Allies defend Miami officer accused of anti-Semitism

Release of video showing him desecrating Jewish text was political, they say

MIAMI – Allies of a Miami police officer who was caught on camera desecrating Jewish Scripture say the officer exercised bad judgment, but he isn't anti-Semitic. They also believe the video's release was politically motivated.

In the video, Sgt. Roberto Destephan, the vice president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, threw the Tanakh -- holy Jewish texts that include the Torah -- on the bed of a pickup truck, as he used an expletive to describe it. 

"This cr-p, fu-k this," he said before throwing the sacred text. "Taking out the trash, dawg."

After the video was released, the Miami Police Department suspended Destephan with pay pending an investigation.

Miami Police Union Treasurer Andrew Markowitz, who is Jewish, has been Destephan's friend and colleague more than a decade. 

"I'm friends with him, spent time with him on work and off work. Our families have spent time together. I've never heard him utter anti-Semitic remarks -- nothing of that nature," Markowitz said.

Markowitz thinks the video was a joke gone wrong.

The video, apparently a few years old, was made public just before the police union elections this week in which Destephan is running to be re-elected vice president.

Destephan and union President Ed Lugo are running against brothers Tommy and Matt Reyes. 

In recent days, people have posted negative campaign ads about Destephan and Lugo on Instagram, signaling a contentious race.

John Cunill, the attorney who released the video, would not say where he obtained it.

"I don't know how you can watch that video and your soul not be touched," Cunill told Local 10 News' Ian Margol last week. 

Cunill was a Miami police officer until he resigned before being fired in 2004 for refusing to provide urine for a drug case.

The Miami Fraternal Order of Police released a statement saying the "doctored video" was released as political "blackmail" to stop Destephan's re-election campaign.

The union's statement also said the video was shot years ago when Destephan was cleaning the union office and "the books were contaminated due to the mold and termites and needed to be discarded into the trash."

The union headquarters had been a Jewish funeral home decades before and the books had been left behind.

About the Authors:

Glenna Milberg joined Local 10 News in September 1999 to report on South Florida's top stories and community issues. She also serves as co-host on Local 10's public affairs broadcast, "This Week in South Florida."