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Public defenders review Hollywood police cases officers' reports scrutinized because video raised doubts
Broward public defenders have begun reviewing some pending and past cases in the wake of a police video that shows four Hollywood police officers possibly conspiring to falsify an official report after a crash.
Three categories of cases are being reviewed by the public defenders.
For those closed within the last 30 days, and in which the officers testified, there's still time for a defendant to withdraw a plea, officials said.
The office plans to then review cases going back further, starting with two years, to see whether any convictions could be thrown out or other motions filed in light of the officers' diminished credibility, said Mindy Solomon, chief assistant public defender.
The public defender's office also has at least 27 pending cases in which the officers are due to testify.
"We've also filed public records requests for the internal affairs files on these cops, in preparation for what we believe will be many battles," Broward Chief Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said. "I don't know if these officers will ever be able to remove that cloud over their heads."
A dashboard camera installed in a Hollywood patrol car recorded the officers at the crash scene discussing ways to write their report to blame the other driver involved, though it appeared the officer may have been at fault.
Broward prosecutors on Wednesday dropped the case against Alexandra Torrensvilas, 23, a Hollywood resident who was arrested on drunken driving charges after crash about midnight Feb. 17 in the 2800 block of Sheridan Street.
Finkelstein has called on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI to investigate, sending them a copy of a letter he sent to Hollywood Police Chief Chad Wagner demanding answers.
Wagner could not be reached to comment Thursday despite attempts by phone, nor could an official with the department's police union.
Echoing Finkelstein's concern, the Florida Civil Rights Association, based in Orlando, on Thursday called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.
Federal and state officials said it's too soon to know whether they would get involved. Typically, they wait for a police department to complete an internal review, they said.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, at times, steps in if an agency requests it. Hollywood police officials have not made such a request, said FDLE spokeswoman Heather Smith.
Hollywood police officials this week - after the video became public - began an internal investigation and placed Officers Joel Francisco and Dewey Pressley, Sgt. Andrew Diaz and community service Officer Karim Thomas on administrative duty.
Police officials said Thursday that they were still in the process of fulfilling several public records requests, including one from the Sun Sentinel, for copies of the officers' personnel and disciplinary records with the department.
Sofia Santana can be reached at svsantana@SunSentinel .com or 954-356-4631.
Staff Researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.