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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cover-Up Cop Has History

Records: Hollywood officer has history of crashes
The Miami Herald by Alexia Campbell - August 6, 2009

The Hollywood police officer involved in a rear-end crash that allegedly was covered up by fellow officers is no stranger to road accidents. His personnel file, obtained by the Sun Sentinel, shows he was involved in eight other crashes while driving his patrol car. Joel Francisco, 36, an 11-year veteran of the force, was ordered to attend Driving Training School three times. Early in his career, he was suspended for being in three crashes within a year's time that were deemed preventable, the file says. According to other Hollywood police documents, a sergeant who is accused of helping doctor the report on Francisco's latest accident was cited this May for misinforming superiors about a crash. Francisco, Sgt. Andrew Diaz, Officer Dewey Pressley, a community service aide and a crime-scene technician have been suspended at home with pay after a video surfaced last week showing Hollywood officers talking about doctoring their report to shift blame for the Feb. 17 crash from Francisco to the woman he rear-ended. The video had been recorded by a dashboard camera in one of the officer's cars. Alexandra Torrens-Vilas, the 23-year-old woman whose Toyota Tercel was hit, was originally charged with four separate criminal counts of DUI. The Broward State Attorney's Office dropped the prosecution after the video became public. Francisco could not be reached for comment. Like the other four Hollywood police employees, he is the subject of an internal investigation ordered by Chief Chad Wagner.

Francisco's file includes reports on his involvement in eight earlier crashes that his supervisors said he could have avoided. The first one occurred in June 1999, when Francisco backed into a cement-filled metal pole in a parking lot on South Park Road. About a month later, he hit a car from behind as it made a left turn, a report said. Both of the accidents could have been avoided, his supervisors said, and he was sent to driving school. In January 2000, Francisco struck another car as he made a U-turn to chase a suspected felon. It was his third preventable accident in a year, and he was suspended for two days without pay. The next write-up came in January 2002, for a minor crash in the 3100 block of Hollywood Boulevard. Francisco was written up for failing to prevent the incident, the report said. About two months later, Francisco wrecked his patrol car during a chase on South Park Road. He was ordered to attend driving school for the second time. In September 2002, Francisco was prohibited from taking his police car home for a month. The next accident happened in September 2007. Francisco's supervisors said he did not do everything possible to prevent the crash and had him review the department's operations manual. Following an accident Jan. 21, 2009, that was also judged preventable, he was ordered to attend his third driving school class.

In May, a supervisor accused Diaz of negligence, incompetence and violating procedures when he responded to an accident involving a fellow police officer in a patrol car, according to a report in his file. At the scene, Diaz, 39, didn't tell the on-duty shift lieutenant over the phone that the police car was totaled or that the officer involved was not in uniform, preventing a more in-depth investigation, the report said. Diaz's handling of the accident played a role in that officer's decision to resign. Diaz, who has worked with the department for 16 years, was required to get remedial training. Pressley, 42, wrote the report detailing the February midnight crash in the 2800 block of Sheridan Street. His file shows the department reprimanded him for a car accident in 2003 that was ruled preventable. Meanwhile, a group of citizens angered by reports of a police cover-up following an officer-involved crash will hold a rally Thursday night to protest police corruption at police headquarters, 3250 Hollywood Blvd., at 6 p.m., according to Broward Corruption Watch, a grass-roots activism group. Staff Researcher Barbara Hijek and Staff Writer Sofia Santana contributed to this report.

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