Giovanni Gonzalez once set his sights on playing professional baseball, but when fate put an end to that dream, the kid from Coral Gables embarked on another: serving his community as a police officer.
After graduating from the police academy, the Miami-Dade police officer was quickly promoted to the Kendall district’s nighttime commercial burglary squad, considered quite a feat for a rookie.
On Tuesday, before dawn and while on duty, fate intervened again — this time in the most horrible way imaginable for the 23-year-old.
Gonzalez died after his marked Ford Crown Victoria collided with a dump truck on Florida’s Turnpike at Southwest 152nd Street in Southwest Miami-Dade.
Rescuers worked feverishly to free Gonzalez, who was trapped in the twisted wreckage. But by the time they pulled him out, it was too late. According to authorities, he was pronounced dead at the scene.
A short distance from his cruiser, the dump truck was pulled off onto the shoulder. It’s unclear what caused the crash. Neither the truck driver’s identity, nor his condition, was released.
Little information was made public about what led up to the violent crash. Miami-Dade police continue to investigate.
Friends and colleagues were devastated after learning the news of Gonzalez, a graduate of Coral Gables Senior High.
”He was too young — too young to have lost his life,” said Coral Gables Police Officer Alvaro Escalona, who was among those who remembered the fallen officer Tuesday afternoon at a ceremony at Miami International Airport.
An Honor Flag — which travels on flights across the country to funerals for fallen servicemen and servicewomen — was delivered to MIA from Philadelphia for the ceremony.
When American Airlines flight 1689 touched down on MIA’s rain-soaked tarmac, a seven-member honor guard stood at attention at Concourse D.
Leading the group was Officer Raniel David Castillo, who works at the same Kendall district station as Gonzalez. Like several others, he was notified of his fellow officer’s death Tuesday morning when he checked his cellphone on his way out the door.
The text message read: “We lost an officer last night in a 317 [police code for a car crash]. Giovanni Gonzalez.”
”It hit me hard. We’ve lost one,” he said with a stern face. Wearing white gloves, he clung to a black and silver Ruger Mini-14 rifle by his side.
Shortly afterward, a police motorcade made its way to Miami-Dade police headquarters in Doral, where the flag was raised and lowered to half-staff.
On Tuesday, police surrounded Gonzalez’s family home in the 3600 block of Southwest 27th Street in Miami. Family and friends streamed in, braving the pouring rain, to pay their condolences to the officer’s family.
Neighbors said Gonzalez had recently purchased a house with his fiancée and had moved into it only last weekend.
Neighbor Ivan Suarez, 61, said Gonzalez grew up on the street, where his family has lived for over two decades. He remembers Gonzalez, whom he called ”Muchachito,” or ”Little guy,” riding his bicycle around the neighborhood.
”He’s the same age as my grandson,” Suarez said sadly.
Neighbors said Gonzalez played baseball at Coral Gables Senior High and once hoped to become a pro player. But a fall from a tree dashed that dream. He attended Western Nebraska Community College, where he also played ball, before returning home and coaching high school baseball before becoming a police officer.
Jonathan Abreu, 19, had Gonzalez as a baseball coach and visited the family early Tuesday afternoon.
”He was one of the best coaches I ever had. The way he pushed me brought out the best in me,” Abreu said.
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Brinks guards arrested in heist http://www.privateofficer.com
Angel Hernandez, 31; Humberto Diaz, 36; Yudinis Diaz, 35; Frank Perez, 41; and Yuni Perez, 44, all face federal robbery charges in connection with the robbery of a Brinks car on the morning of Dec. 4. Hernandez and Humberto Diaz are employees of Brinks, authorities said.
A news release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the Brinks truck with two employees inside pulled up to a Publix store in the 8200 block of West Flagler Street at about 6:30 a.m. that day. One of the employees was on his way back to the truck from the store when two men, one with a gun, attacked him.
The robbers forced the two guards to drive to a different location before stealing the money and then drove away in another car.
Authorities said Hernandez, who was driving the Brinks truck, admitted to being involved in the crime and named the other suspects.
The suspects are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit robbery, one count of robbery and one count of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime.
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Armored truck ambushed in Florida http://www.priavteofficer.com
The Miami-Dade Police Department said at least two robbers loaded money from the Brinks truck into their vehicle before fleeing the scene at 83 Avenue and Flagler Street. The incident first occurred across the street at the Publix supermarket plaza at approximately 6:16 a.m. on Thursday.
The Brinks employee walked out after servicing the automatic teller machine and the men approached him, Litz reported.
The men allegedly forced the employee into the truck, tied him up and told the driver in the truck to drive out of the plaza and into an alleyway at 295 Park Boulevard.
This is the second time an armored truck was robbed this week. On Monday, a Dunbar armored truck was robbed at the Dadeland Mall and the driver died after the incident.
The FBI is working with Miami-Dade police to investigate the robbery, NBC 6’s Steve Litz reported.
Police are looking for the suspects involved in the Dunbar and Brinks robberies.
Police said the men in the Brinks robbery are Latin. They spoke Spanish to the guards. The men drove off in an SUV, possibly a Chevrolet Tahoe or a Ford Expedition, Litz reported.
Investigators believe a third suspect and another vehicle may have been involved.
Brinks is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the men.
Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers Of Miami-Dade at 305-471-TIPS or click here to submit a tip to the Web tip infofrmation.
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Broward County swim coach charged with sex crimes http://www.privateofficer.com
By Vanessa Blum SunSentinel.com
A prominent Broward County swim coach who admitted he had sex with minors appeared before a federal judge today to face child pornography charges, officials said.
Investigators questioned Caragol on Oct. 17, and he turned over his laptop computer voluntarily, the complaint states.A search of the laptop uncovered roughly 40 images of boys under the age of 18 engaging in sexual activity, the complaint states.In an interview with an FBI agent Tuesday, Caragol admitted he had sent, received and possessed hundreds of pornographic images of young boys, the complaint states.
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Armored Truck Security Shoot, Kill Robbery Suspect http://www.privateofficer.com
On Wednesay, a security officer was shot several times by five men with assault rifles in a robbery attempt outside a West Palm Beach bank.
On Thursday, another gunfight erupted, this time just outside a Miani bank
Police say that the Thursday robbery has left one suspect dead and sent a security guard to the hospital, police said.
Two armed suspects approached two armored truck guards at a Wachovia bank branch in Homestead, Miami-Dade police said. The armed suspect tried to hold them up and engaged the security officers in a gun fight and was killed during the shootout with the guards, police said. One guard was in stable condition in a Homestead hospital, but police did not say how he was injured.
Authorities swarmed the area and began an all out search for a second armed suspect. Using dogs and helicopters police went block by block but didn’t find anyone as of later afternoon.
Police are releasing few details about this shooting and robbery attempt as the investigation continues.
Aerial television news footage showed a crashed white van, the windshield riddled with bullets.
Two prominent Fla. businessmen charged with fraud and tax evasion http://www.privateofficer.com
Carlos and Jorge DeCespedes surrendered Tuesday and were arraigned before a federal magistrate in Miami federal court before posting bonds of $500,000 each.
The DeCespedes brothers are well known in the community as immigrants who fled Cuba as children during the Pedro Pan airlift, built a fortune with their medical supply business Pharmed, connected with community movers and shakers, and donated millions as philanthropists
Federal prosecutors have charged them with two separate and unrelated crimes.
Health care fraud charges involve an alleged six-year scheme using insiders at Kendall Regional Medical Center to receive payment for surgical supplies they never delivered.
Prosecutors accuse the brothers of stealing $5 million from the hospital and paying kickbacks to the hospital employees involved. Three have been arrested and are said to be cooperating with prosecutors.
“The charges are that there was a scheme,” said Alan Ross, the attorney representing Jorge DeCespedes. “I don’t know if it’s fair to say who set up what, but the allegations are what they are and we’ll deal with them accordingly.”
The DeCespedes brothers are also charged with income tax evasion. Prosecutors accuse them of failing to accurately report three years worth of income and shorting the United States government a collective $8 million.
“These individuals had it all — success, money and the admiration of their community,” said U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta. “They have tarnished their good names and reputations because they wanted even more than they already had, and they wanted it the quick and easy way.”
The brothers declined to speak publicly after their court appearance.
Pharmed filed for bankruptcy in October after a series of financial setbacks and civil lawsuits.
Miami Florida Nov. 18 2007
An immigration agent driving a Jamaican woman from a Miami-Dade detention center to one in Broward took her to his home instead and raped her, according to federal criminal charges filed late Friday.
A criminal complaint filed in Miami federal court alleges that Wilfredo Vazquez, 35, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, sexually assaulted the 39-year-old Jamaican mother of two on the afternoon of Sept. 21 at his Tamarac home.
The woman said she was ”afraid” of Vazquez, according to the three-count criminal complaint. She “emphasized that Vazquez was wearing his firearm at all times, and she did not know what he was capable of doing to her.”
Federal authorities are poring over computer records and other documents that track Vazquez’s involvement in previous detainee transfers to see if other women were attacked but feared coming forward.
Vazquez, who worked for the agency for less than a year as an immigration enforcement agent, was picked up Friday evening in Tampa, where he had been on rotation with an unidentified military reserve unit. He is scheduled to make his first appearance in Tampa federal court on Monday.
Cheryl Little, executive director of Miami-based Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, which represents the victim, said the woman was released from immigration detention Nov. 1. The Miami Herald, as a policy, does not identify rape victims.
”I was scared for my life,” the woman said in a telephone interview before being released. “He had a gun. He’s a big man, and I was in his custody. I expected him to protect me, not to take advantage of me.”
Little said the woman cried with relief when told Friday night about the arrest.
”It was such an emotional moment when I told her,” Little said.
Vazquez denied several times to investigators that the incident happened or that he stopped other than to get gas, according to an affidavit by Homeland Security agent David Nieland.
But records from Florida’s Turnpike SunPass electronic toll system showed Vazquez’s official vehicle left the highway at a Commercial Boulevard ramp near his home, the affidavit said, and the woman described his home and neighborhood to investigators.
The sexual assault case is the first since 2000, when officials at the Krome detention center opened an investigation into sexual misconduct by guards and officers at the west Miami-Dade detention facility.
At least one officer and one contract employee were convicted. The scandal prompted immigration authorities to remove female detainees from Krome. Most women are now housed at the Broward Transitional Center at Pompano Beach, though some are first processed at Krome.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a statement late Friday saying Vazquez was fired “shortly after the allegation was lodged against him.”
”ICE takes employee misconduct very seriously,” the statement said. “As such, Wilfredo Vazquez was arrested [Friday] following a thorough criminal investigation by the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility, the [Department of Homeland Security] Office of Inspector General and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.”
The Broward Sheriff’s Office first opened the investigation in late September after the victim disclosed the episode to authorities. The U.S. attorney’s office in Miami then developed the case under prosecutor Daniel Rashbaum.
The Jamaican woman was being processed at Krome for transfer to Pompano Beach after being sentenced to time served in connection with a false claim to U.S. citizenship. Immigration officials planned to put her in deportation proceedings after having lived in in the United States for 12 years. She has a 20-year-old daughter and a young son.
She was at Krome’s intake room when Vazquez noticed her among a crowd of male detainees, according to a statement she gave to her attorneys.
In that statement, the woman said the officer told intake officials he would drive her to the Pompano Beach facility. Then he turned to the woman and said: “I’ll rescue you, so you don’t have to wait for them to process all the men.”
Before putting her in the back of a van, Vazquez took the handcuffs off the woman and allegedly said: “I don’t cuff females.”
A Broward Sheriff’s Office report said Vazquez later stopped the van, after asking the woman if she was hungry, and said: “You can sit in the front if you are going to be a good girl.”
Vazquez then asked the woman if she needed to make a phone call, handed her an earpiece and dialed calls to the woman’s daughter and a friend.
After she finished the calls, the officer asked her if she was wearing ”federal underwear” and to show it to him. ”I told him no,” according to the statement.
Later, the officer called his wife on his cellphone to check if she was at home. ”He told me that she was not,” the woman said in the statement.
Inside his home he asked her to “take off those federal clothes.”
‘I just stood there praying to myself, saying, `God, please don’t let this man hurt me.’ I was asking God to have mercy so this man wouldn’t kill me. . . . All I could think of was . . . if he was crazy enough to bring me to his house and rape me, then what would he be willing to do to cover it up?”
After about 15 minutes, the agent ordered her to get dressed and walk to the van.
She noticed a van parked across the street with lights on.
”I thought about running over there and screaming for help,” she stated. “But then I thought he might just shoot me in the back and say that I tried to escape from him.”
After arriving at the Broward facility, the woman was taken to her room. “I just laid on my bed in the fetal position crying.”
A short time later, another Jamaican female detainee asked why she was crying. The woman shared what happened. The next day, the other detainee reported the conversation to facility officials, who took the victim to the BSO and a treatment center.
The woman told The Miami Herald that she keeps replaying the episode in her mind and wondering whether she could have done something to prevent it.
‘I keep thinking, `What could I have done to stop him?’ ” she asked.
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MIAMI METRO DADE FLORIDA NOV. 13 2007
There has been a rash of bold armed robberies of armored cars in Florida this year, especially in the metro Miami Dade area.
Some in the armored car service say that it’s because their services have been in greater demand over the past few years and as a result there’s more armored cars on the roads as they make their daily runs.
Others, including a security guard that we spoke with said that it’s because they are outgunned and the robbers know it. While some guards do carry shotguns inside the truck, others who make the cash pick-ups are carrying only semi-automatic handguns and are often overpowered by multiple robbers.
Here’s a look at some of the robberies that have occurred in the miami area so far this year.
Nov. 11 Two men robbed a Brinks armored truck security guard at gunpoint outside the FYE entertainment store, at 710 N. University Drive in Pembroke Pines. The guard was about to enter the store when the armed men, both wearing ski masks, rushed up to him and grabbed the cash bag. One robber struck the guard on the left side of the face with his gun before both fled.
Oct. 30 A robber punched a Brinks armored car guard in West Park and made off with a moneybag, but there were only canceled checks in it. The robbery happened outside the Check Cashing Store at 5951 W. Hallandale Beach Blvd. As the guard left the store with the bag of canceled checks, a silver 4-door vehicle, possibly a Chevrolet Impala or Malibu, pulled up beside him. A man dressed in black and wearing a gray mask stepped out of the passenger side of the car and punched the guard before getting back into the car.
Sept. 28 A Brinks armored vehicle was delivering money to a grocery store in Miami when someone grabbed an employee as he got out of the vehicle. The armed suspect put the victim in a choke hold and forced him to get back into the vehicle. A second robber then helped the first steal more than $1.3 million from the truck. Six men were later arrested.
Sept. 24 A pair of robbers shoved an armored truck employee to the ground inside Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise, took the employee’s gun and then snatched a bag of cash he had been carrying. The robbers left the mall through a side door and got in a silver car.
July 15 Two armed robbers escaped after overpowering a guard during an armed car robbery in Miami, taking his gun and a money bag, and then exchanging shots with police. They fled the scene in the 2200 block of SW Eighth Street in a 1999-2001 silver Honda Accord with dark-tinted windows. Police said one suspect wore a gray hooded sweater, faded blue jeans and was armed with a rifle. The other wore a hooded sweater and black jeans and had a handgun.
May 2 A gunman confronted an AT Systems employee delivering $1.8 million to the EZ Check Cashing Store at 8238 NW 103rd St in Hialeah Gardens and ordered him to throw the money into a dark blue Mitsubishi. Nobody was injured. The FBI said it was investigating whether the heist was related to the Dec. 27 robbery of two Brinks workers outside a Fort Lauderdale Bank of America at 1425 NW 62nd St. The robbers took off with more than $3 million.
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Miami Florida Nov. 9 2007
As children, Jessica Townsend caught lizards and toads in the backyard of her Hialeah home as her sister Brandy played with Barbies and put on make-up.
The sisters grew up in the same house and attended the same schools, graduating from Hialeah High School. But that was where the similarities ended.
”I was the girly one and she was the tomboy,” said Brandy, 22. “We never had the same friends or liked the same things.”
As they grew up, Brandy developed a taste for electronic and New Age music; Jessica came to prefer hard rock and heavy metal.
Jessica played soccer and softball in high school and studied French and German. Brandy danced ballet, sang in the chorus and studied early child education.
They lived in the same house but they never really hung out together.
But there was a common bond in the family.
Their parents, Everett and Wendy Townsend, not only worked for Miami-Dade police, but also met at the county police headquarters then located in downtown Miami.
”They basically grew up at the police station,” Wendy said.
The daughters also ended up working as clerks for the police department.
But even then, Brandy wanted to study marketing or education and Jessica, with a love for animals, hoped to become a veterinarian.
Then, one day in 2006, Jessica, 21, had an experience that would change her life.
”I went on a ride-along and saw what the day of a cop was like and I loved it because it is never the same and you are not behind a desk locked in an office,” Jessica said.
“Every day is different; there is no routine for an officer.”
She decided to follow in the footsteps of her father and was sworn into office in March.
Brandy, too, was attracted to police work because of the variety. She did not go on a ride-along but she paid attention to what the officers were doing and was impressed when Jessica signed on. She was sworn in on Nov. 2.
So the siblings now carry the badge, just like their dad — and the 22-year veteran couldn’t be more surprised.
”I never really encouraged them to be police officers. I thought they were college-bound and, now, all of a sudden, I see them both in their uniforms and it is so strange,” said Townsend, who is based at the Miami-Dade Northwest District station in Miami Lakes.
But he fully supports their decision to join and he tells them that safety is always first in their line of work.
And if there is one thing somebody could have told him when he started his career — and which he can now tell his daughters — it is this: “Manage your money wisely.”
”I wish somebody would have advised us on money management to be better off in retirement financially and with things like life insurance,” he said. “I think everybody could benefit from that guidance.”
Wendy, who is Townsend’s ex-wife, is pleased her daughters work in law enforcement.
”I wanted to be an officer myself when I was young but, instead, I married one,” said Wendy, who has worked for the police department for 25 years and is a network manager.
”Being an officer is just like being in a family,” she said. “Everybody really takes care of each other. You’ll make the strongest bonds of friendship. In no other job do you see that fraternity among everybody, not in the private industry. Plus, it is a stable career because there is always a need [for the police].”
But the job requires a lot of dedication, Jessica said. “Police officers work a lot. When you are off, you have to go to court. When you think you can leave, you get held back. And you can never have your lunch when you want to.”
But when she can, it is often with Brandy.
”We now have lunch together and talk about our days. Plus, I know if I have any question about the job, I can ask her because she has more experience,” Brandy said.
Or she can ask Dad, who “loves being a police officer.”
”Policing is a wonderful career,” Townsend said. “It is not only about finding the bad guy; it is also about getting to know and help your community and guiding young people.”
Wendy and her daughters have been living in the same house in Hialeah for 19 years. Five years ago, a new ”wonderful” addition came on the scene, when Jade Carrillo, Jessica’s daughter, was born.
”She is very proud that I am a police officer; she shows me off among her friends,” said Jessica, who has passed on her passion for animals to her daughter.
Jade already knows the difference between a toad and a frog and between a gecko and a salamander. She can also name many fish and she can catch butterflies.
Brandy is hoping that in 10 years she will be in community affairs.
Jessica, who is based at police headquarters in Doral and wants to be in traffic homicide, for now will keep on crossing paths with her dad at the station, having lunch with Brandy, who is in training, and visiting her mother whenever she has to pass by the main office.
It’s all in the family.
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MIAMI FLA. Nov. 6, 2007
A teacher was shot Tuesday outside at a Miami-area high school during an apparent robbery, but was expected to survive, a school district spokesman said.
The suspected shooter had not been captured, and at least a dozen officers in SWAT gear were staking out an apartment complex near the school. Police had sealed off all the complex’s exits and a police helicopter was hovering above. Carol City elementary, middle and senior high schools were on lockdown, said Quintin Taylor, a spokesman for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
No students inside the school have been injured,” he said. The male teacher was shot in the lower body, said Taylor. The hospital where he was being treated, Jackson Memorial Hospital, did not release his condition. The teacher had been taking a cigarette break across the street from the school during lunch when he was confronted by another man who tried to rob him, Taylor said. A 911 call reported the shooting before noon at Miami Carol City Senior High School, Miami-Dade Police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta said.