the same breathalyser. Out of 32 forces surveyed, five forces used a breathalyser with the same mouth piece. The others are Essex, Cheshire, Suffolk and Sussex. Eleven forces declined to say which type of breathalyser they use.

At least 17,189 motorists were tested across the five forces last year, although the number is likely to be much higher. The Metropolitan police used the kit to test around 12,800 people who were arrested after failing or refusing a roadside breath test.

Since 2001 around 8,000 drivers a year have been banned from driving for failing to “provide a specimen for analysis (breath, blood or urine)”.

In 2007, the last year for which figures are available, 8,232 drivers were banned.

A Home Office spokesman said: “Type approval of policing equipment such as alcohol breathalysers is a rigorous procedure designed to ensure that readings produced by a device are consistently reliable and accurate and so can be depended on for evidential purposes”.

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said “no problems or concerns” had been raised about the mouthpiece generally, “but as with any piece of equipment of this nature, it is important it is used in accordance with the training provided”.

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