- Published on Wednesday, 29 July 2009
- Written by Tonya Alanez, Sun-Sentinel
Four Hollywood police officers are on administrative duty pending investigations into allegations that they doctored a report of a DUI accident in February. The police officer rear-ended another vehicle and then arrested the driver of the vehicle he hit for DUI, claiming he smelled alcohol in the car. He and three other police officers then concocted a story about the woman being distracted by a stray caught, causing her to abruptly change lanes in front of the police officer and slam on her brakes. Fortunately for the police officers' intended victim, their discussion about what to say in the official report was recorded by the police car's dash cam.
The Broward State Attorney's Office this afternoon dropped a DUI charge against a woman who was involved in a crash with a police officer, after which a police car dashboard camera recorded the officers at the scene discussing how to pin the crash on the woman.
The action, state attorney's office spokesman Ron Ishoy said, "comes following review of a videotape shot after the accident that could raise questions about the police account of the traffic mishap."
Public Defender Howard Finkelstein is demanding answers from Hollywood police after a video surfaced that showed officers talking about doctoring a report dealing with the traffic accident.
"Not only did these officers make a conscious decision to shift the blame to this young woman, but they made a concerted effort to write a narrative to fit 'their facts,' " Finkelstein wrote in a letter to Police Chief Chadwick Wagner on Tuesday.
The video-taped exchange occurred after Officer Joel Francisco rear-ended a car in February. It was recorded by a dashboard camera in one of the patrol cars, but the officers apparently forgot they were being recorded.
"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," an officer 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 being charged with four counts of drunken driving and cited for an improper lane change.
On Tuesday, police officials placed Francisco, 36; Officer Dewey Pressley, 42; 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.
Finkelstein said his office has at least 27 pending cases in which these four officers are listed as material state witnesses.
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 Torrensvilas' lap jumped out of her car window and distracted her, causing her to veer into Francisco's lane, where she abruptly braked, and Francisco's car hit hers.
"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," Meltzer 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."
Meltzer said today that Torrensvilas did not want to comment.
A spokesman for the Broward State Attorney's Office declined to comment Tuesday.
Pressley, a 21-year veteran of the agency, wrote that when Francisco approached Torrensvilas' car after the crash, she blurted: "It just jumped out."
The "it" was the cat that had been sitting on her lap while she drove, the report said.
Francisco, who has been with the agency for nearly 11 years, smelled "a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage," the report said.
Pardon, the police department's spokesman, declined to comment on the case today.
"We'll see where the investigation goes," he said.