The Miami Herald
Larry Lebowitz, firstname.lastname@example.org
Four Miami police officers charged with bloodying a career criminal remain free today after a federal jury could not reach unanimous verdicts on civil-rights charges.
After seven days of testimony and two days of deliberation, jurors deadlocked 11-1 on all three counts, and U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King declared a mistrial. A juror, reached Friday night by The Herald, said the majority was prepared to convict Officers Jorge Garcia, Wilfredo Perez and fired Officer Jesus Aguero on the first count, the beating of Alexander Anazco in the back of an unmarked squad car Feb. 26, 1997.
The male juror, who asked not to be identified, said the majority voted to acquit the same trio of officers for beating Anazco, a few minutes later, when they stopped at Northwest 25th Avenue and 23rd Street.
“It was obvious that [Anazco] had received injuries,” the juror said.
“It was a problem of where he received them. There was just too much conflicting testimony. It was very frustrating for us. We didn’t feel like we had the entire picture.”
The majority, he said, was leaning toward acquitting Officer Jorge Castello, who was charged separately with slapping or punching Anazco at the intersection.
King carefully avoided asking which way the jury was leaning when he questioned forewoman Martha Hughes Friday evening.
Hughes told the judge the lone holdout was not going to be swayed.
But the juror who spoke to The Herald said there were two holdouts: a male juror who refused to convict Aguero, Garcia and Perez on the first count and a female juror who refused to acquit the trio on the second count and Castello on the third. The male holdout “just didn’t think it was excessive force,” the juror said. “He felt police were within their bounds.”
Police had been searching for Anazco for two days after he was allegedly seen throwing a rock at a moving police car on Interstate 95.
Anazco, 27, has more than two dozen convictions and is facing a lengthy prison term for violating probation, but all charges related to the rock-throwing were dropped after the beating.
Defense attorneys Richard Sharpstein, Sam Rabin, John Thornton and Hugo Rodriguez called the mistrial a “tactical victory.”
Aguero, Castello, Garcia and eight other officers are facing a federal trial in January involving four controversial police shootings that resulted in three deaths and the wounding of an unarmed homeless man.
A conviction in the Anazco case could have been used against them in the upcoming conspiracy and obstruction-of-justice trial.
King wanted to immediately retry the beating case, but it would not mesh with personal emergencies, prepaid vacations and upcoming trials for all of the lawyers involved in the shooting trial in front of U.S. District Judge Alan Gold.
The shooting case is slated to take four to six months, meaning the beating retrial wouldn’t occur until May at the earliest.
“We accept this the same as a victory,” Sharpstein said. “No one is going to jail tonight. We don’t have to retry this case until after we get through the next one. These 11 officers [in the shooting case] are joined at the hip. And we’ll win the next case, too.”
Prosecutors “needed to win this case to gain leverage over some of the officers in the next one,” Rabin said. “That one reason has now been eliminated.”
U.S. Attorney Marcos Daniel Jiménez disagreed with the defense attorneys’ analysis and said prosecutors Allan Kaiser and Curtis Miner will “absolutely” retry the beating case.
“This case is about the respect and dignity of every human being,” Jiménez said.