Two now-former Miami-area police officers are accused of kidnapping a 50-year-old homeless man, beating him and leaving him unconscious in the woods. The homeless man was then allegedly bribed by a third man not to testify against the officers, authorities said.
Rafael Otano, 27, and Lorenzo Orfila, 22, were fired from the Hialeah Police Department on Thursday after being jailed on felony armed kidnapping and battery charges. Both men, who face an additional misdemeanor charge of official misconduct, could see life in prison if convicted, said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
“We will not allow rogue police officers to abuse their powers and betray the public that they serve,” Rundle said at a press conference while announcing the charges.
Otano and Orfila, who were ordered held without bond, allegedly picked up Jose Ortega Gutierrez, 50, from a Hialeah shopping plaza around 5 p.m. on Dec. 17 after someone called the police to complain about him, according to the arrest affidavits.
Gutierrez said Otano and Orfila handcuffed him and placed him in the back of a police vehicle. Detectives investigating the incident later said they were unable to find any legal justification for Gutierrez’s detention, said Rundle.
Gutierrez said the officers then drove him against his will “to an isolated and dark area” where they physically roughed him up while he was in handcuffs. He lost consciousness and woke up alone, no longer handcuffed and bleeding from his head. He later made contact with an off-duty police officer, who was out walking his dog, who called 911, according to the affidavit.
An officer responding to that 911 call, which was broadcast over a police radio, later told investigators that Orfila had called him asking about Gutierrez’s condition and requesting that a police report not be filed. Orfila allegedly admitted in the call that “they” had “roughed” up the man and dropped him off near where he was found.
The responding officer did file a police report, however, documenting Gutierrez’s claim that he had been “beat up” by Hialeah police officers, according to the affidavit.
Evidence supporting the man’s allegations includes GPS data collected from the officers’ vehicles and surveillance video taken from the shopping plaza where Gutierrez said the officers had picked him up. Otano and Orfila did not have their body-worn cameras on at the time of the alleged incident as required, said Rundle.
In what Rundle described as “an additional layer of insult to the criminal conduct,” Gutierrez was later allegedly approached by a civilian identified as Ali Saleh, 45, who offered him $1,200 cash in exchange for him signing a document that would have the case against Otano and Orfila dismissed. Gutierrez told detectives that he does not know how to read and did not know what the document said but that he took the money because he is homeless and unemployed.
The document was pre-notarized and stated that Gutierrez was arrested for drinking on Dec. 17 and was not battered by the officers, conflicting prior sworn and recorded statements he had given to police, according to the affidavit.
Gutierrez said that Saleh then instructed him to put the document in his pocket and approach him outside while handing it to him. Gutierrez said he believed Saleh recorded the exchange on his cell phone since he raised and pointed it at Gutierrez during the exchange. Video surveillance footage corroborates Gutierrez’s description of the two of them meeting outside, according to the affidavit.
Saleh was charged with felony witness tampering and also held without bond.
Rundle said authorities don’t know the reasons for Otano and Orfila’s alleged actions.
She said of Gutierrez that “by all accounts, he was a harmless person and certainly didn’t deserve to be pretended to be arrested and beaten and abandoned.”
Attorney information was not available for Otano, Orfila or Saleh.
Hialeah Police Chief George Fuente called the allegations against both former officers disturbing.
“We will not accept anything less than an unblemished integrity from those that entrust us to serve and protect,” Fuente said Thursday.
Orfila was a three-year member of the department and Otano a five-year member. Both had minor disciplinary issues in their files, he said.