Officers' version of wreck dismissed

Public humiliation for Hollywood police continued Wednesday as state prosecutors dropped criminal charges against a driver some officers tried to blame for a rear-end crash that may have been an officer's fault.

As the four officers talked about what to do late one night last February, a video recorder in one of their cruisers captured their words.

After reviewing the video, Broward prosecutors opted Wednesday not to charge the female motorist because the recording had thrown the police version of events into question, said State Attorney's Office spokesman Ron Ishoy.

The 23-year-old Hollywood woman, who had been accused of drunken driving, could have gone to prison for close to three years had she been convicted as charged.

The video, seen by tens of thousands of South Floridians on the Sun Sentinel website and on news broadcasts, was the latest black eye for Hollywood police.

The episode also had justice officials and defense attorneys raising questions about the Hollywood officers' credibility in other cases, and demanding answers from the top brass.

"If these officers were willing to lie and manipulate their story when nothing was at stake, what would they have been willing to do when there was something at stake?" said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.

If the officer who rear-ended a woman's car on Sheridan Street had been found legally responsible, he likely would have faced only a ticket, Finkelstein said.

The public defender's office is involved in at least 27 other criminal prosecutions in which the four officers are supposed to be material witnesses, Finkelstein said. Those cases could be affected if doubts about the officers' credibility remain.

Finkelstein said he sent a letter demanding an explanation to Hollywood Police Chief Chad Wagner, who could not be reached to comment Wednesday.

The allegations against the officers stem from a videotaped exchange among them after Officer Joel Francisco, 36, rear-ended a car late Feb. 17.

A dashboard camera in one of the patrol cars at the scene recorded what the officers said, including this remark: "We'll do a little Walt Disney to protect the cop because it wouldn't have mattered because she is drunk anyway."

Officer Dewey Pressley, 42, wrote the report detailing the midnight crash in the 2800 block of Sheridan Street. Pressley wrote "a large gray stray cat" that had been sitting on Alexandra Gabriela Torrensvilas' lap jumped out of her car window. That caused her to veer into Francisco's lane, where she abruptly braked, and Francisco's car hit hers, the officer wrote in his report.

Torrensvilas subsequently was charged with four counts of drunken driving and given a citation alleging she made an improper lane change.

The case against her evaporated after the video recording and a transcript of the officers' remarks surfaced Tuesday.

The same day, the Hollywood Police Department began an internal investigation and put Francisco, Pressley and the others involved at the Sheridan Street crash scene - Sgt. Andrew Diaz, 39, and civilian community service officer Karim Thomas - on administrative duty.

Publicity about Torrensvila's case prompted another woman to come forward Wednesday and accuse Hollywood police of misrepresenting the facts of her case. She had been charged with leaving the scene of an accident. Pressley wrote the arrest report.

Jacelyn Glinton, through her lawyer, said she did not flee the accident scene in May.

"My client's version of what happened is very different than what's in the report," said defense attorney David Williams. "The case filing attorney who investigated this matter seems to be in agreement with my client's view, as he has chosen not to file some of the charges that were presented."

Sofia Santana can be reached at svsantana@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4631.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Comments
Loading