[Hpn] Miami POLICE Cover-Ups a "conspiracy", Feds say - FL USA (fwd)

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Mon, 10 Sep 2001 14:05:18 -0700 (PDT)

"All 13 officers [ indicted ] were veterans assigned to SWAT, anti-drug or
street crime units..."  Street crime units often target homeless people.

FWD  Associated Press - AP Wire Service - Sep 08 2001 08:51 [ FL USA ]
     Photo Advisory  MH6-7, FLMIH102


By CATHERINE WILSON, Associated Press Writer

MIAMI (AP) - Federal prosecutors say a plot to cover up the
deadly police shooting of two unarmed purse-snatchers turned into a
sinister habit for a circle of veteran Miami street officers.

Two retired officers pleaded guilty to conspiracy this week and
have given prosecutors a sordid glimpse of the law on Miami's mean
streets. Based on their information, 11 others were arrested Friday
on an indictment alleging coverups in four police shootings that
left three men dead.

Prosecutors say it began in November 1995 over lunch at a
barbecue restaurant the day after the two purse-snatchers were shot
as they fled.

U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis described the officers' meeting as:
``How do we get our stories straight?'' He said they settled on the
color of two ``throw-down'' guns they had planted at the scene and
which hands the victims held them in.

``The truth was they never had guns, the guns were planted by
officers, and then the officers lied to investigators,'' Lewis said
as he outlined the indictment charging the 11 officers with a plot
to obstruct justice and violate civil rights.

``They lied about their roles in the shootings, they lied about
what they saw, they falsified reports, they tampered with crime
scenes,'' Lewis said. He said officers also stole weapons in
unrelated cases for use as plants to justify later shootings.

All 13 officers were veterans assigned to SWAT, anti-drug or
street crime units at the time of the shootings. One rose to the
rank of lieutenant and assistant to a former chief.

The 15-count indictment describes their alleged roles and

-Arturo Beguiristain reported finding guns at three of the four
shootings and fired shots during a SWAT drug raid that killed a
73-year-old man. The man's 14-year-old granddaughter cowered nearby
as officers fired 123 rounds into the apartment.

-Officer Jesus Aguero, the only officer among them thrown out of
the department, fired shots in two of the shootings and pocketed
guns in two arrests for later use at crime scenes.

-Retired officers John Mervolion and William Hames, the two who
pleaded guilty to conspiracy, were there when the purse-snatchers
jumped off a highway overpass and ran. The retired officers said
they noticed Antonio Young and Derrick Wiltshire were empty-handed
but still reported seeing them with guns.

After Young and Wiltshire were both fatally shot in the back,
the indictment says Aguero knelt beside Young and said: ``How does
it feel to rob white people? Well, now you are going to hell and
die.'' It says Aguero fired into the pavement to get a bullet to
ricochet into Young's front.

According to the indictment, an internal affairs investigator
recognized the gun reported to have been found near Wiltshire's
body as one he had given earlier to indicted Officer Jose Quintero.

Four months later, 73-year-old Richard Brown was killed in the
SWAT raid. No drugs were found in the home, and the city later paid
a $2.5 million settlement to Brown's family. The indictment says
several officers lied about seeing a gun in Brown's hand.

One month later, in April 1996, Aguero shot at a suspect but
missed. According to the indictment, after the shots were fired and
the suspect was arrested, Beguiristain retrieved a gun Mervolion
had been carrying in his trunk, placed it at the scene and then
reported finding it there.

In the fourth case, in June 1997, a homeless man holding a
Walkman radio was wounded in the leg by police who thought he was
holding a gun. According to the indictment, Aguero brought out a
gun that he had been holding onto for 16 months and that Hames had
cleaned of fingerprints. Mervolion said he saw Aguero plant the

All but one of the 11 indicted officers were freed on $100,000
bail. If convicted, they face five to 25 years in prison. Mervolion
and Hames face up to five years but get no prison time for helping

Defense attorneys dismissed the allegations as more spectacle
than substance.

``It's like a rerun of everything we've seen before. It's a lot
of hype,'' said attorney Janice Sharpstein, who represents two

Miami Mayor Joe Carollo said Friday he had urged the Justice
Department to launch a ``top to bottom review'' of the Miami Police
Department. He said he expected more charges.

``Make no mistake. This circle of officers is not yet closed,''
said Hector Pesquera, the FBI chief in Miami. ``Time is running out
for those who have not come forward with the truth.''

The case is the city's worst since the 1980s ``Miami River
Cops'' scandal in which uniformed officers stole cocaine from drug
traffickers and sold the drug themselves. Three drug boat guards
drowned when they jumped into the Miami River to avoid the
officers. Eventually, more than 100 Miami officers were arrested,
fired or disciplined.


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