Florida Police Chief Gets 3 Years for Plot to Frame Black People for Crimes

A former police chief in Florida was sentenced to three years in prison on Tuesday 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.

His lawyer, Richard Docobo, did not return a request for comment.

As the chief of the department, Mr. Atesiano was intent that he appeared 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 same 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.

The Miami Herald obtained internal public records that suggested the Biscayne Park officers had been pressured into singling out random black people to clear cases.

“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 probe said.

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Florida election recount underway as tensions rise

The first election workers have begun the enormous task of recounting ballots in Florida’s bitterly close races for the US Senate and governor.

The move came after the secretary of state ordered a review of the two nationally watched contests.

Miami-Dade County election officials began feeding ballots into scanning machines on Saturday evening.

The tedious work in that one South Florida county alone could take days, considering some 800,000 ballots were cast.

The Florida secretary of state ordered the recounts on Saturday, an unprecedented step for the two flagship races in a state that took five weeks to decide the 2000 presidential election.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s office said it was unaware of any other time either a race for governor or US Senate in Florida required a recount, let alone both in the same election.

Florida’s 67 counties can decide when to begin their recounts, but must complete them by Thursday.

Elections officials in two large counties in the Tampa Bay area – Pinellas and Hillsborough – said they would begin recounts on Sunday morning.

Unofficial results show that Republican Ron DeSantis led Democrat Andrew Gillum by less than 0.5 percentage points, which will require a machine recount of ballots.

In the Senate race, Republican Gov Rick Scott’s lead over Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson is less than 0.25 percentage points, requiring a hand recount of ballots from tabulation machines that could not determine which candidate got the vote.

The recount opens against a backdrop of political tensions. President Donald Trump on Saturday tweeted without evidence that the elections were being stolen.

Following the announcement of a recount, Mr Gillum withdrew his concession in the governor’s race.

“Let me say clearly, I am replacing my words of concession with an uncompromised and unapologetic call that we count every single vote,” he said, adding that he would accept whatever outcome emerges.

In a video statement, Mr DeSantis said the election results were “clear and unambiguous” and that he was preparing to become the state’s next governor.

He also thanked the state’s supervisors of elections, canvassing boards, and the staffs for “working hard to ensure that all lawful votes are counted”.

“It is important that everyone involved in the election process strictly adhere to the rule of law which is the foundation for our nation,” he said.

In the Senate recount, Mr Scott implored the state’s sheriffs to “watch for any violations and take appropriate action” during the recount.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said on Friday it has not launched any investigation into election fraud.

The scene recalled the 2000 presidential recount, when it took more than five weeks for Florida to declare George W Bush the victor over Vice President Al Gore by 537 votes, and thus giving Mr Bush the presidency.

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Florida surgeon mistakes woman’s healthy kidney for tumour, removes it

A Florida woman underwent back surgery and ended up having a healthy kidney removed after a surgeon mistook the organ for a tumour.

In 2016, Maureen Pacheco was scheduled to undergo surgery to have bones in her lower back fused together. She left the hospital missing a vital organ.

“As you can imagine, when someone goes in for a back surgery, she would never expect to wake up and be told when she’s just waking up from anesthesia, that one of her kidneys has been unnecessarily removed,” the woman’s lawyer, Donald J. Ward, told the Palm Beach Post.

According to a complaint made by Florida’s Department of Health, when Dr. Ramon Vazquez cut open the then-51-year-old, he noticed a “pelvic mass and provided a presumptive diagnosis” of cancer. The “mass” was removed “in its entirety.”

“He just took my life and just dismissed it,” Pacheco told NBC News. “If he would have looked at the MRIs that were given to him he would have realized.”

Those MRIs showed the woman had a pelvic kidney.

“On or about May 2, 2016, a pathologist at WRMC confirmed the pelvic mass removed by [surgeon] was an intact pelvic kidney,” reads the department of health complaint, adding the removal was “a medically unnecessary procedure.”

Pacheco sued Vazques and two other surgeons for malpractice. The lawsuit was settled in September.

“The case was settled on his behalf for a nominal amount due to the uncertainty of litigation and in no way did Dr. Vazquez admit liability by agreeing to this settlement,” Vazquez’s attorney Mark Mittelmark told the Palm Beach Post.

Vazquez is still employed at the hospital but faces the complaint from Florida’s Department of Health, which could lead to the doctor’s licence being revoked or he could be ordered to pay a fine, the newspaper reported.

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Florida restores voting rights to convicts

An estimated 1.2 million Florida residents who have served time in prison have regained the right to vote, thanks to passage of a new state constitutional amendment.

Amendment 4 received 65% of the vote, according to the Miami Herald, changing 150-year-old language in the state’s constitution.

Previously, Florida was one of just four states in the US that automatically and permanently revoked voting rights from anyone who had been convicted of a felony-level crime.

“We celebrate one of the largest expansions of the franchise in our nation’s history,” wrote ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon in a statement.

Previously, formerly incarcerated Floridians had to wait five years after their release, then apply for clemency from the governor’s office. Since 2011, Republican Governor Rick Scott has only given the vote back to about 2,000 people.

To be eligible, former prisoners must complete their sentences and all the terms of their release, including probation. The language of the amendment excludes those convicted of murder and serious sexual offenses, but supporters still estimate that over 1 million Floridians who have served time in prison would become newly eligible to vote.

A cross-party, grassroots coalition gathered about 800,000 signatures to get the amendment on the 6 November ballot. The measure needed 60% to pass.

Supporters of the amendment argued for months that preventing former inmates from voting unfairly disenfranchised men and women who had repaid their debt to society, and prevented them from fully integrating back into society. They also argued that such laws disproportionately impact African Americans.

The amendment was endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as the Koch brothers-backed, conservative group Freedom Partners.

“If we want people returning to society to be productive, law abiding citizens, we need to treat them like full-fledged citizens,” Freedom Partners Chairman Mark Holden wrote in his endorsement.

The move also attracted significant star power from singer John Legend and Orange is the New Black author Piper Kerman.

Across the US, a patchwork of laws impacts formerly incarcerated people from voting. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that 6 million Americans are barred from voting due to their criminal records.

In Florida, language stripping the vote from felons was written into the state constitution 150 years ago, during the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era, as a means to prevent African Americans from voting.

With passage of the amendment, Florida joins the ranks of dozens of American cities and states that have been relaxing restrictions on voting for former prisoners in recent years. In April, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo restored the voting rights of an estimated 24,000 people who are currently on probation or parole.

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