The Hollywood cop who fabricated a police report and talked on a cruiser's video about his willingness to "Walt Disney" the facts and make up stories to protect fellow cops played a key -- and controversial -- role in a racially charged police brutality case.
And a defense attorney at the time accused Dewey Pressley, a 21-year veteran of the Hollywood Police Department, of, yes, lying on the stand to protect fellow cops from blame.
Pressley, 42, testified in 2002 at the trial of Jerome McClellion. You might remember McClellion: He was the 19-year-old black guy who was shown being beaten by three Miami-Dade police officers in the backyard of a suburban home in a 2000 TV news helicopter video. The case, which rightly or wrongly was compared to the Rodney King beating, was one of the biggest stories of the year. It was polarizing along racial lines and brought Al Sharpton to town for a visit with McClellion. The three cops who beat the unarmed McClellion on the ground weren't charged.
Pressley was barely involved in the chase at all but wound up playing a leading role at trial, where he disavowed his own words spoken into a police radio.
During a wild police chase of McClellion that began in Miami-Dade and spilled into Broward, Pressley and other Hollywood officers tried to place spikes on the road to stop McClellion's SUV, which had been stolen. The SUV flew by the Hollywood officers, striking the hand of Ofc. Luis Ortiz, causing minor injuries. Then Miami-Dade officers passed Pressley in pursuit of McClellion.
"We've got shots fired by Metro-Dade," Pressley said into his radio at the time.
The recording was a key piece of evidence in the trial for several reasons. It contradicted the story of those MIami-Dade cops, for one. It also provided McClellion some justification for fleeing wildly in the SUV, i.e., that he was afraid for his life.
But when Pressley took the stand in 2002, he said he'd
misspoken into the radio, that it came out wrong. There really weren't any shots fired. The headline on the Miami Herald story on Pressley's testimony was headlined: "I Never Saw Shots Fired, Officer Says at Chase Trial." From the article:
Barbara Brush, McClellion's attorney, told jurors in opening arguments Tuesday that the recording of police radio traffic in which Pressley reported that Metro-Dade had fired shots was proof that McClellion was running because police were firing at him.
Pressley testified Thursday that he was trying to relay what he was seeing and hearing on Metro-Dade radio traffic to his dispatcher and fellow Hollywood officers.
He said he saw the black Cadillac Escalade that McClellion was allegedly driving hit Hollywood officer Luis Ortiz and continue on.
Dewey said he was trying to get to Ortiz to check on him, and heard Metro-Dade report that shots had been fired. He said he did not hear any shots.
Dewey said he meant to tell his dispatcher that Metro-Dade was reporting that shots had been fired, or: "Shots fired via Metro-Dade."
The only shot fired had been by a cop. McClellion wasn't armed when he was captured, and an intense search found no weapon, though one officer reported that he saw one.
Pressley's testimony may have sealed the fate of McClellion. Brush rested her case, and McClellion was convicted by the jury and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He's scheduled to be released in 2030 and apparently looking for pen pals.
Considering the recent revelation that Pressley is willing to lie in official matters, Brush's arguments at McClellion's trial have taken a lot more poignancy. The defense attorney accused Pressley and other police officers involved of lying about the chase and framing McClellion in an attempt to keep themselves from being blamed and possibly charged with battery themselves.
"These charges are a setup," she told the jury in closing. "You have to decide if these police officers are not telling the truth [in order to] to convict Jerome illegally."
It's eerie, especially considering the cavalier, arrogant, and absurd way in which Pressley made up the story about a cat jumping out of a car in an attempt to deflect blame for the crash from a fellow officer. You just feel like he had to have done this kind of thing before. Maybe in one of the highest-profile criminal cases of the decade.