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
"Sometimes it starts a revival," Fernandez admits. "Sometimes it causes a riot. But I'm the messenger. I'm delivering messages."
He calls his prison work Armed and Dangerous Ministries and passes out to inmates a pamphlet that tells his personal tale of salvation. "I was on a one-way ticket, with no return, to hell," he tells them. Fernandez will discuss his crimes, but only vaguely. The prisoners know he was a cop; they know he did something bad, killed a few people. But Fernandez, even in the pamphlet that tells his story, doesn't call himself a murderer. In fact, throughout his trial and even to this day, Fernandez will admit to wrongdoing: drugs, violence, extortion, womanizing. He just won't admit to killing.
His pamphlet reads: "In 1990, I was arrested for a case that happened before my conversion to Christ; and one year later, I was sentenced to three life sentences, with 75 years mandatory. My Heavenly Father knows the truth and knows my heart, where it's been and where it's at. God also knows my jail and prison ministry."
In fact, among the people Fernandez has led to Christianity is his former lawyer, Contini. For the past decade, Contini has traveled the 700 miles roundtrip every other month to visit Fernandez. They've become friends, "brothers in Christ," as they call it.
"To the same extent that Gil had fervor, arguably, for ungodly things, he has that same fervor and passion and commitment to a Godly witness and sharing his testimony," Contini says. "That's the way he's been ever since I met him. He's the closest thing I've ever seen to a Saul-turning-Paul character."
According to biblical story, Saul of Tarsus, a Roman citizen, was among the most vicious persecutors of Christians. But while on the road to Damascus, Saul saw a vision of Christ. It sparked his religious conversion. He changed his name to Paul and became Christianity's most prolific apostle, credited with writing 14 of the 27 books that make up the New Testament. Even while imprisoned in Philippi, the Apostle Paul continued to serve as a disciple.
Fernandez believes he's in a similar position. "God used Paul in prison to write and encourage many on the outside," Fernandez says. "Why? Where much is given, then much is required. Amen. I find it an honor and privilege that the King of Glory would allow me to encourage many on the outside."
Like Paul, Fernandez was a sinner.
And the ex-cop left a long trail of blood on his own road to Damascus.
Fernandez says he just wanted to be a good cop. At 17 years old, the Puerto Rican-American moved with his family from New York City to Hollywood. His parents operated a beauty salon in Miami, and Fernandez would sometimes help out. But he had loftier ambitions.
In July 1975, Fernandez went to the Metro-Dade Police Department (now known as the Miami-Dade Police Department) and filled out an application. According to personnel records, he was more than qualified. Fernandez, then 23 years old, was in peak physical condition and fluent in English and Spanish and had an associate's degree in law enforcement from Broward Community College. With Miami's Latin population exploding in the '70s, Fernandez was the type of young officer police brass wanted to recruit. He was hired in March 1976.
At first, police officer Fernandez was reserved, even shy, personnel reports show. But as his confidence grew, so did his attitude.
"Officer Fernandez has an aggressive personality, which definitely comes to light as his confidence increases," reads an October 1976 evaluation. "However, he always stays well within the framework of acceptable action and demeanor."
As a rookie cop, Fernandez found a second home in the police gym. Two years after joining the force, Fernandez competed in the 1978 Police Olympics.
He could fill a uniform. His large chest protruded forward. His black hair was slicked back. He wore a gun on his side and another on his ankle. He was the image of a model police officer.
"He presents the physical appearance his fellow officers should strive to emulate," read a March 1979 personnel report.
But Fernandez didn't always act like a model officer. Dogged by brutality complaints, he was consistently described as having "an aggressive personality" in reports. "Officer Fernandez is without a doubt the most aggressive officer on his squad," wrote Sgt. Chester Butler.
Internal Affairs received several complaints that Fernandez beat arrestees after handcuffing them. A high school student alleged that Fernandez charged and cursed at him for jaywalking.
"Gil Fernandez was old school," remembers Pat Diaz, a Miami-Dade homicide detective who was a street cop with Fernandez in the late '70s. "He didn't play. He didn't talk. He arrested everybody."
But Fernandez, who received an Officer of the Month Award in 1979, could get results. He dependably made more arrests than his counterparts and was commended for one incident in which he stopped a suicide. Fernandez had found a man in a bathtub holding a knife and ready to slit his own throat. Fernandez pulled out his nightstick and smacked the man on the top of the head, knocking him out.
That was the way Fernandez did police work.