The state trooper who stopped a Miami cop for driving more than 120 mph in October did not violate any policies in pulling the officer over, drawing her gun or handcuffing him, an internal review by the Florida Highway Patrol has concluded.
Trooper Jane Watts "used her judgment and discretion afforded to her as a Florida state trooper'' in stopping Officer Fausto Lopez on Oct. 11 well outside his jurisdiction, said the report released Wednesday by the FHP's inspector general. "Watts used this same judgment pointing her firearm in the direction of Lopez, handcuffing him, and charging him with reckless driving.''
The trooper did disobey an order from a supervisor, Sgt. Reynaldo Sanchez, to "back off'' during the pursuit on Florida's Turnpike in Broward County, the review concluded. Sanchez said in a statement to the inspector general that he gave the order because the patrol car "could have been responding to a call.''
Watts said in her statement that she thought Sanchez meant for her to slow down, which she did. She turned off her emergency lights and then reactivated them after catching up to Lopez. Rather than pull over, Watts said the officer accelerated.
"She believed he was intentionally not stopping for her,'' the report says. "The driver was driving recklessly. She thought that possibly the police vehicle could have been stolen.''
No action will be taken against Watts, said Capt. Mark Brown, an FHP spokesman.
"There's no discipline that will be coming out of it,'' he said. "There may be some things we can do better, but that will be handled through coaching and counseling.''
The traffic stop, videotaped on Watts' in-car camera, made national news and started a feud between Miami police and FHP on law enforcement blogs.
The internal review provides new details of the incident that began at 6:28 a.m. in the southbound lanes of the turnpike around Commercial Boulevard.
Watts, traveling 78 mph, was passed by Lopez at "a high rate of speed'' and began following him. The trooper's camera malfunctioned a short time later and stopped recording her speed. When she got the order to back off, she said she was going more than 120 mph trying to catch up to him.
Lopez pulled over around Hollywood Boulevard. From the time the trooper first saw him until then, he had gone 12.5 miles in 7 minutes and 17 seconds, according to the report. That would make his average speed 103 mph.
Watts told investigators she handcuffed Lopez "because he was fleeing me, and he was in my mind at that time, I was seriously thinking he's going to jail for fleeing to elude.''
But FHP Major Joseph Saucedo gave an order not to arrest Lopez, who instead was given a notice to appear in court on the reckless driving charge. Another supervisor called Watts on the scene and told her to remove the handcuffs.
As she walked Lopez back to his car, he "asked her if this was the best that she could do,'' Watts told investigators. "He asked her about professional courtesy, and she stated to him that this was not a case of professional courtesy.''
Asked if she would do anything differently in hindsight, Watts told investigators, "No.''
Lopez has pleaded not guilty to reckless driving. His attorney, William Matthewman, said Wednesday he had not seen the FHP report. "I still think this situation was an unfortunate misunderstanding,'' he said.
Copyright © 2011, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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