By Francisco Alvarado, BrowardBulldog.org
Miami-Dade prosecutors and state law enforcement agents are investigating Homestead Police Chief Al Rolle’s alleged participation in an elaborate scheme to hide and destroy public records requested by an officer he terminated, BrowardBulldog.org has learned.
Other targets of the investigation: Capt. Marie Kent, the former head of the department’s Internal Affairs office, and current IA boss Detective Tony Aquino, who took over IA from Kent.
It is a crime for government officials to tamper with public records.
Edna Marie Hernandez, a police administrative assistant, implicated Rolle, Kent and Aquino during a May 22 arbitration hearing for former Homestead police Sgt. Lizanne Deegan. Deegan, 46, is trying win back her job.
Hernandez said under oath that Rolle signed a fake log sheet that she created on Capt. Kent’s orders in October 2012. The phony document declared that IA files detailing allegations against Kent had been destroyed when in fact the documents still existed.
Deegan wanted to see Kent’s file believing it would provide evidence to show that the department was treating her unfairly compared to others who got into trouble.
AN ABOUT FACE
Hernandez’s testimony marked a significant about face. Last year, she refused to talk to state prosecutors by invoking her rights against self-incrimination. Prosecutors have since given her immunity.
With that protection in place, Hernandez recounted her role in the apparent cover-up in great detail, at times crying and apologizing to the arbitrator, according to a transcript of Deegan’s hearing.
“We are hoping to see some arrests out of this,” said John Rivera, president of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association (PBA), which represents Homestead’s rank-and-file officers. “The chief should go to jail. The captain should go to jail. And [Aquino] should go to jail.”
Rolle declined to comment citing the pending investigation. Kent and Acquino did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.
Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter, who ran an election campaign in 2013 promising to reform city hall, said he was unaware of Hernandez’s testimony.
“Certainly if anyone has been advised to do something improper by a superior, that’s a bad situation,” Porter said. “We are trying to clean up the way things are done around here. If what [Hernandez] is saying is true that would be unfortunate.”
Chief Rolle’s troubles began shortly after Deegan came under criminal investigation in February 2011 for allegedly failing to write a report about a fellow officer striking a drunk patron outside Celio’s Latin Quarter bar in Homestead.
According to press reports, the victim suffered a cut lip and bruised hand from blows allegedly inflicted by Officer Giovanni Soto, who at the time was supervised by Deegan.
Deegan and Soto, along with Jeffrey Rome, another officer accused of beating up a suspect in an unrelated incident, were arrested in July 2012 after the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges against the three officers. In March 2013, Homestead fired them.
CRIMINAL CHARGES DROPPED
Last December, however, the State Attorney’s Office dropped its criminal case against Deegan. Prosecutors said they could not prove she acted with “criminal intent” and that the victim could not remember specific details about his complaint.
Deegan’s PBA attorney, Andrew Axelrad, subpoenaed Hernandez to recount what happened when his client initially requested Kent’s internal affairs file on Aug. 21, 2011, as well as the subsequent steps Deegan’s superiors allegedly took to conceal their deception.
Hernandez testified that Kent ordered her not to turn over the file to Deegan. Instead, Hernandez only provided Deegan with a copy of a one-page summary of Kent’s internal affairs files.
One year later, on Aug. 21, 2012, Deegan’s PBA representative requested reports and logs documenting the destruction of Homestead police internal affairs files between 2009 and 2012. The department did not respond to request for three months.
Hernandez testified that when the PBA began making repeated demands for the release of the information Kent instructed her to create a log stating that the internal affairs file, along with files on other Homestead police officers, had been destroyed a year earlier.
A sobbing Hernandez described how she studied the department’s legitimate logs detailing the destruction of documents as well as Florida statutes governing the disposal of public records in order to create the fake one.
She said she backdated the falsified log sheet to May 16, 2011, more than three months before Deegan had requested it, to cover up why they hadn’t provided the file.
Rolle and Kent later signed the fake log sheet.
CHIEF ‘HESITANT’ TO SIGN
“I didn’t think [Rolle] was going to sign it at first because he was hesitant,” Hernandez said. “He knew that we were in 2012 and we were signing stuff that we were claiming was done in 2011.”
Hernandez said Detective Aquino, by then the head of IA, drove her to Capt. Kent’s house to obtain Kent’s signature, and later pressured her to stick to the cover story when Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents started asking questions.
Hernandez said she didn’t tell anyone except William “Bobby” Rea, a former Homestead police captain who filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city on May 30. In his complaint, Rea alleges he was fired because he reported Hernandez’s allegations to the state attorney and the FDLE.
Hernandez’s admission that she initially declined to testify citing her right against self-incrimination came under attack by the city’s labor lawyer, Brian Schneider. He accused Hernandez of “concocting a story about other folks” because she’d gotten immunity.
“I will take a polygraph right here, right now, live in front of everybody,” Hernandez replied. “I am not lying.”
Axelrad, as well as the PBA’s Rivera, noted that Rolle sat in during Hernandez’s testimony, but that he did not take the stand to rebut her claims.
“The reason for that is because he would have either pleaded the fifth [to protect himself against self-incrimination] or perjured himself,” Axelrad said. “Her testimony was compelling and it was credible. Finally we have someone with the intestinal fortitude to come forward.”
The arbitrator is expected to make a decision on whether to reinstate Deegan in the next three months. Prosecutors won’t comment on when their probe will be wrapped up.