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Questions emerge about ex-New York officers now working in Florida

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New details are emerging about the newest dozen police officers lauded by Gov. Ron DeSantis for moving to Florida from New York City to escape what the governor described as low morale and a lack of support from Democratic politicians there.

The new hires include one previously fired as a Walmart Inc. security guard, one with only three years of experience who demanded more than double his salary, and others with mysterious gaps in their resumes.

One said he mistakenly checked a box on his employment application indicating he illegally used marijuana recently — then said he actually never did. Two failed to disclose on their Lakeland applications they had been disciplined over minor matters by the NYPD.

Another worked on the NYPD’s notorious anti-crime units. Plainclothes officers in unmarked cars in those units targeted violent crime with car stops-and-frisks in minority neighborhoods and were involved in controversial shootings of civilians. The police commissioner there disbanded the teams and reassigned those officers last year after high-profile incidents.

In one incident, the newly hired officer in Lakeland was among eight NYPD plainclothes officers accused in a federal lawsuit of handcuffing and brutally beating a man in January 2015. The city paid $178,000 to settle the case. The man was left with four broken bones in his face, a dislocated shoulder and cuts and bruises — as the city dropped minor marijuana charges against him six weeks after the beating, the lawsuit said.

Details came from court files, disciplinary reports, records of lawsuit settlement payments, and the applications submitted to the Lakeland Police Department for the hires, all from the NYPD. Originally there were 13 applicants, but one did not complete the transfer process for what police said was a family issue.

DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor, treated the officers to a warm welcome and a promise of $5,000 hiring bonuses. He held a news conference in early September to demonstrate his support for law enforcement officers — and to jab Democrats in New York City he said weren’t supporting police. It wasn’t clear whether anyone in the governor’s office had reviewed or discussed the officers’ employment applications or reviewed their backgrounds.

“We’re proud in Florida of being a state where people who are in uniform know they’re appreciated,” he said. “They know they have the support, certainly of the governor and the attorney general, but also our Legislature and the people throughout the state of Florida.”

The governor’s public criticism of New York City over police morale was another effort to distinguish his policies in Florida against those in cities or states led by progressive politicians, especially on the issue of mandatory COVID-19 vaccines, which are required in New York, California and elsewhere but not Florida. DeSantis tweeted last week that, “We value our first responders in Florida & we will not let heavy-handed mandates force them out of jobs.”

A memorial for officers who died in the line of duty is outside the Lakeland Police Department building in Lakeland on Nov.  21, 2021. (Chasity Maynard/Fresh Take Florida)

The Florida hiring campaign — especially the prospect of $5,000 hiring bonuses that DeSantis has proposed — is also being cited by the police union in New York. It is pushing for higher salaries and better working conditions there, including fighting against what its president called scrutiny and abuse of officers, and to resist vaccine mandates. Florida had paid $1,000 bonuses to law enforcement officers, firefighters and other first responders who worked during the pandemic.

“When I was there, I realized very quickly the job was not as I expected,” said Matthew Spoto, who worked in the NYPD for about two years and was prompted by DeSantis to talk about his experiences in the Bronx at the news conference. On his employment application, Spoto told Lakeland police he wanted to move closer to family in Florida.

Lakeland is between Tampa and Orlando along Interstate 4 in central Florida, in reliably conservative Polk County.

All the newly hired officers in Lakeland said they had never been arrested, much less convicted of any crimes, and never been counseled or disciplined for harassment, bullying or intimidation. On its employment applications, the city did not ask them about civil lawsuits settled out of court and asked only whether any had been judged in civil court over “intentional wrongful conduct.” All said they would be willing to take someone’s life, if necessary, as part of their job as a police officer.

Some of them included intriguing details about their past work or lives. The Lakeland Police Department declined to allow a reporter to interview any of its new recruits from the NYPD.

On his employment application, Teddy Cuello said he was fired as an asset protection associate from Walmart in Islandia, New York, in July 2016 — making $2,000 a month — after nearly two years in that job. He said Walmart told him he violated company policy when he walked into the store’s parking lot to meet a police officer and follow a shoplifter who was later arrested. “I could not step foot off the curb to apprehend someone,” he wrote in his explanation.

Cuello went to work full time for the NYPD three months later, making $38,400.

NYPD files showed Cuello’s supervisors talked to him in February 2018 after officials found a controlled substance — presumably from a case — in his police cruiser. The disciplinary record was included in files the Brooklyn district attorney turned over earlier this year to reveal information it said could show “bad act, bias or credibility concerns of a police witness.”

On his Lakeland application, Cuello was prompted to answer yes or no whether he had ever been disciplined “in any way” by a previous employer. He answered “N/A.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference at the Polk County Sheriff's Office on April 19, 2021, where he signed into law a new riot bill. He is surrounded by law enforcement, legislators, and police union representatives. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/ Orlando Sentinel)

Jamie Smith said he had worked just over three years for the NYPD in the 77th Precinct in Crown Heights in Brooklyn, making $24,576 after earning his bachelor’s degree from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He told Lakeland he wanted to be paid $64,000 — a 160% increase in his salary. He listed no other previous employment.

Hector Lopez Jr. also wanted a big raise. He told Lakeland he had worked at the NYPD in the Bronx since July 2015 and was making $58,800. For his new job in Lakeland, he asked for at least $89,000, a 51 percent raise. The work history Lopez provided said he graduated from community college in May 2012 but never indicated what jobs he held, if any, between 2012 and 2015.

Smith and Lopez might be disappointed financially: Lakeland pays officers in training $47,587, spokeswoman Robin Tillett said. Once they become certified to work in Florida, an officer position starts at $53,727, she said.

“You’re in this profession, you’re not necessarily going to be wealthy,” DeSantis said, adding that bonuses Florida previously paid to officers were important symbolic gestures of support.

Mohamed Shaw, who said he worked for the NYPD since July 2017 in Brooklyn, marked “yes” on his application to a question asking whether he had illegally used, experimented or otherwise possessed marijuana or derivatives within the past two years. Tillett, the police spokeswoman, said that was a mistake and Shaw intended to say no. She said that was verified by background investigators and a standard polygraph test.

Shaw was disciplined by the NYPD in November 2018 for interfering with a citizen trying to record police during an incident in Brooklyn, according to the records released by the district attorney in Brooklyn earlier this year. He said on his Lakeland application that he had never been disciplined on the job.

Shaw, who said he previously worked as a school security officer and a UPS delivery driver in New York, said he was leaving the NYPD for a better quality of life. He asked for a $6,000 raise in Lakeland.

The sign for the Lakeland Police Department in Lakeland is seen on  Nov.  21, 2021. (Chasity Maynard/Fresh Take Florida)

Raymundo A. Fermin was one of the most experienced NYPD officers to move to Florida with the group. He said he had been an officer for more than 12 years and worked in the city’s anti-crime units as a plainclothes officer targeting gun violence and drug sales until they were shut down. He said he was making $96,000 in New York but would accept $75,000 in Florida.

Those anti-crime units were so controversial in New York that the commissioner disbanded them in June 2020. Tillett said Fermin was never involved in shootings while on the anti-crime unit. She said a civilian complaint review board dismissed the only complaint filed against him.

In the 2015 lawsuit against Fermin and other officers, Vito Amalfitano, now 31, of New York said he was waiting one evening outside an apartment for his child’s mother when a construction van full of plainclothes officers, including Fermin, pulled up and chased him. There had been at least three shootings nearby in previous weeks, and the neighborhood was on edge.

Amalfitano, who did not return phone messages over several days, said in the lawsuit the officers caught him outside a second-floor apartment and began punching him. One officer put him in a headlock while others continued to beat him, he said. He said he didn’t know they were police officers until they handcuffed him, as they continued hitting him and sprayed him with a chemical irritant. He said his 2-year-old son and her mother witnessed the attack.

Amalfitano said he was falsely arrested that night and accused of discarding two small bags of marijuana recovered nearby, but within six weeks all charges against him were dropped. One officer said Amalfitano had twisted and refused to put his hands behind his back, threw his arms around and pushed and shoved, making it difficult to handcuff him — which Amalfitano disputed.

Fermin also was among a group of at least six NYPD officers sued in federal court in 2016 by four people who accused them of violating their civil rights, according to court records.

In that case, after an armed intruder came into an apartment, one resident called 911. Fermin and the others arrived looking for the gunman, who fled through a bedroom window. The lawsuit said Fermin and the others held the residents for six hours at a police precinct — effectively detaining them and seizing the apartment — while police took hours to apply for a search warrant to look through the apartment.

Lawyers in the case called Fermin and the other officers “unfit, ill-tempered” and said the city failed to train and supervise police in the standards of arrest and seizure without a warrant. None of the four apartment residents were charged with any crime, and the city settled the case in June 2018 for $42,500.

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Tillett said Lakeland’s background investigators checked further into the gaps in employment histories on some of the new applications, which she described as only the first step in the hiring process. She said they found no problems to prevent Lakeland from hiring them all.

The officers’ backgrounds were reviewed because DeSantis sought to use their hiring for political purposes. Their applications were obtained and reviewed under Florida’s public records law.

There was no evidence the governor played a role directly luring the officers to Florida beyond congratulating them afterward in his news conference. No one in the governor’s office exchanged emails with the Lakeland Police Department in the weeks ahead of the announcement, according to its response to another public records request.

The $5,000 signing bonuses proposed by DeSantis are part of a new initiative to recruit and retain law enforcement officers in Florida, but state lawmakers would have to pass the measure during the legislative session that begins in January. If approved, the signing bonuses would be part of the state budget for the next fiscal year.

The governor called it “an open invitation for folks in other states to look to Florida as a place where they can excel professionally and live in a great community.”

Another proposal would let out-of-state officers take Florida’s certification exam for free and would cover the cost of any similar training programs for relocating officers up to $1,000 each.

This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at eliseelder@ufl.edu

The Lakeland Police Department building in Lakeland is seen on Nov. 21, 2021. (Chasity Maynard/Fresh Take Florida)




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Police discover explosives near south Colorado Springs home

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Nov. 25—A south Colorado Springs home was reportedly damaged by a shotgun blast and explosive devices were found nearby on Thursday, according to Colorado Springs police.

Around 5:45 p.m., police responded to a residence in the 1100 block of Norwood Avenue, just east of the South Nevada Avenue and Lake Avenue intersection, for a reported damage call, police said. The siding and a windowpane at the rear of the house appeared to be damaged from a shotgun blast.

Police reportedly also found “remnants” of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and another unexploded IED on scene.

Police said the Regional Explosives Unit responded and “rendered the unexploded device safe.” Police did not indicate that any arrests have been made, and said the incident is an ongoing investigation.


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Medford man facing charges for assault and battery with a weapon for incident at South Station

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A Medford man is facing charges for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon at South Station.

According to MBTA police, officers responded to a call on Friday morning for a report of an assault in progress.

When officers arrived to the scene, they located a male who had sustained a slashes to his face.

Witnesses at South Station pointed out another male, later identified as Hocine Lounici, 38, of Medford as the attacker.

Witnesses say they saw a verbal dispute between the two men when suddenly Lounici began to attack the victim with some instrument.

Officers stopped Lounici and determined he was responsible for the victim’s injuries.

Lounici was placed into custody and transported Transit Police.

The victim was transported to a local area hospital for a non life threatening injury to his face.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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Readers sound off on Jewish lineage, Iranian protesters and leafy litter – New York Daily News

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Cedarhurst, L.I.: In your latest piece of half-truths and drivel, you state that Matthew Mahrer is a Jew, the grandson on his father’s side of a man who is a Holocaust survivor. Had you taken the time to Google what defines one’s Jewish lineage, it would have informed you that Judaism is passed through the mother-to-child process. Unless his mother and her mother before her were Jewish, Mahrer definitely is not.

Matthew Mahrer

The saddest and most damaging message of all, one that now serves the evil ideology we call modern-day justice and democracy, the one that has elevated those who excuse and explain away every kind of crime under the heading that these criminals are mentally ill and should be coddled and cared for in spite of their criminal actions. Their victims suffer yet again as blind Lady Justice lets their tormentors go free and clear.

We have fallen so low as a nation and as a people who once exemplified to the world the beauty and honor of the American way of life. It is difficult to even relate how far we have fallen. I recall The News once being a great newspaper and imparter of unbiased reporting — honest and truthful conveyors of news. Today, sadly, you have become a large part of what ails us as opposed to being a vehicle for bringing us the truth — instead of unbiased and unembellished purveyors of the truth serving to heal and bring us together. Rachel Bluth

Manhattan: I opened my edition of the Thanksgiving paper thinking that at last, we’ll have some good news. Page 2 did have photos of the Macy’s Thanksgiving balloons, but all the rest of the paper (except for the cartoons and sports) had the usual parade of violent attacks and murders. Yes, I realize that is part of the news, but at least on Thanksgiving, couldn’t you find positive stories about good people? And cute children and animals? We do need some good news and the Thanksgiving edition would have been the perfect one to feature positive stories. Suzanna Deutsch

Princeton, N.J.: Crime in New York City is out of control. Businesses are leaving, brazen shoplifting is common, people are being pushed onto subway tracks and, most importantly, the murder rate is frightening. Charles Winfield

Brooklyn: I think crime is the worst problem we have right now in NYC. It is the reason my friends and I have seriously cut back on our trips into Manhattan to see Broadway shows, visit museums and do other activities. But the crime issue is not only guns. As we’ve seen, knives and being pushed or punched can also be disastrous. Much of this is due to anger and mental illness, which must be dealt with. And that again brings up the question: What happened to the nearly $1 billion of ThriveNYC money intended for this purpose? Louise Veneroni

Newton, N.J.: Kyrie Irving has a constitutional right to freedom of speech, distasteful as it may be. He also has a constitutional right to act like a total jerk if he wants. However, Irving does not have a constitutional right to play in the NBA, and I challenge his apologists to demonstrate otherwise. By the way, I’m not Jewish. Michael Schnackenberg

Southport, Conn.: In 2018, Kyrie Irving said, “The Earth is flat.” He was not joking. Since my 5-year-old and 3-year-old sons both know that Kyrie is wrong about the shape of the Earth, why would we listen, let alone care, about his thoughts on the Jewish people? My family is Jewish, and if Kyrie thinks that Jews cause all of the problems on his flat planet, that is his right. And if he also believes that the moon landing was faked, the Holocaust never took place, Bigfoot is real and King Charles is a vampire, Kyrie is entitled to his uneducated opinions. Andrew Ginsburg

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Washington: On Tuesday, the Iranian team will play against the United States in the World Cup. This is the time to show solidarity with the Iranian protesters, as the American soccer players can afford to express their position freely, unlike the Iranian team. Some people may say that sports should not be politicized. Yet, this would be showing empathy and comradeship. It would put into practice the values that sports teach. Athletes in the U.S. have been kneeling in several matches. It would not make sense that during a match with Iran, the same athletes would not stand for human rights, in support of the people of a country that are dying for freedom. The U.S. team should find the confidence and courage to show that the people in the West are not indifferent. Anna Mahjar-Barducci

Rosedale: Re Mike Lupica’s “Zach it up!” (column, Nov. 20): There is a team from this country with a real chance of having the whole country get behind it. It’s the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, the current reigning, two-time World Cup champions. Wouldn’t it have been great if Lupica had spoken about us getting behind this team the way Brazil, England, Argentina, etc. do for their teams? Shirley Jordan

Elizabeth, N.J.: Somehow I do not see the compatibility of Hamas, Taliban and Whoopi Goldberg. Somehow the name Goldberg does not fit with an uncertainty about whether or not the Taliban and Hamas are terrorist groups. These yentas on “The View” need to be better educated before they comment on either the Holocaust or the survival of Israel. Let them visit Yad Vashem in Israel and Auschwitz, Treblinka and Majdanek in Europe. Joel M. Glazer

Manhattan: In a week of many outrages, Mayor Adams added to the list. He appointed a retired female dispatcher with whom he lived for a while to be in charge of police morale and mental health for a salary of about $250,000 a year with benefits galore. The words “corruption” and “incompetence” came to mind. The words “in the public interest” do not. This appointment should be challenged. Frankie Turchiano

Brooklyn: Former President Donald Trump, also known as a genius, announced his candidacy. He’s the right guy for the right job to bring economic and social change, as the criminals will be shuttled to jail for decades for their crimes. We will not be comfortable if he’s not elected. I can’t think of a more suitable guy to be the leader of our Free World. Raquel Hanon

Bellerose: I have heard from a number of people that our fellow residents in New York are somewhat rude. Well, I disagree. We have been through a lot because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us have lost loved ones and been sick ourselves. Our doctors, nurses, EMS workers, police, firefighters and the rest of our first responders helped us get through this and still do and need our praises. In my opinion, we are not grinches — many of us have tried to help our neighbors in need. I have lived in New York most of my 73 years and have tried to help others. As we approach the holiday season, let’s offer a friendly smile and a hello to all we meet. Our lives can only be defined by what we share with others who are in need of acts of kindness. Frederick R. Bedell Jr.

Maspeth: Our block had the tree-trimming group (seven people) come through. Even equipped with a leaf blower, brooms, etc., they left a horrendous mess in their wake. I asked the supervisor (a guy who sat around with a clipboard) if they were going to clean up the assorted branches that were strewn across the street and sidewalk. He said, “I’ll ask them.” Excuse me! Isn’t that part of their job, especially if they make the mess? Needless to say, nothing was done about it. Nice to know these people are earning their exorbitant pay with the least amount of effort. What a racket! Veronica Kwiecinski


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