The Biscayne Times

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Aug 22nd
Were They Railroaded? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
July 2017

North Miami police firings reveal a disturbing picture

SPix_MarkSell_7-17tand by for five alarms at the North Miami Police Department.

Police Chief Gary Eugene and Commander Emile Hollant face firing, and community heat could turn into a blowtorch for senior city administrators and the acting police chief.

On June 14, acting Chief Larry Juriga notified Hollant of his firing (pending appeal) after a six-month internal probe over Hollant’s conduct at the time of last year’s shooting of behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey by Officer Jonathan Aledda.

Just 14 hours later, city manager Larry Spring gave Chief Eugene a choice to resign or be fired, just when Eugene returned from medical leave.

Both Eugene and Hollant, then a shift commander, were six days into their new jobs when Kinsey was trying to coax Arnaldo Rios, an autistic man playing with a toy truck some mistook for a gun, off the pavement and back to his group home. Eugene, Hollant, and Aledda are all on paid leave.

“Two cops who had nothing to do with the shooting get fired, and the guy who actually pulled the trigger will keep getting paid,” said Hollant’s attorney, Michael Joseph, who is preparing to sue. “Those optics are bad. The people in the city are doubling down on their lies.”

Chief Gary Eugene has been in a corner since April, when the State Attorney indicted Aledda for attempted manslaughter and culpable negligence, and when Eugene’s July 28, 2016, testimony to state investigators was published. In that testimony, Eugene criticized the department’s training, procedures, and internal divisions. Training and procedures have improved under Eugene, but those two events sharpened divisions.

The police department’s Internal Affairs investigation of Hollant pointed as much firepower at him as police did at Kinsey and Rios, with 51 sworn testimonies from police, 72 documents totaling more than 1000 pages, and a 47-page investigative summary. (Go to www.northmiamipolice.com, and “newsroom.”) Hollant never testified, as three attempts exploded in acrimony between attorney Joseph and investigators over ground rules. 

Why all this trouble?

City officials say Eugene had lost control of his department, and that the extensive review of Hollant is proper for such a high-profile case.

Hollant consistently testified that he had run to his car to get his binoculars and didn’t see Aledda fire the shots.

The State Attorney believed him repeatedly. The city did not.

The Internal Affairs panel concluded that Hollant had lied about not being a witness, thereby obstructing an investigation; failed to take control of the scene; improperly left to get his binoculars; and failed to file a report that day.

A dissenting memorandum from assistant Chief Neal Cuevas called the Internal Affairs findings “replete with misinformation, half-truths, and blatant inconsistencies.” Cuevas, whose 42-year career with the city may be on the line, repeated the State Attorney’s conclusion, twice affirmed, that “Commander Hollant did not lie, and that there was no intent by Commander Hollant to mislead or obstruct investigators or command staff officers regarding his involvement in the police shooting.” (North Miami officials refuse to release Cuevas’s memorandum.)

The city’s case partly pivots on testimony from Sgt. Milton Reid, who was near Hollant, roughly 170 feet north of Kinsey and Rios. This past February, Reid, by then a detective, testified to the State Attorney and to the city that Hollant had left the scene and returned with binoculars before the shooting. (Yet back in July of last year, with his memory fresh, Reid had said another officer was behind him at the time of the shooting, and didn’t mention Hollant.)

Sgt. Diana Roman, who was conducting the Internal Affairs investigation, and police department consultant Adam Burden, who was steering it, then visited the State Attorney’s Office on February 27 with additional testimony from Reid and others, seeking to get the office to retract its August 2, 2016, statement that “Commander Hollant did not lie.”

The State Attorney’s Office refused.

Further, Chief Eugene told state investigators that on the Monday after the shooting, assistant Chief Juriga offered several times to cut a deal with the State Attorney’s Office to spare Hollant from prosecution if Hollant surrendered his law enforcement certification. Eugene refused. Even if Juriga never followed through, the offer piqued Eugene’s suspicions that a faction was gunning for Hollant.

Eugene, defiant, has taken to Creole and English-language media, announcing his plans to sue.

“The city manager is messing with the wrong person,” Eugene said to Radio Mega in English. “He has awakened a sleeping giant.”

In nailing Hollant, the city pounced on one apparent contradiction. Last year Eugene told state investigators that he actually believed Hollant lied about his actions at the shooting scene. But that was before Eugene listened to Hollant’s radio transmissions.

This past April, an Internal Affairs questioner got Eugene to say, “[Hollant] lied to me. The commander completely lied to me.” But Eugene tells the BT he was talking about that brief time soon after the shooting, not about what he has since come to believe.

So the BT asked Eugene: Did Hollant lie?

“Emile Hollant did not lie,” Eugene says. “I would not have suspended or terminated him.”

Yet Councilman Scott Galvin, who denounced Hollant at a news conference just after the shooting, backs the Internal Affairs report critical of Hollant. “The preponderance of evidence looks very bad for Hollant, and for Eugene,” says Galvin. “Both these guys messed up. So did Aledda. If you’re a commander on the scene, you have to give your testimony. Hollant did not. Fifty-one officers gave independent statements under oath for the IA. What motive would they have to lie?”

The city withheld Cuevas’s dissenting memorandum from its initial data dump and denied the BT’s public records requests to produce it, citing exemptions for internal investigations. Stephanie Kienzle posted the memorandum on her votersopinion.com blog while Eugene was on Radio Mega, writing that she obtained it from Chief Eugene.

Whether or not Hollant was railroaded, one question remains: What message does this send aspiring and current police officers, and those of us they are sworn to protect and serve?

 

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