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
Despite the extraordinary number of clearances, Carney doesn't probe any deeper for answers, such as asking about tape recordings of the scores of confessions. Instead, Carney tells him that "doing clearances is part and parcel with this business" and calls this "a good case."
The Powertrac scandal didn't bubble to the public surface until the beginning of 2004, but there seems no doubt that top brass was aware of what was going on much earlier.
Two years earlier, according to depositions released by the State Attorney's Office, BSO supervisors apparently orchestrated a cover-up of one case that came dangerously close to revealing the internal rot.
The story began in the wee hours of a muggy June night in 2002. Deputies in Weston arrested Marion Ellison, a career burglar, pulling over his car. He complained of chest pains soon after being stopped and was taken to the Cleveland Clinic hospital in Weston, where he died. His death triggered an automatic investigation by BSO's homicide unit into whether police misconduct was involved.
Sgt. Steve Feeley of the Office of Professional Compliance, which is the agency's internal affairs division, was sent out to monitor that investigation. As it turned out, Ellison had simply died of a heart attack, but there were other problems. After reviewing the mountain of paperwork from the case, Feeley discovered inconsistencies in reports filed by Detective Edwin Arias, a husky 32-year-old with an oval, pudgy face.
On the night Ellison was arrested, deputies had also cuffed Arian Evans, a young man who'd been walking home in the middle of the night from a friend's get-together. Evans matched the description of an accomplice Ellison had supposedly described before his death. As cops would with any suspect with a long rap sheet, Arias had questioned Evans about other unsolved burglaries in Weston and nearby areas. If he could get Evans to admit to them, they possibly could be exceptionally cleared, considered solved but Evans wouldn't be charged and prosecuted. In this case, Arias claimed that Evans confessed to committing crimes with Ellison, and the detective exceptionally cleared five cases against Evans.
But Feeley found that the detective had filled out conflicting reports, with one stating Evans had been cooperative, the other that he'd been mute. After getting the go-ahead from his lieutenant, Feeley interviewed Evans, who vehemently denied confessing to the cleared crimes. Feeley talked to two witnesses, who confirmed the young man's alibi for that night.
To Feeley, this looked like a case of falsely clearing a crime report, which would be a criminal offense. He'd done most of the work on the case, and one of the last tasks remaining was interviewing Arias.
Under a precedent set by a 40-year-old federal case, police are required to submit to questioning by internal affairs or face termination. Referred to as Garrity statements, the cop's answers can't be used in a criminal proceeding, even if he's implicated himself.
But in late November of 2002, BSO's inspector general, Martin Rahinsky, a Philadelphian in his mid-60s, called Feeley to his office and told him that he wouldn't be taking the Garrity statement. In fact, the entire investigation of the case was being transferred to the district command in Weston.
It was an unprecedented move, and Feeley was baffled. "Our police and procedure manual calls for normally calls for criminal misconduct cases to be handled by our office," he said in a deposition. Investigations by district personnel were usually limited to lesser violations, such as discourtesy.
The peculiar handling of this case caused a stir among the men working in professional compliance, including the assistant inspector general, Roy Vrchota. He asked Inspector General Rahinsky if Carney and Jenne knew about how this case was being handled, and Rahinsky said they did. "When he said Colonel Carney said for it to go back to the district, I didn't go any further with it," Vrchota said in his deposition.
William Robshaw, the department's executive officer, bewildered by the transfer of the case, asked Weston's chief, Greg Page, to come to BSO's downtown headquarters for a briefing. Robshaw recalled in his deposition telling Page, "I have absolutely no idea what the process with the thinking is that's going on here."
Robshaw emphasized that this was a criminal case and that "you need to make sure you present this to the state attorney when you conclude your investigation." Feeley recalled Robshaw telling Chief Page that this was the "first time that he knows of that an active criminal case was being sent back to the command for completion."
Meanwhile, Arias was on pins and needles. One of his fellow detectives, Scott Jordan, a slim, brown-eyed 35-year-old with an easygoing manner, noticed the stress.
"I remember coming into work one day and he was down and out," Jordan told New Times. "He said that professional compliance was looking at one of his cases, an exceptional clearance case." Arias was "extremely pissed" off at his sergeant, Mike Menghi, whose cadre of detectives had produced clearance rates that brought accolades at Powertrac meetings.
"He didn't go into detail," Jordan said. "I asked him what he was going to do, and he said, 'If I go down, I'm bringing all these motherfuckers down with me.'"