Miami Cops Forced To Give $20,000 Back To Person They Stole It From After Screwing Up Their Supposed Drug Bust
from the failed-to-deactivate-body-cam dept
The schadenfreude dripping from this case is positively delicious.
This story of the spectacularly swift rise and fall of a profitable drugs-and-guns bust comes to us via C.J. Ciarmella at Reason, who has his own particularly sumptuous line summing up the debacle.
[F]or police, what looked like a delicious nougat of a drug bust turned out to be the coconut cream of disappointment.
Let’s head back to May 18, 2018, when a local media outlet breathlessly acted as law enforcement stenographers to “inform” their viewers about dangerous individuals being taken down by their fearless blue protectors.
A traffic stop by Miami-Dade Police lead to a stunning discovery this week: a car filled with a half dozen assault rifles and pistols, $20,000 in cash and more than 10 bottles with liquids that you normally need prescriptions for including promethazine with cocaine.
“It’s amazing how something as simple as a traffic stop can lead us to crack a lot of cases,” said Miami-Dade Police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta. “A lot of serial killers are behind bars because of traffic stops. These traffic stops lead to so many things in the criminal world and they are never routine. We warn our officers that there is no such thing as a routine traffic stop. You never know what you are going to get.”
First off, it was “promethazine with” codeine, not “cocaine.” Second, this is all speculation because the seized bottles weren’t tested — not even with a shit $2 field drug test more prone to producing false positives than a drug dog. Third, the weapons were all legal, and the person who owned them had a permit to conceal them. Fourth, the other person in the car was a stripper.
Why is number four relevant? Well, it has a lot to do with this case falling apart. And that makes this sentence from CBS Miami’s obsequious coverage particularly hilarious.
The Miami-Dade Police narcotics bureau is taking a close look at this case and Zabaleta said it is one that shows how risky such traffic stops can be.
The closer look isn’t going to help. Because a closer look has already revealed a number of problems with this daring roadside drug/gun bust.
Miami-Dade police is on the hook for legal bills after cops illegally seized a cache of guns — and nearly $20,000 in stripper cash.
The department has agreed to pay more than $3,000 to defense lawyers hired by Ras Cates, 33, and his wife, Lizmixell Batista, a 20-year-old stripper at Cheetah Gentleman’s Club in Hallandale Beach.
Up at the top of the list of things that made this all fall apart under closer inspection is officers’ decision to bypass the Fourth Amendment on their way to turning a moving violation (police claimed the driver cut them off when entering the road) into splashy drug/gun headlines (with bonus stripper!). That ended the prosecutor’s case before it could even get started.
[B]ody-camera footage showed that an officer, while friendly with Cates, never got permission to search the trunk but instead “commanded defendant to pop the trunk,” prosecutors wrote.
“Search of the trunk was illegal,” prosecutor Johnathan Nobile said in a memo explaining why the state declined to press charges.
Then there was this, which produced an immediate and plausible explanation for the cash:
As for the money, the bills were discovered in Batista’s purse. Body-camera footage obtained by the Miami Herald showed she immediately told cops about her cash-only job.
Goodbye, case. Goodbye alleged drug bust. Goodbye $20,000. Goodbye $3,000 in taxpayer funds. Goodbye self-congratulatory statements that probably would have aided the defense had this gone to trial.
But wait! Convictions are never much of an obstacle to legalized theft via civil asset forfeiture, right? Normally, no. But in this case, it appears the county would like to distance itself as quickly as possible from this embarrassment. Plus, there’s a really good reason someone might have a ton of cash in small, unmarked bills just laying around. The lawyer for the violated couple says it best:
“I felt that the glitter on the seized cash was compelling evidence, but apparently the police department disagreed,” said defense lawyer [Jude] Faccidomo.
The judge saw enough compelling evidence to block the illegal seizure. Another stripper testified on Batista’s behalf and the body cam footage apparently did the rest. In less than sixty days, this drug bust has gone from a local triumph (as seen exclusively on CBS Miami!) to the city being $3,000 poorer than it was prior to this officer deciding he could turn a traffic stop into headlines and a cash payout.