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.


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  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 3:56pm

    Finally, some good news for a change!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Wyrm (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 4:25pm

      Re:

      It's a good news / bad news kind of thing.

      • Good news: Justice has been served.
      • Bad news: This happened at the taxpayers' expense, as usual.

      This is the problem with such cases: there is no incentive for the cops to act properly since any mistake is paid for by others.

      This will happen again, and again, as long as there is no personal accountability for cops. They should foot the bill, at least when there is evidence that they broke procedure to secure a quick win.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2018 @ 3:47pm

        Re: Re:

        Where I work, if someone did something that cost the company $3000 they would be immediately fired.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 20 Jul 2018 @ 4:55pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "For your profession the day one of your employees cost their employer three thousand dollars and a PR black-eye was the day they found themselves shown the door, informed that after such an impressive showing of incompetence the odds of them being employed in the field again were extremely low.

          But for law enforcement, it was tuesday."

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2018 @ 4:32pm

      Sorry

      I'm sorry but I feel compelled to disagree.
      It would be good news if article said something about the cops in question being punished (especially in a manner that would discourage this kind of behaviour).

      Instead all we have is "cops failed to steal legally obtained money and weapons, but succeed in being a PITA to two (apparently) law abiding citizen, and possibly made them front $3000 (after having a large chunk of their on hand cash taken)."
      I'd call that a little less than breaking even, because they are out all the time and energy to correct the situation, and they had a large chunk of their assents no longer available, for things like: use in retaining a lawyer.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 4:30pm

    Wasn't there another Techdirt article today about media reporting facts out of context? Why, yes...there was.

    Here is a prime example of media reporting whatever the 'authoritays' spew. No investigation, no asking questions, no concern for truth or justice, just spew. They could have held the story until a few questions were asked, but NOOOO, first to report is much more important than context. Will CBS Miami do a decent job of retracting their obsequious reports? Not a chance. I bet there isn't even a retraction, on air or on their website, let alone an appology for reporting 'what the cop said' rather than facts in context, and maybe, just maybe defaming the 'perpetrators' of no wrong doing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 4:46pm

    NOW

    try to get newspapers and TV to post a FULL PAGE correction to the accounts..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    carlb, 19 Jul 2018 @ 5:07pm

    $3000? That's cheap...

    A $3000 penalty for what is basically armed robbery is lenient. If anyone other than a police department was taking cash from motorists at gunpoint, they would be breaking rocks in gaol.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Brian Nebeker, 19 Jul 2018 @ 5:31pm

    $3000 paid by Public

    Kind of funny how the $20,000 seized would not have saved the tax payers anything, yet because they screwed up the tax payers are on the hook for $3000.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 5:38pm

      Re: $3000 paid by Public

      To some, that is your fault. You elected the thugs that hired the thugs. So reap what you sow.

      I, on the other hand, think we need to look at the system that allows thugs to be elected so they can hire thugs to strip us of our rights without consequence. Get rid of parties, money and patronage (parties appointing the next to be elected) from politics. I do believe things will work themselves out over several election cycles under a new system. Getting that system installed will be a problem.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        alpac0ne, 20 Jul 2018 @ 4:17am

        Re: Re: $3000 paid by Public

        Wait what ? Democracy has nothing to do with it, whatever ''thugs'' get elected won't change policies, stop pretending like it does. I know you don't think of it this way yourself, buit don't assume people are this stupid. The ones that I know whom dont vote, its because they have a biased choice to make between two bad options, so i dont blame them to be reluctant.

        People should vote and make pressure to bring legislation to get passed or changed, but no, we think that those no face puppets will take care of it because it complicated and I must work my 40h a week to pay for my cable tv and my familys 400$/m Iphones. And if something might just upset someone enough so that I say FUCK THAT ENOUGH IS ENOUGH well theres an easy option : FISA COURT ! YES ! Because the citizen wont complain on what they wont know, but they wont know because it might hurt your protection, so leave it to US :)

        Right.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2018 @ 7:54am

        Re: Re: $3000 paid by Public

        Victim blaming solves nothing.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2018 @ 3:51pm

        Re: Re: $3000 paid by Public

        >You elected the thugs that hired the thugs.

        No, I didn't. Fuck anybody who says I did.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 6:13pm

      No risk, all reward

      It's a win-don't win(which is distinct from 'lose') scenario from the perspective of the police.

      If they get to keep their stolen goods then they gain from it.

      If they don't get to keep their stolen goods and are merely forced to return what they stole then they don't gain anything, but they also don't lose anything either, they're simply back where they started.

      If they don't get to keep their stolen goods and are forced to pay for the theft then they don't gain or lose anything, but someone else has to pay for their theft, which costs them nothing.

      With a risk vs reward system like that, where they can only gain and someone else always pays any penalty it's no wonder you've got police stealing anything that isn't nailed down or on fire(then breaking out the crowbars and fire-extinguishers for whatever's left); they have no reason not to and every reason to do so.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2018 @ 6:16pm

    out_of_the_blue's not going to like this at all, is he?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Nemo, 19 Jul 2018 @ 6:27pm

    Oh, TechDirt, why must you tease me so?

    I told myself I was done with police issues for the day, and now this? Oy.

    I just want to know if all the officers involved in this "bust" (snicker) are still Good Officers, the way they were before the bust, or just Good Officers (probationary)(until the story fades away).

    You read about fiascos like this, and wonder where all the good cops were on that day. Out in vans trying to find a pretty young thing that they could cuff, stuff, and drive to a secluded location for consensual sex? Screwing with evidence to cover up their murder of a USCG vet?

    Watching SVU and fondling themselves when Stabler gets to work?

    Every cop is a good cop, so long as he has friends and family to tell everyone how wonderful their cop is. Kinda like the inner city mothers that get mocked, when doing just the same thing for their family members. Except you don't mock cop families, they way you do to the poor and minorities.

    Don't mock cop families, or you just might find yourself sitting on the Group W bench someday, and then what will you say?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      steell (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 6:53pm

      Re: Oh, TechDirt, why must you tease me so?

      "you just might find yourself sitting on the Group W bench someday, and then what will you say?"

      I want to kill! Kill! Kill!

      Alice's Restaurant Massacree reference, not an incitement to violence.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      MathFox, 20 Jul 2018 @ 1:16am

      Re: Oh, TechDirt, why must you tease me so?

      Good cop - bad cop is an interrogation play. In real life there are shades of grey and even colours!
      It seems that the cop made a mistake in ordering the trunk opened instead of asking it... a fault that on its own would not disqualify him from being a decent cop. It could be that his mistake was rooted in character flaws (power raising to the head) that would disqualify him in my opinion.

      There's shades of grey between black and white.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2018 @ 5:19am

        Re: Re: Oh, TechDirt, why must you tease me so?

        The order wasn't the only mistake, stealing the cash was also one.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2018 @ 7:22am

          Re: Re: Re: Oh, TechDirt, why must you tease me so?

          ...and the fishing expedition after the supposed traffic violation. I cant see someone with guns, cash and a stripper cutting off a cop car.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Nemo, 20 Jul 2018 @ 10:59am

        Re: Re: Oh, TechDirt, why must you tease me so?

        "It seems that the cop made a mistake..."

        Interesting. I didn't see anything in the article about only one cop being involved in the whole mess, from the start of the traffic stop to the defensive press releases.

        Silly me for assuming that there were other officers involved along the way, when the reality, according to your comment, is that everything done by the police in this story was done by one, and only one officer, acting without the supervision, assistance, and even knowledge of what was going on when it came to other police officers in the department.

        Not to mention that brilliant observation that violating the couple's rights, as defined by the 4th Amendment to the Constitution, was "just a little mistake", and he's likely still a "decent cop", because "shades of grey".

        Thanks for enlightening me about the facts of the case with your expertise. I'm in awe of the level of intelligence you've put on display with your comment.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Aaron Walkhouse (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 6:36pm

    Note to self:

    Buy glitter! ‌ ‌ ‌ ;]

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2018 @ 10:28pm

    But...I like coconut creams...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon E. Mus, 19 Jul 2018 @ 10:49pm

    Umm...Hold on a minute

    Tim, something seems to have magically gone poof here.

    "more than 10 bottles with liquids that you normally need prescriptions for including promethazine with cocaine."

    well OK, codiene, but still; Where did the bottles go?

    I mean, yes the money presumably belongs to the young lady. No problemo.
    The guns presumably were legally owned. The post said so.

    But 4th amendment or not: What's with the bottles? Were they legal or not?
    They just disapear from the post.

    If those bottles were in fact not legal, we have someone driving around with multiple guns who appears to be a drug dealer. And yes the cops screwed up the search.

    If they were legal your post needs to at least say so.

    Yea for the 4th amendment, but what else is going on.

    PS: Why did the cop order the driver to pop the trunk. For a routine traffic stop. The more you look at this the smellier it gets.

    Just sayin...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Lord Lidl of Cheem (profile), 20 Jul 2018 @ 1:20am

    I think that my main takeaway from that is that I should become a stripper...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 Jul 2018 @ 1:40am

    Won't the real fun start when they sue the city for violating their civil rights?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    drewdad (profile), 20 Jul 2018 @ 6:20am

    CBS Miami don't care

    They'll likely gleefully "report" the defense attorney's press release, just as they "reported" by copying the police department's press release.

    Too many "reporters" just play press-release karaoke instead of any kind of investigation or actual reporting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2018 @ 7:12am

    Don't blame cops, blame the politicians that employ the cops.

    Who is the boss of the Chief of Police of Miami? Wouldn't that be the Mayor of Miami? Can't he do something about it? Isn't that his job?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 20 Jul 2018 @ 3:13pm

      Re:

      Don't blame cops, blame the politicians that employ the cops.

      Uh, no. Unless said politicians are holding the cop's family hostage such that they have no choice but to do something then even a direct order from a politician does not absolve a cop from their actions(for one thing I"m pretty sure that politicians don't have the authority to give orders to police).

      'I/they was/were just following orders' has never been a valid excuse or 'get out of responsibility free' card.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2018 @ 9:37am

    On a side note, please don't make a habit of putting animated GIFs in articles. It's just plain distracting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2018 @ 2:08pm

      Re:

      "On a side note, please don't make a habit of putting animated GIFs in articles. It's just plain distracting."

      what? does it trigger you in some way?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Jul 2018 @ 7:56am

      Re:

      On a side note, please don't make a habit of putting animated GIFs in articles. It's just plain distracting.

      If using Firefox, set image.animation_mode to "none" in about:config. Or "once".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jul 2018 @ 6:56pm

    Cops forced to do something? That's news to my ears!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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