Two friends enjoying a late-night stroll on the sands of
The driver and his passenger: An on-duty
The fun-loving cop's supervisors couldn't be counted on to notice he was AWOL — two of them had gone home early that night and a third came in late. The bosses also didn't catch that another on-duty officer who had been with the ATV driver at the bar had been out of his assigned patrol zone for hours.
The July 2011 incident showed just how badly things can go wrong when cops aren't where they're supposed to be and led to a sweeping effort by Miami Beach police to ensure that all on-the-clock officers are in the city and on the job.
"As tragic as July 3 was, it was a unique opportunity for us to make the changes we needed to make ... and we've done that," said Raymond Martinez, a long-time police officer who became chief in November 2011.
Internal investigations that followed the crash focused on the supervisors of the 11 p.m. to 9 a.m. shift, two of whom were demoted for regularly leaving early and coming in late. The Sun Sentinel found that practice extended through the ranks as well — a result of what the chief blamed on a decades-old "time-owed" system that was intended to cut back on overtime costs but got out of control.
In its review of SunPass records in the months before the ATV crash, the newspaper found 12 Miami Beach officers clocked at tollbooths on their way home before their shifts ended.
One officer left 30 minutes to more than three hours early 32 times over an eight-month period. A sergeant left at least a half-hour early on one of every four days he worked.
On handwritten daily logs of their activities, some officers reported they were working when toll records showed they had left Miami Beach, the Sun Sentinel found. The June 24, 2011, log for one officer who lived in
"Obviously, it's ugly before July 3," Martinez said.
The time-owed system began with good intentions, the chief said. Officers who put in extra time or did exceptional work were allowed to go home early on another day. Some started banking their time, Deputy Chief Mark Overton said.
"It becomes where now the officers feel, 'Hey Sarge, I stayed over an hour yesterday. You know I'm going to take it sometime this week,' and he doesn't tell us when he takes it. He just decides, 'I'm going home,'" Overton said. "You start getting abuses."
The consequences became clear over the July Fourth weekend last year.
Bride-to-be Adalee Martin of
"I made a joke — Oh my gosh, are these strippers?" one of the friends, Camille Campbell, recalled to police the next day.
The cops danced and posed for a photo with the women, and Kuilan offered to take Martin for a spin on his police ATV.
"He asked me if I wanted to go for a ride on the beach since it was my bachelorette night, that people pay lots of money to go for rides on the beach, and I was like, 'Sure,' and said I'd be right back," Martin recalled to police.
In the pre-dawn darkness, Kuilan steered the ATV down the beach, only occasionally turning on its headlights, Martin said in her statement. And then, she said, there was a collision.
"It just felt like we hit something, and I flew off of the ATV," Martin said.
On the sand, a woman, Kitzie Nicanor, lay motionless with injuries to her brain, liver, spleen and heart. Her friend, Luis Almonte, would require surgery and a steel rod to repair his broken leg.
As the two victims and Martin were rushed to hospitals, police commanders summoned Kuilan and Gutierrez to the police station. Tests revealed they had been drinking, and both were later fired.
Inside the department, the focus turned to the supervisors. Of two lieutenants on duty that night, one had arrived as much as three hours late and the other left before the crash — more than four hours early.
A police audit of their time sheets and SunPass records found that night wasn't an exception. The audit found one lieutenant had been "significantly" late or left early 29 times in the four months before the crash, and the other, four times.
Gutierrez, the officer who was socializing at The Clevelander while he was supposed to be on duty in another area, had himself arrived late to work that night.
"Obviously, there was a problem," said Overton, the deputy chief.
Stung by the public image of a department unable to control its employees, Miami Beach police instituted changes beginning in August 2011, including requiring officers to give their location over the radio before signing off at the end of their shift and ending the time-owed system. All time off is now requested and approved in writing.
"If somebody gets stuck late on an arrest, then we pay them for that," Martinez said. "If they need to leave early or take the first hour off work, then they need to use their time, whether it's vacation or earned time."
Leonard Nicanor of Miami, father of the woman injured by the ATV, told the Sun Sentinel he's glad to see the changes. His daughter, the 30-year-old mother of a toddler, was hospitalized for three months and still has not recovered, he said.
"Her brain is not working properly yet," Nicanor said. "She's been taking therapy three to four times a week. She cannot work."
Kitzie Nicanor is suing The Clevelander, Kuilan and Miami Beach, and the other victim has a lawsuit pending against the ex-officer and the city. Kuilan also is awaiting trial on two felony counts each of reckless driving and DUI causing bodily injury.
Leonard Nicanor said police supervisors share the blame for the crash by allowing the cops to go AWOL.
The officers "did what they wanted," Nicanor said. "They were on their own."