Black, White and Shades of Gray
A frantic call to 911 came in to the Broward Sheriff’s Dispatch center from a citizen in Pompano Beach. The caller explained that he was awakened by a noise outside and looked out his apartment window to see two men going through parked vehicles in the parking lot. The dispatcher obtained his address and contact information and sent a police unit to the area in hopes of arresting the subjects. The caller stayed on the phone with the dispatcher until the police arrived. The suspects attempted to run away but were arrested a short distance from the scene. During their investigation, the police were able to determine that these suspects had gone through several unlocked vehicles parked in the parking lot. From at least one of the unlocked parked cars, they obtained prescription medications. They were charged with Burglary and taken to jail to start their booking process.
This scenario plays out time and again almost every day in Broward County. However, another scenario also takes place far too often. This second scenario is much shadier. Whether there is an arrest for entering a vehicle and taking drugs depends on who enters the vehicle and who takes the drugs.
During the late night hours of December 2, 2009, Broward Sheriff’s Deputies were dispatched to a domestic dispute in progress. Deputies Emir Goenaga and Demetrious Campbell arrived and encountered a subject in the parking lot of an apartment building at the location. Officers reported that they observed the subject throw an object over a fence adjacent to the parking lot. One of the officers, Campbell, secured the suspect and Goenaga retrieved the item which they believed was thrown by the suspect- a small baggie of marijuana. Campbell searched the suspect for other contraband and found none. Goenaga then began searching the area. Several feet from where Campbell had secured the suspect, Goenaga located an unlocked vehicle. He opened the door of the car and searched the interior. Inside a closed console in the car, Goenaga located a small bottle of what appeared to be prescription drugs. Goenaga took the small bottle and returned to where Campbell and the suspect were waiting. Goenaga then said to the suspect, “If you admit to the possession of the marijuana we will not charge you with these pills.” Campbell knew that there were no pills in the possession of the suspect because he had searched him completely. Goenaga explained to Campbell that he would complete the arrest report and give it a “Goenaga special.” At that point, the suspect, now facing felony charges for the pills, admitted to misdemeanor possession of marijuana and throwing the bag of weed. Despite the admission by the suspect, Goenaga still arrested the suspect with possession of the marijuana and the pills.
Once at the jail the suspect asked to speak with a supervisor. A BSO Sergeant spoke with the suspect who told the Sergeant that he was in possession of the marijuana but the pills he was being charged with were planted on him by one of the Deputies. Two BSO Sergeants then questioned Deputy Goenaga about the charges he was going to file on the suspect. Goenaga replied that he would be charged with Possession of Marijuana and the pills. One of the Sergeants asked Goenaga where the pills had come from. Goenaga told the Sergeant that he had found the pills inside a parked vehicle. The Sergeant told Goenaga that he could not charge the suspect with the pills because the suspect was never in possession of them.
The marijuana charge was filed by the state despite its knowledge that Deputy Goenaga admitted that he planted the pill evidence. As you might hope, the state lost the case because the judge dismissed it. However they immediately filed an appeal citing their belief that the marijuana had no bearing on the pills that were planted on the client. The appellate judge had a field day with the state’s argument and ultimately denied the state’s appeal.
So what happened to Deputy Goenaga and Campbell for falsely arresting a suspect for drugs found in an unrelated vehicle? Goenaga was allowed to resign. He was not investigated or charged. Campbell, who had been willing to go along with the “Goenaga Special,” was not even investigated by Internal Affairs and remains on the job today. Why did the state charge the suspects who looked through parked cars and stole drugs but did not charge the deputy who did the same thing and then falsely pinned the drugs on a defendant? Both deputies could have been charged with extortion, threats, false reports, perjury, theft of the pills, and burglary of the unoccupied vehicle, not to mention federal violations of the suspect’s civil rights. The deputies were not charged because they are deputies- plain and simple.
What amazes me is that the state chose to protect bad cops. Goenaga and Campbell are not just bad cops because of what they did- they are bad cops because they couldn’t figure out how to make a case without resorting to lies. If these deputies had utilized just a little common sense they could have charged this suspect with the possession of the marijuana without breaking into a vehicle in the parking lot and concocting a story that the suspect was in possession of pills found in the car. All they needed to do was process the baggie of marijuana for prints. They could have made a case with good police work rather than putting their jobs at risk and risking their own criminal charges. If the state had filed charges, it would have gotten rid of two problems- corrupt cops and cops who don’t know how to make a case without resorting to committing crimes.
Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein has sent a barrage of letters to the State Attorney’s Office in the past few years calling them out for unequal treatment in its charging decisions. The Public Defender’s Office is not really surprised by this case. We have dealt with this issue for years in the State Attorney’s Office. What is black and white for citizens appears to be shades of gray when it comes to charging the police with misconduct. This is not an isolated incident but joins the list of those letters sent to State Attorney Mike Satz’s office to remind him that he is failing in his duties. The letter written on this incident is available here.
Checks and balances are supposed to exist so that everyone is treated in the same manner. In reality there are black and white guidelines that exist for our citizens and apparently a different set of policies that are shades of gray for police misconduct.