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Friday, November 18, 2011

Cop Versus Cop: The Law Enforcement Brawl in South Florida

     Florida State Trooper Donna Jane Watts, in the early morning hours of October 11, spotted a Miami police cruiser speed past her in the southbound lanes of the Florida Turnpike. In following the cruiser with her lights flashing and siren blazing, Trooper Watts reached speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour. The pursuing trooper's supervisors at headquarters repeatedly radioed Watts to "back off," but she didn't

     When the Miami officer, Fausto Lopez, finally pulled over, Watts approached the police car with her gun drawn. She then handcuffed him and escorted him to her vehicle, all the while berating Lopez for reckless driving. For his part, Lopez remained docile, even polite. Trooper Watts released the Miami officer after writing him a ticket for reckless driving.

     By stopping and ticketing Lopez, Trooper Watts violated a sacred, unwritten rule of police conduct: never pull over a fellow officer for a traffic violation. According to this silent code of procedure, Watts should have kicked the problem upstairs so police administrators could cover it up. Speaking about the incident to the press, North Miami Police Major Bob Lynch, a law enforcement training instructor, said both officers were wrong: Lopez for driving recklessly, and Watts for handcuffing a fellow cop. Most civilians, however, seemed to side with Trooper Watts. It was not surprising that Miami Police Department's police union spokesperson harshly criticized the Florida trooper.

     Bad feelings between the two agencies flared up when an unidentified Miami Police officer (or supporter), in retaliation for Lopez's traffic stop, dumped five gallons of human excrement on a state patrol car parked in front of a trooper's house. And tensions heightened a few days later when a Miami patrol officer pulled over a Florida State Trooper for a traffic violation. In this instance, as it turned out, the trooper's brother happened to work in the Miami Police Department's Internal Affairs Division.

     In an editorial published in The Miami Herald on November 12, the author wrote: "Police solidarity has plunged ignobly into senseless acts that stink as much as the poop thrown on a state trooper's car last week. A few Miami officers--or their supporters--appear to be out of control...."

     This law enforcement feud comes at a time when the Miami-Dade Police Department is under attack for a rash of questionable police involved shootings. So far this year, Miami-Dade officers have shot 21 people, killing 17 of them. New York City Police, by comparison, have this year shot 14, killing 7.

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