MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Disabled permits were intended to make parking more accessible for people who really need it. But Local 10 News got tips about some Miami-Dade County employees reportedly taking advantage of the system.
Parking near the Metro Justice Building in Miami is hard to come by, including for those who work in the area. Local 10 investigative reporter got a tip regarding complaints of metered street parking always tied up because county corrections officers were cheating the system by using disabled parking permits which may not belong to them.
Local 10 News observed car after car along Northwest 13th Avenue in front of the State Attorney’s Office displaying disabled permits, which allow a person to park in a metered spot without paying. The majority of the cars displaying the permits belonged to corrections officers working at the Pre-Trial Detention Center.
Viteri sent the permit information to Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles which oversees the program. In a statement Deputy Communications Director Alexis Bakofsky told Local 10 News:
"Upon review of the information received, the department has canceled three disabled parking permits: Two belonging to deceased individuals, and another issued by a certifying medical authority who has disavowed to signing off on the permit."
Bakofsky also said at least one other permit was expired. It’s possible even more permits were being used fraudulently but due to privacy laws the state could not provide the names of the rightful permit holders.
"Is this your disabled parking permit?" Viteri asked one officer using a canceled permit. "It’s my husband’s car" the woman responded before shutting the door and driving off.
"Nobody wants to be labeled disabled but everybody wants to use our parking permit," said Tatiana Ribeiro who works with the Center for Independent Living South Florida.
Ribeiro advocates for others with disabilities and knows the challenges first hand.
"I had a car accident when I was sixteen years old and I have a spinal cord injury."
Ribeiro uses a wheelchair and said she too has struggled to find accessible parking near the courthouse when she was called for jury duty.
"You really need to park and you just can't," she said, adding that "it can be very frustrating."
Daniel Junior, the director of Miami-Dade’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, declined an interview on camera but said employees have parking available in lots near the courthouse for rates of around $60 a month.
In addition, staff can park at the Women’s Detention Center which he said is less than a mile away for free and catch a shuttle to the Courthouse or Pre-Trial Detention Center.
In a statement Junior wrote:
"Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department’s (MDCR) workforce are dedicated professionals grounded in service, integrity, and pride who provide safe and secure custody of those entrusted to our care and protect the public we serve.
"MDCR expects its employees to observe local, state and federal laws, and does not condone the illegal use of disabled parking permits. As such, MDCR will conduct a thorough investigation of these allegations and will hold all violators accountable. MDCR has zero tolerance for improper and misuse of handicap parking permits. We will continue to hold all violators accountable."
Junior sent a memo to all staff on Oct. 26 urging them to comply with the law.
Ribeiro said anyone abusing the system should be held accountable.
"If you don't reinforce the system, you know who will?"
She said that includes corrections officers.
"Lack of respect for others," she said. "And if you do have a lack of respect should you really be in that position? You know, should you be correcting anybody?"
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles encouraged anyone who knows of a permit being used improperly to reach out to local law enforcement. The agency also provided additional information for customers and physicians to remember:
• Section 320.0848, Florida Statutes, provides the authorization for the issuance of disabled person parking permits for both long-term and short-term mobility impairments and those certified as legally blind by an optometrist. Permits may be issued to driver license and ID card holders.
• Any person applying for a new permit or renewing or replacing their disabled person parking permit must provide form HSMV 83039, Application For Disabled Person Parking Permit, completed and signed by a certifying medical authority.
• The permit must be hung from the rear-view mirror, with the permit number visible from the front of the vehicle, when the vehicle is parked, and have a valid, yellow registration decal attached to both sides. The permit should not hang from the rear-view mirror when the vehicle is in motion.
• The disabled person parking permit application warns all applicants and physicians that permits are only for those people who are severely mobility impaired. Any physician who signs an application for someone who is not eligible can be fined $1,000 or up to one year in jail or both. Any person who applies and is not eligible can be fined the same as a physician.
• Disabled person parking permits must only be used by the permit holder. Permit holders may not loan their permits to family members. It does not matter if you are running an errand for the person with a disability. If the person with a disability is not present, the fine is $500.
• Anyone who obtains or uses a disabled person parking permit that does not belong to them can be charged with a second degree misdemeanor which includes a $500 fine or up to six months in jail. Improper use of the permit costs twice the fee of a disabled parking violation.