It's been more than four years since Robert Pinto's life skidded after a bizarre series of run-ins with the Hollywood Police Department. But now the former government contractor is looking to even the score. He has filed a federal lawsuit against the department alleging intimation and retaliation.
In March 2010, Pinto - then a 45-year-old widower who did maintenance and hurricane response for federal buildings -- had been walking through a parking lot at his daughter's eye doctor when he was flagged down by a Hollywood officer. The cop demanded Pinto's ID, but wouldn't say why. Pinto promptly handed over his license as well as his ID from the General Service Administration, the government agency that provides basic functions for federal facilities. Although Pinto walked away from the encounter, he didn't appreciate the attitude, and went to the Hollywood police station to complain to a sergeant (but didn't file an official complaint).
Two months later, on July 12 2010, Pinto and a friend were making a stop at a rental property he owned at the corner of 58th Avenue and Arthur Street. He noticed an unmarked Pontiac riding his bumper. Red and blue lights flashed on, and Pinto pulled into a nearby driveway. Pinto claims a figure in all black tactical gear exited the car. Another unmarked car also arrived. The officers asked for Pinto's ID. He handed over his wallet, which had his license and GSA ID in the flap.
"He didn't tell me why he pulled me over, he gave me no reason whatsoever, which is why I thought it was extremely strange," Pinto tells New Times.
The officers left, but Pinto and his friend both had the same question: were those really cops?
The pair again decided to stop by the police station. When Pinto arrived, he asked to see sergeant about the situation. He was directed to the third floor, where he encountered a pair of officers. According to Pinto, one, identified in the lawsuit as Eric Augustus, became aggressive. "He said, 'who are you to come here and complain about my guys?'"
Pinto went back downstairs. But before leaving, he decided to file a complaint against the officer he'd just spoken with. As he was inquiring at the front desk about making a complaint, Augustus appeared.
"Oh, so now you're changing your story?," the officer said, according to the lawsuit. "You're changing it from an inquiry to a complaint?"
"No, I'm not," Pinto shot back. "My inquiry is about the two people that pulled me over. My complaint is about you."
"What's wrong with you?," the officer responded angrily.
Pinto says he was next taken into a break room. Not only were the two officers who pulled him over earlier brought in, but the officer whom he'd complained about two months earlier also appeared. Augustus began asking the recent arrivals if they remembered Pinto, the guy who'd claimed he was a federal agent.
"I saw where they were going," Pinto tells New Times.
As Pinto was being cuffed, he says Augustus proclaimed: "If I have it my way, you'll never work for the government again." Pinto was arrested for falsely impersonating an officer. He was never read his Miranda rights, he says. "They shuffled me out to the Broward county jail, I spent two and a half days in that wonderful hotel." He was lucky his 15-year-old daughter was staying with family. Otherwise, the girl would have come home to an empty home.
The Broward State Attorney's office declined to charge Pinto. The federal government, however, combed over the situation for three years, investigating whether Pinto actually impersonated an agent. He was cleared of any wrongdoing, but in that time, he lost all his government work.
"He hasn't been able to get the arrest expunged, and with the arrest alone it's enough to keep him from doing his federal contract work," says Jeremy Harris, Pinto's attorney.
For Pinto, the dance of intimidation in July was "out of retaliation of me complaining" two months earlier. His lawsuit filed this month alleges he was the victim of an unlawful arrest and seizure. It also alleges Pinto's First Amendment Rights were trampled.
The Hollywood Police Department's spokesman did not immediately return a call for comment.
"Every single day I see their cars, and I see them, and it's like it happened yesterday," Pinto says.
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