Three Fort Lauderdale police officers turned themselves in at the County Jail on Thursday, accused of lying about a 5 1/2-minute car chase at night in a busy area of the city that investigators said the veteran cops started without justification.
Broward prosecutors filed criminal charges against the officers — members of the scandal-plagued street crimes unit better known as "the Raiders" — alleging that the three made up a story about what happened, then stuck to it in sworn statements to try and cover up their misconduct.
Sgt. Michael Florenco, 43, and detectives Matthew Moceri, 29, and Geoffrey Shaffer, 32, were booked into the jail on multiple felonies, which their attorneys said they will vigorously fight. The three had been on paid leave for months while under investigation; Police Chief Frank Adderley placed them on unpaid leave Thursday until the criminal charges have been dealt with by the courts.
The escapade started with a call that a man was stealing bottles of booze from the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina hotel on Southeast 17th Street.
Police in marked and undercover vehicles went to the scene and a chase ensued from the hotel to the 1200 block of North Rio Vista Boulevard, where the suspected burglar's vehicle crashed.
The three officers filed police reports stating that Kenneth Post, 49, tried to run down two of them, slammed into the side of their undercover car and deliberately rammed the vehicle head-on.
But an FBI and city police corruption task force concluded that the officers concocted a tall tale, partly because they never should have been chasing Post at all. Department policy says that officers in unmarked vehicles "SHALL NOT engage in the pursuit of fleeing vehicles except when it is necessary to apprehend an individual who has caused serious bodily harm or death to any person."
The purpose of the rule, experts said, is to protect the safety of the public and officers. Dispatch records and police reports indicated that no one had been injured when the chase began around 1:22 a.m. on Nov. 21, 2009.
An accident reconstruction expert who reviewed photographs taken by police at the scene of the crash and did an independent investigation found that the damage to both vehicles contradicted the officers' accounts and supported Post's version of what happened.
According to court records, the three officers were riding in the unmarked 2008 Toyota Camry, driven by Florenco, the supervising sergeant.
The officers filed sworn documents stating that Post, who was driving his mother's white 2000 Cadillac, tried to make a "fake" left turn during the chase and struck the officers' vehicle on the driver's side, causing both cars to spin out.
"Due to the impact, Post's vehicle spun around and came to rest facing my vehicle head on. Post then accelerated his vehicle at mine and struck my vehicle head on," Florenco wrote.
Moceri and Shaffer also filed reports claiming that Post deliberately rammed his car into their vehicle.
But investigators said that the officers' version was just not credible.
"Photographs and an independent reconstruction of the crash indicated that the crash could not have occurred as reported by Florenco, Moceri and Shaffer," according to the arrest affidavit spelling out the criminal charges against the officers.
The crash scene photographs, taken by Fort Lauderdale police, showed "substantial front-end damage" to the police car but "no visible damage to the front end" of the Cadillac, investigators wrote. The Cadillac's back bumper was damaged, which led the experts to believe that it was the officers' car that rammed Post's vehicle from behind during the chase, according to court records filed Thursday.
There was no visible damage to the side of the officers' car, according to the report.
"If these allegations are true, then these three officers do not represent all of the honest, hard-working police officers that work at the Fort Lauderdale Police Department," Adderley said.
Shaffer's lawyer Bradford Cohen said Thursday that the officers are confident they will be cleared when all the facts come out.
"The accusations are coming from a convicted felon and we have independent witnesses that can testify to the facts that are laid out in the police reports," Cohen said.
Lawyers Howard Greitzer and Anthony Livoti Jr., who represent Florenco and Moceri, also attacked Post's credibility and said they suspected either prosecutors or investigators could be retaliating against their clients because they gave testimony that supported two fellow officers charged with kidnapping a suspect and stealing money from him.
"[Post] was involved in a high-speed chase in a high-traffic area of Fort Lauderdale," Greitzer said.
Post, a Fort Lauderdale native, told investigators that the officers "rammed him from behind with their vehicle several times, eventually ending in a crash," investigators wrote.
Post also claimed that the officers struck him in the face "unnecessarily" as he tried to surrender after the crash. Post was brought to a hospital for treatment; his jail booking photo shows several facial injuries. Officers said he fought them.
A marked police vehicle driven by another officer initially pursued Post and followed department policies but lost the trail, records show. But none of the three officers in the undercover vehicle complied with rules that required them to report what they were doing to the police dispatcher and stay in touch.
Investigators wrote that the police department did not appear to have reviewed the officers' actions until after Post filed an internal affairs complaint and the task force investigation was started. Under department policy, all pursuits are supposed to be reviewed, but police officials could not explain to investigators why no review was done, according to court records.
Post's sister, Janet Kelly, who lives in the Naples area, said she was relieved that the three officers are finally being held accountable for their actions but said she felt it took too long.
"It's been 2 1/2 years since this happened; how many other people have they hurt and committed injustices against while they were walking around with guns and badges?" Kelly said. "We said from the start what happened and no one was doing anything about it. Anyone could tell from the damage to my mom's car. ... There were so many inconsistencies that should have been looked at before now."
"He was badly injured, he told us they pulled him out of the car, kicked him, hit him and stomped on him," Kelly said.
The officers initially arrested Post on charges including attempted murder, but prosecutors filed 11 lesser felonies against him. On Wednesday, Broward prosecutors dropped the criminal charges against Post that accused him of fleeing and assaulting officers, but he is still in jail facing charges related to the burglary and allegations that he drove at a hotel security guard but missed.
Florenco and Moceri were both charged with four counts each of official misconduct and falsifying records, one count of perjury, and one count of conspiring to commit official misconduct. Shaffer was charged with four counts each of official misconduct and falsifying records and one count of conspiring to commit official misconduct.
Florenco, a 13-year veteran, and Moceri, a six-year officer, had been on paid administrative leave with pay since April 18, 2011, because of an unrelated investigation. Shaffer, who was hired five years ago, was put on paid administrative leave March 9, 2012, due to this investigation. The trio were switched to unpaid leave once the charges were filed.
All three were booked into jail around noon Thursday and were released on bond before 8 p.m.
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