HOMESTEAD — A rookie police officer found herself behind bars this week for allegedly pointing her department-issued gun at her boyfriend during an argument.
Jenna Maldonado, 28, turned herself in to police on Monday, Feb. 22. She is charged with one count of aggravated assault with a firearm, a felony, according to the arrest affidavit. The charge carries a three-year minimum mandatory sentence.
She was in jail on $5,000 bond, according to the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department.
The arrest affidavit states that Maldonado threatened Steven Encarnacion, who is her boyfriend and the father of one of her children, with the gun several times.
City officials said they would make a decision on whether to fire Maldonado once the criminal investigation is complete. As of Thursday, however, Maldonado was still an employee of the police department.
“I’m discussing this very issue [Maldonado’s termination] with the Chief [Police Chief Al Rolle] and I will provide you more detail tomorrow,” Homestead’s Acting City Manager Sergio Purrinos said in a Feb. 25 email to the South Florida Times.
Maldonado could not be reached for comment. Her attorney, Sean O’Connor, said she will be exonerated once all the facts are revealed. He threatened a lawsuit against the city, and said Maldonado is the real victim.
Maldonado was hired into the city of Homestead’s Reserve Police Officer Program on Nov. 18, 2009. The program pays a $1 annual salary, and officers work part-time hours to get experience. Reserve officers are also allowed to work off-duty details for private companies, which pay them through the police union.
Purrinos said the city will seek reimbursement from Maldonado for expenses generated by her police academy and other training, if she is eventually fired. The Police Department estimates that those costs are over $6,000, Purrinos said.
“I have not had any contact with HPD [Homestead Police Department] regarding the termination and recovery issue, but I am confident that some form of civil litigation will be in the works before the dust settles,” O’Connor said in an email sent to the newspaper.
The felony charge stems from a Feb. 7 incident in which Maldonado, who was off duty, arrived at a Super Bowl party and confronted her boyfriend. There, she threatened him with her department-issued gun, and also pushed him in the face at one point, according to the arrest affidavit.
The affidavit states that Maldonado threatened Steven Encarnacion, who is her boyfriend and the father of one of her four children, with the gun several times.
If investigators determine that Maldonado endangered other people at the party, or if additional felony charges are filed over the incident, the case could trigger Florida’s strict 10-20-Life law. The law mandates minimum prison times of 10 years if a gun is used, 20 years if a gun is discharged, and up to life when someone is shot or killed during the commission of a felony.
“After the charging by the police, the case is reviewed in our Felony Screening Unit & prepared for arraignment. It is during this time that witnesses are interviewed with the goal of ensuring that the case & the evidence are legally sufficient to merit the filing of charges in criminal court,” Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office spokesperson Ed Griffith explained.
“Depending on the evidence obtained during this process or depending on the testimony of the witnesses, charges can be modified if the evidence merits such changes,” Griffith said.
Here’s what happened, according to the police report:
Maldonado and Encarnacion lived together as a family for roughly the last six years. On Feb. 7 at about 10:30 p.m., Encarnacion was at a Super Bowl party hosted by a friend in the unincorporated Redlands area of Miami-Dade County.
Maldonado called Encarnacion, apparently upset that he had not returned home yet to take care of the children so that she could go out with her friends. A short time later, she called Encarnacion again, and said she was on her way to the party, and that she had her gun in her lap, according to the police report.
Encarnacion asked another man to drive him home to avoid any further problems at the party. But as Encarnacion and the other man were leaving, Maldonado pulled up next to the vehicle in which the men were traveling, and pointed the gun at Encarnacion, according to the arrest affidavit. The other man backed up his vehicle and pulled over to the side of the house.
That’s when Maldonado walked toward them, pointing her gun at Encarnacion, according to the police report. She then pushed his face as she yelled at him that she wanted him out of the house. Encarnacion reached for the gun twice and let it go. He then walked to the back of the house as she followed him.
As Encarnacion walked away, Maldonado was still pointing her gun at him, yelling, “We’ll see who’s the duck now,’’ the arrest report states.
The report also states that Encarnacion tried several times to leave the party to avoid the confrontation. But Maldonado, with gun drawn, followed. At one point, Encarnacion even tried to enlist the help of other party goers to keep the situation from escalating.
“If I have friends here,” he said, according to the report, “please tell her to leave.”
After exchanging words with two other people at the party, she left.
Maldonado “freely and voluntarily surrendered’’ to police, the arrest report states.
Homestead police suspended Maldonado on Feb. 10, and the Internal Affairs division is continuing its investigation.
Homestead police also forwarded the information to Miami-Dade police because the alleged incident happened in Miami-Dade’s jurisdiction.
Maldonado is the daughter of former Homestead Mayor Lynda Bell, who was defeated in the 2009 elections.
Lynda Bell has said the charge against her daughter was filed as part of a “political vendetta,” although she has produced no evidence to support that claim.
Maldonado’s attorney insists that his client will be cleared.
“As to the merits of the case, I am confident that Ms. Maldonado will be exonerated once all of the facts of this matter become known,” O’Connor said.
File Photo: Jenna Maldonado