Two Florida police officers have been charged after they allegedly handcuffed and beat a homeless man unconscious in December, according to a state attorney.
Officers Rafael Quinones Otano, 27, and Lorenzo Orfila, 22, were charged with kidnapping by a law enforcement officer and battery, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced Thursday, Local10 News reported. Orfila received an additional charge of official misconduct by a public servant, the outlet added.
Officers reported to a disturbance call at the Los Tres Conejitos bakery in Hialeah on Dec. 17, where they encountered 50-year-old Jose Ortega Gutierrez, a homeless man, wandering around the shop, according to Local10. Orfila reportedly handcuffed Gutierrez and placed him in the back of the police car.
“Based on a review of surveillance video from numerous locations in the area of the bakery, Hialeah police detectives were unable to identify any violation of Florida state statutes or Miami-Dade county ordinances that would have prompted or justified taking Ortega Gutierrez into custody,” the state attorney said during a press conference.
After being placed in the police car, Gutierrez was “taken to an isolated and dark location against his will,” Rundle continued. There, the officers allegedly beat Gutierrez until he fell unconscious.
Gutierrez ostensibly woke up alone some time later, no longer wearing handcuffs and reportedly bleeding from the head. He encountered an off-duty police officer in the area of 97th Avenue who then called 911, according to the outlet.
He provided officers with a sworn testimony of the incident and was subsequently taken for medical attention, Rundle said.
It is with great disappointment that I receive the news regarding the arrest of two of our police officers. Please read my full statement below. pic.twitter.com/dFya2rzs7k
— Esteban Bovo (@MayorBovo) January 26, 2023
Civilian and alleged private investigator Ali Amin Saleh, 45, approached Gutierrez nearly two weeks later and presented him with an offer of $1,200 to sign a notarized affidavit, the outlet reported. Gutierrez, who allegedly cannot read Spanish or English, agreed because he was in need of the money, the state attorney said.
The affidavit claimed Gutierrez had been arrested for public drinking and was not beaten by police officers, the Local10 reported. The notary allegedly later told investigators they had notarized the file to help Saleh, and that Gutierrez was not present at the time.
Video surveillance of the area corroborated Saleh approaching the victim with an affidavit weeks after the incident, the state attorney said. Saleh was charged with witness tampering, the outlet reported.
Hialeah City Mayor Esteban Bovo fired both Otano and Orfila from the police force after consulting with Hialeah Police Chief George Fuente. All three men were arrested, according to Bovo’s press release and Local10.
“Let these arrests send a clear message to everyone that wears a badge,” Fuente said, according to the outlet. “We will not accept anything less than an unblemished integrity.” (RELATED: Five Ex-Cops Charged With Murder In Death Of Tyre Nichols)
“Excessive force and abuse of power will always undermine the fundamental goals of good policing in any community anywhere,” Rundle said.
Michael Pizzi, an attorney for Otano, maintains his client’s innocence. “There’s been a horrible miscarriage of justice. This case will be tried in a court of law and at the end of the day, it is our expectation that Mr. Otano will be exonerated and get his job back,” he said, according to Local10.