Police officer reprimanded after Local 10's parking tickets investigation

Miami Beach implements new policy for employees seeking to get tickets dismissed following investigation

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – A Miami Beach police officer was reprimanded after he had two parking tickets dismissed while he was off duty.

The officer's tickets were two of 767 issued in Miami Beach that have been dismissed so far this year. For some, the reasons ranged from "visiting a friend" to "moving."

"Nobody is above the law," said Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Gongora. "After your story, Ross, I forwarded it to the city manager."

After Local 10's investigation, City Manager Jimmy Morales later issued a new policy that city employees must provide written notification to the human resources department within 72 hours of receiving a parking ticket, adding that they must "maintain the highest ethical standards" when contesting tickets or face disciplinary action that includes termination.

"When I see something wrong, I take action," said Gongora.

But the policy doesn't apply to someone like Leonard Freeman, a parking enforcement officer in Coral Gables who received a ticket in the 1800 block of Purdy Avenue at 1:44 a.m. His ticket was dismissed.

"Did this guy get his ticket dismissed because he works at another city?" Local 10's Ross Palombo asked Rocio Alba, the assistant director of the Miami Beach Parking Department, in July.

"I can't remember," she replied. "I really don't know."

The reason listed on the request for dismissal form: "Courtesy parking enforcement officer city of Coral Gables." The form also included Freeman's identification.

"What reason could this guy have -- at two in the morning -- to avoid paying this parking ticket?" said Palombo.

"I don't know," said Alba.

"I mean, what official business could he have been on at two in the morning?" asked Palombo.

"I don't know," repeated Alba.

Coral Gables then launched an investigation into a violation of city rules. The city disciplined Freeman, then reversed its decision.

Freeman offered no comment. He didn't cite working for Coral Gables as the reason for the parking ticket dismissal, according to his union.

Local 10 also found two USPS workers using their own cars had tickets dismissed. An on-duty fire department lieutenant had two tickets dismissed despite not driving a department-issued vehicle at the time. The USPS and Miami Beach Fire Rescue Department didn't discipline their employees who had tickets dismissed.

Ticket were also dismissed for a Miami Beach IT department employee and a person interning with the city. At least 20 tourists from Austria, Argentina, and Ohio have had tickets dismissed.

When asked about those dismissals, City Manager Jimmy Morales wrote: "I am not sure what is troubling you." He added that the cases were "not statistically material."

But those who paid their parking tickets were less than thrilled.

"I think they should treat the rest of us just as fairly as the tourists," said Dan Maza. "I don't think it's fair to the rest of us."

"That's not fair at all. If I have to pay, they have to pay," said Marcos Costa.

"It's definitely not fair," added Brandon Garcia.

Ticket dismissals are made by the parking department director on a case-by-case basis.

About the Authors: