36 Miami cops to be punished for speeding; officer who led state trooper on chase suspended

MIAMI, Fla. -- In the most sweeping crackdown on police speeding yet, Miami's top cop announced on Monday that he is taking action against 36 of his officers for driving off duty at speeds sometimes exceeding 100 mph.

The first wave of disciplinary action includes South Florida's most notorious speeder in uniform, Officer Fausto Lopez. The six-year police veteran is being suspended for a month and will lose his take-home car for three months for leading a state trooper on a high-speed chase through Broward County in October.

Lopez's headline-generating traffic stop prompted a Sun Sentinel investigation that found widespread off-duty speeding by officers at a dozen South Florida departments. All began internal investigations.

"What the Sun Sentinel has done is a service to all police agencies because if they did not know they had a speeding problem, now they do,'' said Miami police Chief Manuel Orosa. "I, like most chiefs around, if you ask them everybody's going to tell you, 'We didn't know it was this bad.'"

The chief said he plans to fire one or more officers identified by the newspaper as habitual speeders and is equipping 40 police vehicles with GPS devices to make sure the worst offenders slow down. "The individuals that are in your report will be the first ones to get them,'' Orosa said.

The Sun Sentinel's investigative series, published in February, used SunPass toll records to determine how fast cops were driving and found almost 800 hit speeds above 90 mph in a 13-month period. Miami officers were among the worst speeders, driving up to 55 mph over the speed limit outside city limits.

"For the most part, everything was off duty,'' the chief said. "Everybody needs to understand — our police officers — that unless you're at work and you have to speed to an emergency, you're a regular citizen. Coming to and from work, you're expected to abide by all the laws and do everything you're supposed to, like anybody else.''

The number of Miami cops being disciplined in the speeding crackdown is the largest to date. The tally of South Florida officers punished now stands at 94, including 31 Florida Highway Patrol troopers, nine cops from Plantation , seven each in Sunrise and Margate , and four from Davie.

Like the other agencies, Miami police conducted their own investigation to verify the SunPass speeding incidents, including measuring the distances between toll booths. Orosa described the extent of the problem that emerged as a eye-opener for him.

"It keeps me wondering as to what were they thinking when they were going over 80, 90 mph, day in and day out,'' he said. "That's really astonishing.''

Miami police internal affairs investigators focused on a three-month period and developed a matrix for punishment based on the number of violations. Discipline is being handed out in three waves, starting with occasional speeders — one to three offenses — and working up to the most egregious violators, dubbed by Orosa as "frequent fliers.''

The first 10 already have been informed of their punishment — from reprimands up to a two-week loss of their take-home cars. Discipline will get progressively more severe, including "forfeiture of hours'' with resulting loss of pay, and termination, the chief said.

The police department is withholding the names of the officers affected until disciplinary proceedings are complete in the next few weeks.

"So far, the officers seem to be accepting responsibility,'' said Maj. Jorge Colina, who oversees internal affairs.

Lopez, the cop who brought on the speeding scrutiny, for now is only being punished for the Oct. 11 highway run-in with FHP Trooper Jane Watts. She followed the uniformed Lopez onFlorida's Turnpikeas he drove his patrol car to a second job at speeds of more than 100 mph.

The trooper pulled Lopez over at gunpoint and handcuffed him. Video of the traffic stop went viral and provoked a feud between Miami police and FHP.

Lopez, 36, was charged with misdemeanor reckless driving. He pleaded no contest in Broward County court in April and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service.

Lopez still faces departmental punishment for habitually speeding on his commute between Miami and his home in Coconut Creek.

The Sun Sentinel analysis of SunPass records showed he regularly drove to and from work at speeds above 100 mph and as fast as 120 mph in the year before he was pulled over. His lead foot made him the most frequent speeder of all the police officers the newspaper examined.

Asked if Lopez will lose his job over the speeding, the police chief said, "Stay tuned.''

Lopez's attorneys could not be reached for comment Monday.

Miami's police brass are hoping the crackdown sends a message to all police officers that they are not above the law.

"It can't be, 'Do as I say, not as I do,' '' Colina said. "This is one of the things to show the public that we're certainly going to do the right thing and we're going to hold our officers accountable.''

Since becoming chief last fall,

Orosa has instituted radar stings to catch speeders on his force. The number of violators has dwindled.

Across Florida, at least 19 people, including seven cops, have died in crashes caused by police speeding since 2004.

"We've been lucky,'' Orosa said. "I would like it to remain that way, even if we have to enforce our own rules on our own people.''


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