In connection with the beating of a homeless man they seized outside a shopping mall and then drove several miles to a remote spot last month, two former South Florida police officers are now facing criminal charges, according to the authorities.
At a news conference on Thursday, Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the state attorney for Miami-Dade County, announced that Lorenzo Orfila, 22, and Rafael Otano, 27, both former members of the Hialeah, Florida, police force, located just outside of Miami, had each been charged with armed kidnapping and battery. She added that Mr. Orfila had also been accused of official wrongdoing by a public employee.
For his efforts “to cover up the activities of the officers,” a third man, Ali Amin Saleh, a 45-year-old civilian, was also detained and charged with witness tampering, according to Ms. Fernandez Rundle. At the press conference, she stated that “excessive force and abusive power will always undermine the fundamental goals of competent police in any society, anywhere.”
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Officers fail to remember that they betray the citizens they promised to protect. According to the police, the cops arrived just after 5 p.m. on December 17 to report a disturbance at a bakery in a shopping mall in Hialeah, a city of about 220,000 people northwest of Miami. According to an arrest warrant, the cops handcuffed Jose Ortega Gutierrez, 50, and put him in the back of a police vehicle.
According to Ms. Fernandez Rundle, security footage from the mall did not justify Mr. Ortega Gutierrez‘s detention.
According to Ms. Fernandez Rundle, the cops transported the man for about 11 minutes to a remote location more than six miles from the plaza. She added that Mr. Ortega Gutierrez lost consciousness while being beaten. “He was hauled out of the marked Hialeah police car and, while handcuffed, he was allegedly pummelling and thrown to the ground by the cops,” she claimed.
An off-duty Hialeah police officer walking his dog noticed Mr. Ortega Gutierrez after he came to, out of handcuffs and bleeding from the head, and he dialed 911. According to Ms. Fernandez Rundle, Mr. Ortega Gutierrez claimed to the policeman that two cops had physically assaulted him. She stated that Mr. Ortega Gutierrez was transferred to a hospital where he received medical attention for his wounds.
The arrest report stated that Mr. Orfila later got in touch with the officer who attended to the off-duty officer’s call and questioned him about the man’s condition and to make a “no report” of the ring. That officer ignored that request. In a follow-up interview with police twelve days after the incident, Mr. Ortega Gutierrez claimed that Mr. Saleh had contacted him and asked him to sign an affidavit that had already been pre-notarized.
Mr. Saleh presented himself as a private investigator. The English and Spanish affidavit said that Mr. Ortega Gutierrez had been detained for drinking on the day of the meeting and had not been physically assaulted by the police.
Mr. Ortega Gutierrez informed police that Mr. Saleh had given him $1,350. In addition, he said that he signed the document and accepted the funds because he was homeless and without a job, according to Ms. Fernandez Rundle.
According to Ms. Fernandez Rundle, throughout the inquiry, detectives discovered that the officers’ police cars’ global positioning systems indicated them to be outside of their designated patrol area that day. She claimed that throughout their whole interaction with Ortega Gutierrez, officers Otano and Orfila neglected to switch on the body cameras they were wearing.
The incident was the most recent in a string of well-publicized incidents involving wrongdoing by police officers. In connection with the killing of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, five Memphis police officers were charged on Thursday with second-degree murder and other offenses. The allegations resulted from a traffic stop on January 7 that the authorities characterized as shocking brutality.
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At the press conference, Chief George Fuente announced that the Hialeah officers had been reassigned before being dismissed from the organization. Officer Otano has five years of service, and Mr. Orfila has three years with the department. Mr. Orfila’s attorney, Robert Barrar, asserted on Friday that his client was innocent and that “we are certain that the jury will find him not guilty” after hearing the evidence.
Mr. Otano’s attorney, Michael Pizzi, asserted that his client “did not commit any crimes. Mr. Pizzi stated that Mr. Otano “was a police officer on duty, and he did not kidnap or assault anyone.” He continued, “He will be vindicated and get his job back.” According to jail records, both former cops were in custody on Friday. At the press conference, Chief Fuente said, “It’s a sad and terrible day when any officer betrays a badge, and it’s very frustrating to me it being an officer that wore the Hialeah patch.”