ernest_donaldson__web_1.jpgHOMESTEAD – Homestead city officials are defending themselves in a discrimination lawsuit by relying on the testimony of a former police officer who allegedly falsified immigration documents to get his job.

Former Officer Jose Villareal is under criminal investigation related to those charges.

Ernest Donaldson, a former city employee, is suing the city for racial discrimination and retaliation. He says the charges against Villareal undermine the credibility of the officer, who arrested Donaldson for DUI. The DUI arrest was cited as a reason for firing Donaldson.

“He lied on me, and he lied when he applied for his citizenship,” said Donaldson, who was fired on Feb. 5, 2008, in large part because of Villareal’s accusation. “He made up things about me because I had a discrimination complaint against the city before.”

Villarreal arrested Donaldson for driving under the influence on Jan. 27, 2008. Days after the arrest, Villarreal alleged to his supervisors that Donaldson made threatening comments to officers during the arrest, and those supervisors instructed him to submit a statement about the incident to Donaldson’s superiors.

“You don’t know who I’m [sic], I’ve worked 20 years for this city and I will make sure you loose [sic] you’re [sic] job,” are some of the comments Villarreal accused Donaldson of  making in an email to his supervisors dated Jan. 31. “I hope and I know that your day will come and I will find where you live.”

Donaldson denied the allegations, but was abruptly fired.

Almost a year to the date after Donaldson’s arrest, Villarreal, 31, was arrested himself on Dec. 11, 2009 by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents. Villareal was charged with official misconduct, uttering a forged instrument and making false official statements.

FDLE alleged that Villarreal submitted a birth certificate stating that his birth year was 1978, when it was actually 1977. The birth certificate also allegedly contained a fake middle name and listed his aunt as his mother. He then allegedly used that citizenship certificate to apply for a state police certification and a job with the Homestead Police Department.

Villarreal could not be reached for comment. His status with the Homestead Police Department and the validity of his citizenship remains unclear. Homestead City Manager Sergio Purrinos said in an email to the South Florida Times, “Regarding Villarreal, this case is also undergoing investigation; and thus, I would rather not issue any comments at this time.”

Court records show the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office decided to take no action on the charges against Villareal, and closed out the case on Jan. 14, 2010 for unspecified reasons. However, the case was recently referred back to its public corruption unit on June 16, 2010.

Donaldson entered a city-sponsored substance abuse program just days after his arrest. Villarreal alleged in an email dated Jan. 31 to a supervisor that Donaldson’s conduct was difficult during the arrest. This information was not included in the original police report.

On Feb. 1, another officer, Kevin S. Carvajal, sent a similar email to Homestead Human Resources Director Marcie Heese. That was followed by a statement from Officer Lester Brown on Feb. 6, a day after Donaldson was fired.

“Mr. Donaldson became irate, began to yell and scream profanities and threats to both myself and Officer K. Carvajal and L. Brown,” Villarreal wrote.

“I was surprised, really,” Donaldson said. “When they told me that, I thought they had my situation confused with someone else. They told me they were recommending my termination, with no hearing or anything.”

He continued: “I think when they realized I had filed the other discrimination complaint, they put this plan together and used it to fire me.”

Donaldson filed a retaliation and discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). He said other employees who have been charged with DUI or had run-ins with the law on their own time have not been fired.

Donaldson said he believes a complaint he filed with the EEOC in 2003 was the reason behind his firing. In that case, he complained that black people were unfairly being passed over for promotions in the Solid Waste division where he worked. The EEOC negotiated a settlement that resulted in the promotions of Donaldson and another black worker, James Gold, to positions as foremen.

The city settled an unrelated retaliation lawsuit filed by Gold in 2009.

Alexander Green is a retired personnel manager with the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department. He also served on the Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board, and is familiar with the case.

“His complaint never actually came before our board, but he was clearly retaliated against because of the 2003 complaint,” Green said. “There are many instances of city employees getting DUIs and having other problems, even drug arrests, but they have not been fired.”

Green said the case could be problematic for the city because of Villarreal’s involvement. He would not explain why the misconduct allegations were not included in the police report. Homestead officials have never cited the personnel rules or workplace policies that Donaldson may have violated.

“It seems they make up the rules as they go, and it is based on who you are connected to or who you know,” Donaldson said.

During a March 3 deposition in the case, Villarreal acknowledged that a supervisor directed him to write the statement he submitted about Donaldson’s alleged misconduct. He also said he thought Donaldson’s alleged misconduct was due to his being intoxicated.

“I know for a fact that he made threats to me. I think that was all the level of intoxication,” Villarreal testified. “And his demeanor was entirely due to his intoxication.”

Amid further questioning from Kelsay D. Patterson, Donaldson’s attorney, Villareal also admitted that he drafted the initial statement and discussed it with Officer Carvajal before submitting it.

Records show that Villarreal was hired by the Homestead Police Department in 2006. He had been rejected for employment by the Miami Beach Police Department and admitted to past use of marijuana and cocaine.

Currently, Donaldson’s discrimination case is making its way through the courts. City officials have held closed-door sessions to discuss it, but have not indicated whether they will go to trial or attempt to reach a settlement.

“We are still in litigation; therefore, I cannot issue additional comments at this time,” Purrinos, the city manager, said in an email.

Photo: Ernest Donaldson