South Florida man alleges undercover detective assaulted him during traffic stop

Abraham Sanchez recorded his arrest, screams for help on cellphone video

By Bob Norman - Investigative Reporter

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - Abraham Sanchez said he was driving just fine on his way home from a morning doctor's appointment when he was pulled over by an undercover drug detective in an unmarked vehicle.

"I said, 'What seems to be the problem?'" Sanchez said he asked Hollywood police Detective Sergio Lopez. "He started laughing and said, 'What? Are you asking me?' I said, 'Yeah. Why are you stopping me?''

Sanchez said the veteran detective, wearing plainclothes with a badge dangling from his neck, began yelling at him. Lopez wrote in his report that Sanchez was driving dangerously on Park Road when he pulled him over.

"It appeared, due to my training and experience, that defendant Sanchez could be under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol," Lopez wrote.

Lopez also claimed that after he pulled Sanchez over, he observed him "place something in his mouth that he removed from a clear plastic bag" and claimed Sanchez began yelling obscenities at him. He also said Sanchez refused to give hand over his driver's license and registration.

Sanchez, who said he had never been arrested in his life and doesn't abuse drugs or alcohol, told Local 10 News that none of those things alleged by Lopez actually happened. He said it was Lopez who was irate, prompting him to turn on his cellphone video shortly after he was pulled over.

"He started yelling. He was in a rage already. I don't know what happened," Sanchez said. "I got very scared. I turned on my cellphone camera."

On the video, Sanchez is indeed calm, narrating each of his actions as he slowly gets out of the car. Sanchez's driver's license and what appears to be his registration are clearly in the detective's hand.

"This officer has stopped me and I'm gathering my things just to get out of the car," Sanchez says in the video.

Once out of the car, Lopez, who is silent during most of the video, wrenches the camera from his hand. Sanchez said the detective struck him in the face with the camera as he snatched it.

"You're smashing my property," Sanchez says in the video. "Still recording. Still recording."

After Lopez puts the phone down and briefly gets into his vehicle, Sanchez picks up the camera again. Lopez approaches again, this time with handcuffs.

"This is still recording," Sanchez says in the video. "This person is very upset, and he's going to handcuff me for no reason."

As he's being detained, Sanchez, who said he doesn't drink or do drugs, loudly yells for help.

"Why are you doing this?" Sanchez asks, getting no reply.

He then yells for help several more times before the video ends.

In his account of what occurred, Lopez claimed that he took Sanchez's phone and "advised him that, for my safety and his, I was placing him in handcuffs."

The video contradicts that account, as Lopez provides no explanation. Lopez also claims that Sanchez "refused to place his hand behind his back and began pushing and pulling away from me while yelling obscenities."

Again, the video contradicts the detective's account. Sanchez does not yell any obscenities while being handcuffed, only for help. The video also offers no indication that there was a physical struggle of any kind, as Sanchez appears to comply with the officer other than screaming for help.

"It was very, very scary," Sanchez said. "I felt threatened. I felt afraid. I've never been involved in a situation like this."

He said his first thought was to call for the police.

"And I think, 'Wait a minute. It's the police who are assaulting me,'" Sanchez said. "So I was helpless."  

Sanchez said that when he was taken to jail, he still had no idea why he was being arrested. He would later learn the charges were disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

After being released from jail, Sanchez got another rude surprise. When he picked up his truck from the tow yard, he saw that the entire dashboard had been destroyed.

Sanchez hired attorney Jessica Mishali to represent him. The state attorney's office dropped the charges against him.

"A drug detective who works undercover pulling my client over for what he alleges is a traffic stop is a sham," Mishali said. "He then searched my client illegally,  searched his vehicle illegally, and then went so far as to actually damage his property, to break apart his dashboard in a fit looking for drugs that weren't there."

She believes Sanchez, a Panama-born U.S. citizen, was misidentified as a drug suspect.

"I think there's no question the police department owes him for damage to his vehicle, having to bond out, having to pay for his car and pay for my legal fees … for crimes he never committed," Mishali said.

Sanchez complained to internal affairs shortly after the January arrest, but he said investigators never followed up on his complaint despite several phone calls. When Local 10 contacted the Hollywood Police Department, spokeswoman Miranda Grossman wrote in an email that his complaint was related to missing property that had been returned. She said the investigation was closed for that reason.

"From what I can see, Mr. Sanchez was satisfied with the outcome," Grossman wrote.

Sanchez said that explanation is ridiculous since he wanted the traffic stop investigated, including viewing of his video, as well as compensation for his destroyed dashboard.

When Local 10 shared the video with Grossman, she wrote that, in light of the new information, the internal affairs investigation has been reopened.

"Internal Affairs will be inviting Mr. Sanchez in to further discuss the matter," Grossman wrote.

As of air time, Sanchez said that invitation had yet to be extended.

Hollywood police records reveal that Lopez has been the subject of nine internal affairs cases in the past, with allegations of excessive force, harassment and abuse of authority, but he was cleared in all cases.

A request for an interview with Lopez was declined by the Hollywood Police Department, which is now staying mum on the case since it has been reopened.

Sanchez said he just wants a complete investigation and hopes no one else is treated that way by an officer of the law again.

"Not a single law-abiding citizen should go through this," he said.

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