By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
"All they gave her was a slap on the wrist," Elder says disgustedly.
Vinicio Perez is another problem at the Hollywood Police Department -- a man whose temper seems to be so out of control that he's been accused of assaulting people while both on- and off-duty.
Perez was hired in July 1993. Records show that his application was accepted even though his driver's license had been suspended from 1987 to 1991. Hansen's inquiry listed Perez as one of 17 officers with moderate to serious problems on his application. Indeed, Hollywood took him on after he was rejected by nine other police agencies. Since then, he's received 15 IA complaints, only one of them sustained.
New Times asked to interview Perez for this article. The department refused. Asked about the multiple complaints regarding Perez, Capt. Rode would say only: "The facts speak for themselves."
Perez's problems began on April 26, 1996, when he arrested Robert A. Fiengo, a 31-year-old who had been given three years' probation in 1994 for sexual battery on a minor. That night, Perez arrested Fiengo on North State Road 7 after he allegedly tried to steal a 16-foot boat trailer from a shop. Perez stated that after a brief dispute, he handcuffed Fiengo and took him to the Hollywood Police Department to be processed.
Perez claimed in his report that after Fiengo heard the officer's name, he tried to intimidate him, saying: "Vinnie, Vinnie Perez. You better say goodbye to your family." What the officer didn't mention was an event that occurred later. Earlier, police command staff had installed cameras in an elevator in the rear of police headquarters and in the detention area in response to repeated complaints of excessive use of force. One of those cameras caught Perez.
In a fuzzy, soundless videotape, Perez and Fiengo can be seen riding together in the elevator. Fiengo is handcuffed, with Perez thumbing through papers. Suddenly, the officer moves the papers from his right to his left hand, screams at Fiengo, clenches his right fist, and throws a punch that knocks the defenseless prisoner to the floor.
On July 17, 1996, a Broward grand jury indicted Perez for simple battery. "It is something that happened that should have never happened," Perez said during a hearing. But the officer lucked out. Not long before the case was scheduled for trial, Fiengo electrocuted himself while remodeling his Davie home. (There was no evidence of foul play.) The Broward State Attorney's Office's case fell apart. Prosecutors dropped the charge.
A group of senior officers persuaded Rick Stone, then chief of police, not to fire Perez. Instead, the officer received a 160-hour suspension without pay.
Three years later, Perez faced termination and possible criminal charges once again when, on August 4, 1999, an accident victim complained to Sgt. Andrew Diaz that Perez had been rude and abusive. According to internal police reports, Diaz called Perez into his office to discuss the incident. Not long after closing the door and beginning their discussion, Diaz realized that Perez had a voice-activated tape recorder hidden in his vest pocket.
Diaz ended the conversation and reported it. Police brass forwarded the information to the State Attorney's Office. Although prosecutors declined to file charges, Assistant State Attorney Bernie Hollar confirmed that Perez's actions were criminal. Florida law prohibits individuals from secretly tape-recording private conversations if there's an expectation of privacy.
According to personnel reports, Perez admitted to his superiors that, after the Fiengo incident, he began tape-recording everything while on duty to disprove potential false claims.
That incident in August 1999, coupled with Perez's videotaped assault of Fiengo, disturbed Chief James H. Scarberry. What's more, Perez no longer had defenders at the department. That year, his superiors "unanimously" told Scarberry that Perez wasn't "salvageable." They did not believe that anything Scarberry did "short of termination is going to make [Perez] a better employee for the Hollywood Police Department," according to a personnel file.
On January 3, 2000, Scarberry terminated Perez, who appealed the termination. On September 25, 2000, arbitrator Jason Herkman ruled against the department, finding that Perez had not committed a crime. He was reinstated.
Over the next few years, Perez's problems continued. He received six more IA complaints, including four for officer misconduct. None of them was sustained.
Perhaps even more troubling was Perez's behavior at home. In 2000, Perez's wife, Marioly Perez, asked a Broward judge to protect her from her husband, whom she alleged had beaten her. Marioly submitted a sworn statement of abuse in which she alleged that he had beaten her while her daughter watched and she cradled their 3-month-old son. "I was carrying [the baby] when he smashed me against the refrigerator," she wrote in the sworn statement.
In another instance, Marioly claimed, Perez left her a message while she was at work saying that she needed to move out of their house "before he lost it and killed someone," according to the sworn statement. On January 2, 2001, Marioly filed for divorce, which was granted July 10 of that year. A judge awarded the two parents joint custody.
Although Marioly reported the alleged abuse in court records, the Broward State Attorney's Office never learned of it. Then came December 19, 2004. At about 8 p.m. that Sunday, Miramar police responded to a domestic-disturbance call at the home of Perez's parents. Inside were Vinicio, Marioly, and their two children. According to the Miramar police report, Vinicio and his by-then ex-wife had argued about their son, who had tracked dog excrement into the Florida room. They started yelling. Marioly punched him in the chest. Vinicio allegedly grabbed his ex-wife by the arm and forcefully took the phone.