After a Hollywood police officer rear-ended a car in February and then arrested the driver on drunken driving charges, he and other officers talked about doctoring the report–it said a jumpy cat created a distraction–to cover up the crash.
The exchange was recorded by a dashboard camera in one of the patrol cars. The officers apparently didn’t realize it was on.
“I don’t want to make th More..ings up ever, because it’s wrong, but if I need to bend it a little bit to protect a cop, I’m gonna,” one of the officers can be heard saying. “We’ll do a little Walt Disney to protect the cop because it wouldn’t have mattered because she is drunk anyway.”
Alexandra Gabriela Torrensvilas, 23, of Hollywood, ended up charged with four counts of drunken driving and cited for improper lane change. On Tuesday, Hollywood police officials placed Officer Dewey Pressley, 42, Officer Joel Francisco, 36, Sgt. Andrew Diaz, 39; and civilian Community Service Officer Karim Thomas, age unavailable; on administrative duty pending an internal affairs investigation and a review by the Broward State Attorney’s Office, said spokesman Lt. Scott Pardon.
Francisco was driving the car in the crash; Pressley wrote the report and made the arrest. Pressley’s report detailing the Feb. 17 midnight crash in the 2800 block of Sheridan Street said “a large gray stray cat” that had been sitting on Torrensvila’s lap jumped out of her car window and distracted her, causing her to veer into Francisco’s lane, where she abruptly braked, and he hit her.
“I will do the narrative for you,” one of the officers says on the tape. “I know how I am going to word this, the cat gets him off the hook.”
Torrensvilas’ attorney, Larry Meltzer, said this is a disturbing “abuse of power.” “Actually seeing it transpire on video in front of you, it really kind of sickens you,” he said. “It’s really nauseating to sit there and watch your client’s rights go out the window.”
Torrensvilas’ four DUI charges carry a maximum penalty of nearly three years in jail, Meltzer said. He declined to say what will become of her case: “In my opinion, as of this time, it’s being handled appropriately.” A spokesman for the Broward State Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the case or how it will proceed. Pressley, a 21-year veteran with the agency, wrote that when Francisco approached Torrensvilas’ car after the crash, she blurted: “It just jumped out.” The “it” was “a large, gray stray cat” that had been sitting on her lap while she drove, the report said. Francisco, who has been with the agency for nearly 11 years, smelled “a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage.”
Public Defender Howard Finkelstein on Tuesday sent a letter to Hollywood Police Chief Chadwick Wagner calling for answers and accountability. “Not only did these officers make a conscious decision to shift the blame to this young woman, but they made a concerted effort to write a narrative to fit ‘their facts,’ ”
Finkelstein wrote. He said his office has at least 27 pending cases in which these four officers are listed as material state witnesses. Pardon, the police department’s spokesman, declined to respond to the allegations. “We’ll see where the investigation goes,” he said.