By ELGIN JONES
FORT LAUDERDALE — A veteran Fort Lauderdale police officer and a rookie cop have been reinstated to their jobs after being suspended following racial profiling and perjury allegations.
Police Chief Frank Adderley notified officers Ian Sandman and Jose Dejo in a Nov. 22 memo that they were “reinstated to full duty” effective immediately.
Sandman, a 10-year veteran, and Dejo were placed on administrative leave on Oct. 28. The suspensions came following a report from the Broward Public Defender’s Office accusing them of racial profiling and providing false information related to the arrest of Lee Gemelus, a 24-year-old Fort Lauderdale man.
Gemelus was arrested on May 15, 2010, while driving a friend’s car and charged with one count of operating a vehicle while his driver’s license was suspended. In their report, the officers said he was pulled over after a check of the vehicle’s tag came back showing no information on file. Gemelus suspected he was targeted because he is black, and the charges were dropped.
During a deposition, Sandman also testified that the owner of the vehicle had a suspended driver’s license and Gemelus fit the description of the owner and those were the reasons behind the traffic stop.
Al Smith, a retired Fort Lauderdale police detective and the chief investigator with the Broward Public Defender’s Office, which represented Gemelus, investigated those concerns. He reported that the officers never ran any check of the vehicle’s tag and that the owner’s license had not been suspended.
Smith’s report was included in an Oct. 17 letter that Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein sent to Broward State Attorney Michael Satz. Finkelstein cited several instances in which police officers were believed to have falsified information about defendants to justify arresting them.
“My chief investigator has brought to my attention several cases which have been nolle prossed [charges dropped] after our investigations exposed lies by police officers,” Finkelstein wrote. “Our investigators have utilized the particular agency’s GPS [global positioning] systems to prove what we all know has been happening to my clients for years — illegal and unjustified stops by law enforcement for DWB (driving while black).”
Based on Finkelstein’s letter, prosecutors opened an investigation into Sandman and Dejo, which led to their being suspended with pay pending its completion. But the Fraternal Order of Police, which is representing Sandman and Dejo, conducted its own review and said it found several errors in Smith’s investigation.
In a tersely worded letter to Finkelstein, union president Jack Lokiensky demanded an apology.
“Because of Mr. Smith’s inaccurate, shoddy and incompetent investigation, two well-respected officers were suspended and charges against a criminal were dropped,” Lokiensky wrote in his letter dated Nov. 28.
During an interview, Lokiensky added, “Al Smith ran the wrong tag number and he never ran a check on the right tag that was on the car and the officers put in their report. He also put in the wrong date.”
A South Florida Times review confirmed that the last two digits of the license plate number Smith checked differ from those listed in the officers’ report.
“It wasn’t racial profiling,” Lokiensky said. “The tag came back as not being in the system and they stopped the car to check it out, which was the proper thing to do.”
Smith acknowledges the tag number mistake but is sticking to his findings.
“It was a mistake, but the first check I did for the attorney was with the right number and this error doesn’t change the outcome,” Smith said. “The deposition testimony is not true and the owner of the car did not have a suspended license.”
Finkelstein said he does not plan to offer any apology and was standing by his investigator “100 percent.”
“The work he is doing has gotten a lot of people’s attention,” Finkelstein said. “This office understands what an honest police officer means to a community and we support that. We also know what harm a corrupt cop can do. There will not be any apology and I’m working on another letter as we speak.”
Prosecutors have not said if any other cases involving the officers have been dismissed as a result of this incident. Tim Donnelly, director of the State Attorney’s Office of Special Prosecutions said through a spokesperson that the office was “still looking at the circumstances.”
The charges were dropped against Gemelus on July 13. On Sept. 23 a Broward sheriff’s deputy cited him in an unrelated incident for operating a vehicle with a defective muffler and driving too fast for the conditions. Those cases remain pending.
*Pictured above is Lee Gemelus