Miami Beach's Troubled Police Force Pays Officers in the Six Figures

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The list of sworn officers making six figures goes from ordinary beat cops to sergeants to lieutenants. It includes 200 names, although 26 are blacked out because police who work undercover are guaranteed anonymity by Florida's Sunshine Law. Each cop listed — from an unnamed sergeant who pulled in $213,912, to Officer Dolores Martinez, who earned $100,049.35 — topped the six-figure mark in salary, overtime, and off-duty work between December 22, 2008, and the same date in 2009.

The command staff includes 22 employees who made six figures, including Chief Noriega's $208,783.73. (Noriega took a medical leave of absence March 16. It's unclear when or if he will return. His replacement, Assistant Chief Martinez, earned $186,467 last year.)

Of the 200, 160 of them topped $100,000 just in taxpayer-funded salaries and city-funded overtime. But many of the officers supplemented their income with off-duty work for private companies that hire them for upward of $30 an hour. Combined with taxpayer-funded overtime, some officers doubled or even tripled their base salaries.

Some of the cops on the list are simply hard workers. The third-highest earner last year, for instance, was Sgt. Hyok Chong, the force's only Korean speaker. He has amassed a clean internal affairs file during 13 years on the job. He brought home $177,827.36 last year, $49,119.19 of that in overtime and an additional $33,173 in off-duty work.

New Times sent a letter through Miami Beach PD's public affairs office to each officer named in this article to give them a chance to respond. None of the officers chose to comment.

Then there's Sgt. Berrian. In 2004, Miramar police responded to a call at the then-34-year-old patrol officer's home. Inside, they found that his wife, Velma, had been hit in the lip and head. Berrian was accused of domestic violence after police learned he'd hit her and tried to backhand Velma's daughter during a fiery argument. The case was never prosecuted after Berrian's wife refused to press charges.

Three years later, in 2007, Berrian hauled in $225,065.15. About $38,000 of that came from an off-duty job, but from taxpayers, he still made $77,000 in salary, $99,700 in overtime, and almost $10,000 in so-called premium pay, which is compensation for special classes, motorcycle work, and other tasks.

Over the past five years, in fact, Berrian has made $824,528. He worked plenty of off-duty hours for private employers. But even if you subtract that pay, he still garnered more than $730,000 in tax dollars — $146,000 per year.

Berrian is a prime example of one of the dangers of allowing officers to work so much overtime. In February 2006, another sergeant found him asleep in his patrol car at Arthur Godfrey Road and Indian Creek Drive, which isn't exactly a quiet corner. He was supposed to be directing morning traffic during a boat show.

Scroll down the list a bit farther to Officer Dominguez, who earned $128,853.86 last year — $122,789.86 of which came from taxpayers. In 2001, the then-29-year-old earned headlines when a clubgoer at Level smashed a champagne bottle across his face during a melee at a Memphis Bleek rap show. Dominguez was hailed a hero. "A hit like that would bring anyone to their knees," Sgt. Richard Pelosi told the Miami Herald. "But this officer stayed conscious."

Dominguez's record isn't so heroic, according to his internal affairs file and court documents. On November 20, 2003, just after 8 p.m., he was speeding toward his home in Hialeah, weaving his city-issued 2003 Ford among cars on southbound I-75.

Just north of 154th Street, Dominguez swerved to pass a car. He didn't notice a Honda in his way until it was almost too late. Dominguez jerked to the right, hitting another car, which skidded across traffic — right in front of a pair of motorcycles.

Osvaldo Dalama, a then-43-year-old from Miramar, was riding with his 20-year-old niece, Sujey Vega, on the back. They went flying. Dalama's good friends, Miramar cop Raul Gomez and his wife, Yolanda, skidded off their bike. Thanks to their helmets, none of the bikers was killed. But all four were seriously hurt.

"Dominguez tried to tell the highway patrol he was on duty, but my friend says, 'Quit bullshitting us. I'm a cop too. You had no lights on, no jurisdiction — you were just driving like a maniac,' " Dalama says. "It's a good thing [Gomez] was there or I'm sure Dominguez would have lied his way out of it."

Last October, the City of Miami Beach settled a civil suit brought by the bikers and paid tens of thousands in taxpayer cash for their injuries. The exact dollar amount is confidential.

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Tim Elfrink is an award-winning investigative reporter, the managing editor of the Miami New Times and the co-author of "Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez and the Quest to End Baseball's Steroid Era." Since 2008, he's written in-depth pieces on police corruption, fatal shootings and social justice issues across South Florida. He's won the George Polk Award and has been a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink