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Retribution, p.22
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       Retribution, p.22

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘I do,’ he said and dropped his hand. In his lap he held a notebook, the arrest form, and a police report. He crossed his ankle casually across his knee, and C.J. spotted his ankle holster, which was, she suspected, exactly what he wanted her to see. Those were not department issued, only his side arm was. Great. A cowboy.

  She pulled out her legal pad. ‘Officer Chavez, have you given a prefile before? Are you comfortable?’

  ‘Yes, ma’am. I’ve actually given a few before.’

  ‘Okay, then let’s do the preliminaries. And stop calling me ma’am. It ages me.’ She smiled. ‘How long have you been a police officer?’

  ‘Since February.’

  ‘February of what year?’

  ‘This year.’

  ‘Two thousand?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Are you off probation yet?’

  ‘No. I have four more months to go.’

  ‘Do you work with an FTO?’ FTO stood for Field Training Officer.

  ‘Nope. That ended in August. I’m in my own car since then.’

  ‘When did you graduate from the police academy? January?’

  ‘Yes, ma’am.’ Not just a rookie. A newborn.

  ‘Look, Officer Chavez, we’re going to get along just great if you stop calling me ma’am.’ She smiled at him again, but this one was not as friendly.

  He smiled a full smile of white teeth back at her. ‘Okay. I got you this time.’

  ‘Alright, then, let’s get to Tuesday the nineteenth. You were the one who pulled over William Bantling. Can you tell me what happened that evening?’

  ‘Yep. I was in my car and I saw this black Jaguar go speeding past me, doing maybe thirty-five, forty miles per hour. So I pulled him over.’

  This was going to take some work. ‘Thank you. That was very informative, but I think I’m going to need a few more details.’

  She watched him for a moment. He was fidgety, playing with the shoelace on his shiny black uniform shoes, and although he was trying to come off to her as cool, calm, and collected, she could see underneath that he was very tense. This was, without a doubt, the biggest case his short seven-month career had ever seen. He had a right to be nervous, she supposed. But she also unfortunately detected in him more than just a hint of arrogance, a smirk behind the bright smile. She found that rookies right out of the academy usually went in one of two directions the first year. They were either total dependants: never taking the initiative, waiting for instructions, constantly asking questions of their superiors, unsure of themselves and what needed to be done in a situation. Or they were Rambos: totally independent, know-it-alls, don’t-have-to-ask-a-thing types. The latter category – the ones already packed for their power trip, with mega-egos – were the ones of whom she had grown most wary. Inexperience bred mistakes, no matter what, and she accepted that, but the Rambos – although inevitably being the ones who made the most mistakes – never cared to own up to them.

  ‘Were you on patrol alone that night?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Where?’

  ‘Washington and Sixth.’

  ‘In a marked unit?’

  ‘Yep.’

  ‘Is that when you first saw the Jaguar?’

  ‘Yep.’

  ‘Where?’

  ‘Speeding down Washington toward the MacArthur Causeway.’

  ‘Heading south?’

  ‘Yeah.’

  ‘Were you using a radar gun?’

  ‘Nope.’

  ‘Then how could you tell he was speeding?’

  ‘He was weaving in and out of traffic in an unsafe manner at a speed that I could visually tell from my training and experience was higher than the posted limit of twenty-five miles per hour.’

  Taken straight out of the How to Properly Word Trial Testimony If You’re a Cop textbook.

  ‘How fast was he traveling?’

  ‘I approximated it to be about thirty-five, maybe forty miles an hour.’

  ‘Okay. What did you do then?’

  ‘I followed the vehicle on to the MacArthur Causeway, heading west toward the city, where I eventually pulled him over.’

  The MacArthur Causeway, which ran from the beach to downtown, was about two miles long. ‘Officer Chavez, Bantling was pulled over at almost the very end of the causeway, was he not? Right across from the Herald offices?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘That’s a pretty good distance from Washington. Was this a high-speed chase, Officer?’

  ‘No. I wouldn’t say high speed.’

  Of course not. High-speed chases were not permitted in the Miami Beach Police Department unless in pursuit of a fleeing violent felon. And only then with approval from a sergeant. That being said, they happened all the time anyway. ‘Okay. If not high speed, what speed would you put it at?’

  ‘I’d say maybe fifty-five to sixty mph on the causeway.’

  ‘So you’re basically telling me that you were following this guy on the causeway and doing the speed limit with your lights and sirens on until he finally just pulls over?’

  ‘Yeah. But I don’t think I had my sirens on, maybe just my lights.’

  ‘Did you call for backup at this time?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Why not? This guy has been going since Washington, heading straight out of the Miami Beach limits and you didn’t call anyone?’

  ‘No, no.’ Officer Chavez now began to look uncomfortable. He uncrossed his legs and shifted in his seat.

  ‘How did you finally get him to pull over?’

  ‘He just did. Right there on the side of the causeway.’

  This was beginning to sound interesting. Too interesting.

  ‘Would you consider this a chase, Officer?’

  ‘No. Look, he might not even have seen me in his rear-view. Maybe that’s why he didn’t pull over right away. All I know is that he finally did.’

  ‘Okay. What happened when he finally pulled over? What did you do?’

  ‘I got out of the car and asked him for his license and registration, which he gave me. I asked him what his hurry was, where he was headed to, and he told me he was going to the airport and that he had a plane to catch. Then I asked him where he was going to and he didn’t answer me. I saw one bag in the backseat and I asked him if he had any luggage in his trunk and he still didn’t answer me. Then I asked him if I could maybe look in the trunk, and he told me no. So I headed back to my car to write the guy a ticket for speeding. And for this broken taillight that he had.’

  ‘Let me understand this. This guy whom you’ve been chasing for a couple of miles – okay, following for a couple of miles – tells you to pound sand when you ask to look in his trunk and you just shrug it off and head back to your car to write the ticket?’

  ‘Yes.’

  Never happened. No Beach cop that she had ever met took it that nicely when a person he’s just pulled over won’t let him look in the trunk. Forget whether they even had probable cause to look in the trunk in the first place.

  ‘Okay. Then what?’

  ‘Then I’m heading to my car and I pass the trunk and I smell this smell. This rotten smell, like maybe, maybe a dead body or something.

  ‘So I ask the guy again for consent and he tells me no, that he’s got to go. So I tell him he’s not going nowhere. And I call for K-9 units to respond. FHP shows up, along with Beauchamp from the Beach and his dog Butch. Butch goes nuts on the trunk, and so we popped it. The rest is history. There’s a dead body inside with her chest cut open, and I know we just nailed Cupid. I tell this Bantling to get the hell out of the car, and we all just waited for about six minutes on the causeway while the whole world showed up.’

  C.J. read the arrest form again. Then she remembered what Manny had told her after she was called out on the warrants on Tuesday night, and she knew she had more than a little problem on her hands.

  ‘Where were you again when you first spotted Bantling’s car, Officer Chavez?’

  ‘I was on Washing
ton and Sixth.’

  ‘Was your car on Washington or on Sixth?’

  ‘Sixth. I was sitting on Sixth when I saw him go by.’

  ‘But on Washington, Sixth is a one-way, Officer Chavez. It only heads east. If you were watching Washington, you must have been facing west.’

  Chavez shifted again. It was obvious he was uncomfortable, but he never missed a beat. ‘Yeah, I was on the corner of Sixth facing the wrong way when I saw the car go by. I do it all the time. Great way to catch speeders. They don’t expect you to be there.’

  ‘And when you saw him heading south toward the causeway, you pulled right out after him?’

  ‘Yeah.’

  ‘Never lost him?’

  ‘Nope.’

  ‘Okay. Now that we both know you’re lying, Officer Chavez, why don’t you tell me what really happened?’

  39

  Sixth Street was not only a one-way street, it was also not a through street. Even if Chavez was facing west, the wrong way, small cement pilings prevented his turning left, or south, on to Washington. He would have needed to turn north on Washington and make a U-turn a block or two up. There was no way that he could have kept that Jag in his sights, assuming he had ever even seen it speeding in the first place.

  Chavez was now visibly shaken. His face was red. She had caught him, and he knew it.

  ‘Look. Alright. I was sitting on Sixth. I saw the Jag and I headed down Sixth to Collins. I made a quick right and went back up Fifth straight to the causeway. I only lost him for a minute, if that’s what you’re getting at.’

  ‘Wait. Wait. You headed back down Sixth?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘So you were never facing the wrong way at all, were you? You were never even watching Washington?’ She could not believe the words she was hearing. She stood up and leaned over the desk, her voice shaking with anger. ‘So help me, Officer, I am about to have your badge. You are under oath and I want the truth, you got that? Or else I’ll be talking to your cheap PBA lawyer while you’re kissing your youth good-bye in a crowded cell at South Florida Reception!’

  There was a long silence. The arrogance was all but gone now, the air let out of the balloon. Chavez’s brow was furrowed, his eyes dark. He finally looked worried.

  ‘Jesus Christ, I never knew this was going to be this, this… big case! How the fuck was I supposed to know this guy would turn out to be Cupid?’ He pulled his hands through his hair, and C.J. sensed that her case was about to fall apart. ‘Alright. Look, I was on Sixth, out of my car on the corner, talking with some tourist kids who were having some words or something. I got this radio call. Some anonymous tip had just come in about this guy running dope out of the back of his car. Caller said a late-model black Jag XJ8 was heading south down Washington. The dope was in the trunk.’

  ‘An anonymous tip?’ C.J. was stunned. This was the first she had heard of such a thing.

  ‘Yeah. Tipster said he had two kilos of cocaine in the trunk and was heading for the airport. So I see this Jag go by me, I say adiós to the fighting friends, and hop in my car down Sixth to Collins. I swing up Fifth, but he’s gone. I knew he must’ve headed for the causeway over to the airport, so I hop on the MacArthur and about a mile or so up, past Star Island I see him. Just as calm as a fucking cucumber. I’m thinking, you know, this jerkoff’s just gonna hightail it the hell out of Dodge, all cool and shit, not even breaking fifty-five. So before he can get off the Beach limits and I lose jurisdiction on him, I pull him over.’

  C.J. sat back in her chair. Her mouth was dry, her heart pounding in her chest. This was not good. ‘So you never saw him speeding? You pulled him over based on this anonymous tip, and that’s it?’

  Chavez said nothing, just looked down at the paperwork, which was still on his lap.

  ‘What exactly did the tip say?’

  ‘I just told you. A black late-model XJ8 was heading south on Washington with two keys of coke in his trunk.’

  ‘Heading for the airport?’

  ‘Heading for the airport.’

  ‘Did the tip give a description of the driver? Did he at least give a plate number? Did he say how it was that he knew this information? Did he say anything at all that would lead a reasonable police officer to think this guy is trafficking?’ Her voice was rising almost to a shout, and she knew it. Anonymous tips are always looked at skeptically by the courts – anyone can call one in, and there’s no way for the caller’s credibility to be assessed. And without sufficient detailed facts in the tip, there is no probable cause. A black Jaguar heading south on Washington with two kilos was not going to cut it.

  ‘No. That’s it. There wasn’t any more time, Ms Townsend. He was about to leave the jurisdiction, and I didn’t want to lose him so I pulled him over.’

  ‘No. You had already lost him over on Sixth. In fact, how is it that you know that the black Jaguar you “caught up to” on the MacArthur was the same one you saw pass south on Washington in the first place? How is it that you know that the car you pulled over was the same one the tip referred to on Washington, assuming, arguendo, that the tip was good in the first place?’

  Again there was silence.

  ‘That’s right. You don’t know that, because that tip was shit and you knew it. That’s why you didn’t even tell me about it in the first place. Okay, so you’ve got him pulled over. Tell me exactly what happened next.’

  ‘I made him get out of the car and asked him for his license and registration. I asked him where he was going, and he said the airport. That’s when I asked him what was in his trunk. You know, luggage? He only had that one bag in the backseat, and the tip said the dope was in the trunk. And he told me to fuck off. So I knew he had something in there. I told him he’s gonna miss his flight, and I called K-9.’

  ‘What was in the bag in the backseat?’

  ‘Clothes, his passport, and a day planner. Some other papers and shit, too.’

  ‘And when did you search the bag?’

  ‘While I was waiting for K-9.’

  ‘There was no smell, either, was there? Coming from the trunk, then?’

  ‘Yeah, yeah, there was!’ he stammered. ‘It smelled funky, like a dead body, maybe.’

  ‘You are a goddamn liar, Officer. You never smelled jack-shit, and you and I both know it. First you tell Manny Alvarez that you thought he had drugs, and now you’ve changed your tune because there were no drugs to be found. Anywhere. You also wouldn’t have smelled Anna Prado’s body, because she was only dead a day. So fess up and tell me that you wanted to look in the trunk because you were pissed he wouldn’t let you and you knew you didn’t have enough pc to open it yourself. Ten minutes on the job and you’re a tough guy. No one says no to you. You never even had probable cause to pull him over, do you know that? All because you didn’t bother to check the tip. Do you know what kind of case you have just royally fucked up, Officer?’

  He stood up and paced the small office. ‘Christ, I didn’t know it would be Cupid! I thought this guy was maybe dealing. Maybe I’d nail a doper, out by myself, just on intuition. My FTO says this shit happens all the time in Miami. If someone doesn’t want you looking in their trunk, it’s because there’s something to hide in it. And he had a fucking dead body in there! He had a dead body! You’re gonna tell me that doesn’t mean anything?’

  ‘Yeah, that’s what I’m gonna tell you, because if the stop is suppressed and the search is suppressed then we don’t have a dead body in the trunk, got it? It never comes in – it’s not admissible in a court of law. Didn’t they teach you the law in the police academy or were you too busy strapping extra weapons on your ankle that you forgot to actually listen?’ They sat in silence while the cheap wall clock ticked off the seconds and minutes. Finally, she asked, ‘How far does this go?’

  ‘My sergeant, Ribero, he responded after we popped the trunk. I told him the whole story. And he freaked, just like you, said the whole case would be tossed. But then he said we couldn’t let this guy just wal
k, no way. So he said there had to be another reason why I pulled him over, that it couldn’t be the tip.’

  ‘Who broke the taillight?’

  ‘Chavez didn’t answer; he just stared out the window.

  ‘So it’s you and Ribero?’

  ‘Lindeman knew about the call, too. How bad is this, Ms Townsend? Am I gonna get fired over this?’

  ‘Your welfare is the least of my concerns, Officer Chavez. I need to think of a way to keep a man who has butchered ten women in jail, and right now, I am drawing a complete blank.’

  40

  She sat quietly behind her desk, trying to think through the white noise of confusion. Chavez was back in his seat, but this time the broad shoulders were meekly bowed, his head slumped over his lap, the hands folded in what looked like – and probably was – prayer.

  Summoned back over from the Pickle Barrel, Lou Ribero now sat, his arms folded across his chest, glaring at the rookie next to him. He was obviously thinking of the shit patrols he was gonna put Chavez on for the next ten years.

  After a long while she finally spoke. Her voice was low, her words carefully chosen.

  While the facts of the cases may all vary, the law on anonymous tips in Florida is pretty clear. Because there is no way to cross-examine the caller, to verify where and how he received his information, or test his motives, in order to serve as the basis of a vehicle stop, an anonymous tip must be sufficient in detail so that it is quite clear to the officer that the person providing the tip has intimate knowledge of the facts of which he speaks. If those facts are then independently corroborated by the officer, the officer will then, and only then, have sufficient probable cause, or at least a reasonable suspicion, to believe that criminal activity is afoot, and may pull the vehicle over to investigate further. A tip that is devoid of necessary facts, that is not sufficiently detailed to be considered credible, cannot be the basis of such a vehicle stop. Period. And of course we all know that any search that is conducted after an illegal stop will also be considered illegal unless there is independent probable cause to support the search. Any evidence obtained as the result of an illegal search will be suppressed and is inadmissible in a court of law as fruit of the poisonous tree.

 
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