By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org
The abrupt replacement of Gerald Bailey as Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner wasn’t the only major shake-up at the state’s top law enforcement agency in December.
Also out amid reports of internal intrigue: the first woman to lead FDLE’s Miami Regional Operations Center, Addy Villanueva, and her number two, Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Robert Breeden.
The upheaval couldn’t have come at a worse time, say critics of FDLE’s high-profile takeover of sensitive police shooting investigations from the Miami-Dade County Police and Miami Police.
“The FDLE Miami office is in complete disarray,” said John Rivera, president of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association, the union representing rank-and-file Miami-Dade County cops. “I am not sure this is the proper time to switch over, even if they want to.”
The PBA opposes handing over the investigation of shootings by local police officers to the state, as does the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents Miami police officers.
FDLE officially took control of police shooting investigations from Miami-Dade on January 5 under an agreement championed last year by Mayor Carlos Gimenez. The move followed a pair of controversial police shootings that occurred in 2011 and 2013:
- June 30, 2011 – Police informant Rosendo Betancourt and three home invaders were killed in a fusillade by a Miami-Dade special robbery detail. A police video shows officers shooting Betancourt 70 seconds after he surrendered, put his hands up, and dropped to the ground. State prosecutors declined to file criminal charges, citing insufficient evidence.
- December 10, 2013 – More than two-dozen Miami police officers fired at least 377 shots at two men in a blue Volvo who led them on a high-speed chase through Hialeah into Liberty City. Driver Adrian Montesano, wanted for robbing a Walgreens and shooting a Miami-Dade officer earlier that evening, and his passenger, Corsini Valdes, died. Valdes had committed no crime. The shooting, in which two Miami-Dade officers were also wounded, remains under investigation by state prosecutors.
In a parallel action the same week, Miami city commissioners also agreed to turn over police shooting investigations to FDLE, despite objections from FOP President, Miami Police Sgt. Javier Ortiz.
In a January 7 letter to city commissioners, Ortiz accused Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa of “passing the buck” to FDLE and noted Miami officers killed no one in 2014.
“Some politicians or chiefs want to jump on what they deem as being a trendy topic to some of their constituents,” Ortiz wrote. “I believe our priorities are all wrong.”
REMOVING CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
Proponents say allowing FDLE to investigate police shootings involving county and Miami cops removes inherent conflicts of interest when departments investigate their own officers for using deadly force.
“The goal is to have an objective, outside party investigate police shootings,” said Miami-Dade Police Director J.D. Patterson. “This will add more transparency and build public confidence in what we are trying to accomplish.”
The PBA’s Rivera has been an outspoken opponent of the move since Miami-Dade Commissioners ratified the accord between FDLE and county police in October. The union head says FDLE’s Miami office lacks experience investigating complex cases involving county officers who shoot people.
“The FDLE Miami office is not prepared,” Rivera said. “They are going from zero to 100. They have not worked side-by-side with Miami-Dade homicide investigators.”
Furthermore, Rivera noted that Miami-Dade would continue to control the lab and crime scene work when officers are investigated for firing their weapons.
“The most important part of an investigation is the scientific side,” Rivera said. “Yet, Miami-Dade police will still be gathering that evidence. It doesn’t make sense. Giving them partial control seems like an oxymoron.”
The practical problems Rivera cited appear to be compounded by the recent turmoil in the FDLE’s Miami office.
A law enforcement source close to FDLE told
FloridaBulldog.org that Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Breeden, who spent 20 years with the agency, opted to retire rather than accept a demotion after an internal investigation found he violated numerous policies, including creating a hostile work environment and allowing an unauthorized civilian to enter a room where investigators were counting money seized in a raid.
According to a December 3 letter he sent to Bailey, Breeden retired effective February 3. However, he took accrued leave time and has not been at work since submitting his retirement letter.
A 2 1/2 HOUR COMPLAINT
The source said Breeden took Villanueva down with him by informing Bailey of alleged misdeeds by Villanueva. Breeden made a 2½-hour oral complaint about Villanueva in September, FDLE records show. Details were not immediately available.
Villanueva accepted a demotion rather than retire, the source said.
But Steve Arthur, an FDLE spokesman, said Villanueva asked for the reassignment to a lesser post in the same office.
“She is not and has not been under investigation,” Arthur said, without elaboration.
Villanueva affirmed Arthur’s statement, but declined further comment. Breeden did not return a message sent to his Facebook account seeking comment about the complaint against him and his complaint against Villanueva.
Former Commissioner Bailey replaced Villanueva with Troy Walker, a 22-year-veteran who was promoted from his position as assistant special agent-in-charge of FDLE’s Tampa Bay Regional Operations Center.
Chris Woehr, a supervisor in FDLE’s Orlando office, replaced Breeden.
On December 16, Gov. Rick Scott shocked Tallahassee insiders when he replaced Bailey, who’d led the agency for eight years.
Scott, who picked Tallahassee Police director Richard Swearingen as interim FDLE commissioner, refused to say if he pushed Bailey out the door. But Bailey recently told the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times that Scott’s chief of staff and general counsel ordered him to “retire or resign.”
Bailey could not be reached for comment about Villanueva and Breeden.
FDLE spokesman Arthur dismissed the idea that his agency is not prepared to investigate police shootings. He noted that Walker has investigated police shootings in the Tampa Bay area, and that Woehr was in charge of an investigative squad that handled public integrity cases and officer involved shootings in Orlando.
“We are confident in our ability to conduct independent and thorough investigations,” Arthur said.
Miami-Dade’s Patterson agreed. “I’ve already met with Troy Walker,” Patterson said. “He assured me they will not have any problems with the transition.”
Miami-Dade homicide detectives will continue to conduct investigations of police shootings in other jurisdictions where it has contracts, including Coral Gables and Miami Gardens, Patterson said.
The police director also downplayed Rivera’s claims that FDLE is not prepared.
“The crime lab has more to do with the fact FDLE doesn’t have one in Miami,” he said. “With all due respect to Mr. Rivera, he keeps repeating that this move is a knee-jerk reaction, but that does not make it correct or factual.”
Dan Christensen contributed to this report.