A former police chief in Florida was sentenced on Tuesday to three years in prison for ordering officers to arrest black people for crimes they did not commit in order to give the impression that his department was solving crimes, court documents say.
Judge K. Michael Moore of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida gave Raimundo Atesiano, who resigned from the Biscayne Park Police Department in 2014, until Dec. 10 to report to authorities to serve his sentence.
The sentencing came just over a month after three officers who worked for Mr. Atesiano when he was the chief were sentenced to prison for their roles in the wrongful arrests.
Mr. Atesiano told Judge Moore in court that he was “not prepared” when he took the job as chief of the department in the Miami-area village of about 3,000 people. “I made some very, very bad decisions,” he said, according to The Miami Herald.
The Herald obtained internal public records that suggested that the Biscayne Park officers, in order to clear cases, had been pressured into singling out random black people.
“If they have burglaries that are open cases that are not solved yet, if you see anybody black walking through our streets and they have somewhat of a record, arrest them so we can pin them for all the burglaries,” one officer quoted in an internal investigation said.
Mr. Atesiano’s lawyer, Richard Docobo, conceded on Thursday that his client had “allowed his officers to falsify arrest affidavits,” but said he had “categorically denied” ever telling an officer “that they should arrest anyone based on their race.”
As the chief of the department, Mr. Atesiano was intent on appearing to be a successful crime fighter. He instructed two officers to arrest a 16-year-old for four burglaries, even though they had no evidence that the teenager was the culprit, according to a June indictment.
The indictment charged Mr. Atesiano and the officers, Charlie Dayoub and Raul Fernandez, with conspiracy against the right to be free from unreasonable seizure by the police, and with depriving the teenager, identified as “T.D.,” of that right.
Mr. Atesiano pleaded guilty to the charges, prosecutors said.
In 2013, when Mr. Atesiano was head of the department, the village had 11 full-time police officers and two reserve officers. It had just recorded a decrease in burglaries, down to 19 in 2012 from 36 in 2011, the indictment showed.
In June 2013, with three burglaries in April and one in May unsolved, Chief Atesiano “caused and encouraged” Officer Dayoub and Officer Fernandez, who was one of the reserve officers, to falsely arrest T.D. and charge him in the four burglaries, the indictment said.
He also told the officers to falsely arrest a man identified in court documents as “C.D.” in 2013 for two burglaries, even though there was no evidence the man had committed the crimes.
In July of that year, the chief presented the city council with a perfect record of solving burglaries, though the statistics were “fictitious,” the indictment said.
The following year, Chief Atesiano told another officer, Guillermo Ravelo, to arrest and charge a man, referred to as “E.B.,” with five vehicle burglaries, despite no legal reason for doing so, according to court documents.
Officers Dayoub and Fernandez both said they were troubled by the unethical behavior. They eventually cooperated with the authorities.
Officer Fernandez sent a letter to the city manager about the bad arrests and then told investigators that Chief Atesiano “via his underlings, would use a specific code meant to alert officers that a person of color was seen in the city and that they needed to be stopped and confronted.”
The two officers pleaded guilty this past August, and in October, they were sentenced to 12 months in prison. Officer Ravelo was charged separately and sentenced in October to 27 months in prison for the conspiracy arrests and for striking a handcuffed driver in the head during a traffic stop.