FORT LAUDERDALE — Members of an elite and high profile Fort Lauderdale police crime-fighting unit have been relieved of duty with pay pending the outcome of a criminal investigation into two arrests they made.
Officers Brian Dodge, Matthew Moceri, Michael Florenco, and Billy Koepke, part of the Street Crimes Division, which is commonly known as the “Northwest Raiders,” were relieved of duty on April 18 after prosecutors informed the department they were under investigation.
The unit’s name is derived from the predominantly black, northwest quadrant of the city where it originally operated.
“The state attorney’s office is handling that so you would need to contact them,” Fort Lauderdale police spokesperson Det. Travis Mandell said, when asked to comment.
The Broward State Attorney’s Office acknowledged it is conducting an investigation.
“All I can tell you is that there is an investigation and those four officers are the targets,” said Tim Donnelly, head of the Special Investigations Unit of the Broward State Attorney’s Office.
The case has also caught the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s public corruption task force, which is quietly operating in Broward County.
South Florida Times has confirmed that the investigation centers on the arrest of two black men on Aug. 24, 2010. Junior Jerome, 25, of Oakland Park, and Dieudson Nore, 22, of Lauderdale Lakes, were charged with cocaine possession and delivery.
The bust went down at the Red Roof Inn hotel, located at 4800 North Powerline Road, in Fort Lauderdale. According to the police report, the Northwest Raiders received a tip from a confidential informant that Jerome and Dieudson would deliver cocaine to a customer at the hotel. Surveillance was set up and the men were pulled over after arriving at the hotel and their vehicle was searched.
“As we approached, I responded to the driver’s side and Det. Dodge to the passenger side. I then observed Junior drop from his right hand an open M&M container to the floor on the driver’s side and several pieces of the suspected crack cocaine came out,” their report says.
The officers further stated in their report that the substance equaled one gram and tested positive for cocaine and that $291 in cash was recovered from the car.
Fort Lauderdale attorney Carter T. Hillstrom is representing Jerome and Dieudson retained Stephen A. Melnick. Neither attorney would discuss the case while the criminal investigation is pending.
Surveillance video of the arrests is now in the possession of prosecutors. Authorities are not releasing the video but, according to several sources, it contradicts police account of what happened.
One source close to the investigation described the situation as “extremely serious” and alleged that the accounts made in the police report of what took place is an “absolute fabrication” and the source expects charges to be filed against the officers “at any time now.”
Prosecutors are said to be looking at alleged lying by the officers about the arrests during depositions and alleged falsifying police reports.
Court records show prosecutors moved to have the charges pending against Dieudson and Jerome dismissed after the surveillance video surfaced. The charges were dropped, but the specific reasons have been shielded from the public pending the completion of the criminal investigation.
The Fort Lauderdale police department created the Northwest Raiders unit in 1983 in response to residents’ outcry over violence and drug activity during the height of the crack cocaine epidemic. The unit pioneered reverse stings, where they posed as drug dealers, and arrested drug customers.
The unit was the first in the nation to confiscate the vehicles of people who sought to purchase small amounts of drugs. Its members gained national attention after reporters were allowed to embed with the unit and chronicle its operation. Members also trained other local, as well as state and federal law enforcement officers on their tactics. The Northwest Raiders are now on Twitter, listed in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia and have their own Facebook page.
Over the years, the unit has made thousands of arrests and it has also been the source of complaints of abuse, brutality, illegal searches and unsubstantiated allegations of planting evidence on suspects.
Members of the community, as well as the local branch of the NAACP and other organizations, have complained for years about the tactics of the unit, but few complaints have been proven.
Florenco and Dodge have been on the force for 11 years. Moceri and Koepke are four-year veterans. Any past disciplinary actions they may have had and their annual salaries were not immediately available.
Florenco and Moceri are not mentioned in the police report or probable cause affidavit and their involvement has not been clarified.
Donnelly, of the state attorney’s office, would not say when the investigation is expected to be completed or provide details of any possible involvement by the FBI. But sources say agents from the bureau have attempted to question the officers involved.
“I can’t say who is or who is not involved but at some point we will be able to discuss it,” Donnelly told South Florida Times.
**Pictured above is R to L, is Dieudson Nore and Junior Jerome