2 Hialeah police officers accused of beating handcuffed homeless man until he was unconscious

Third man arrested for witness tampering, state attorney says

HIALEAH, Fla. – Two Hialeah police officers and a civilian are being charged after a homeless man was handcuffed and beaten unconscious last month, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced Thursday.

The state attorney identified the officers as Rafael Quinones Otano, 27, and Lorenzo Orfila, 22.

Jail records show Otano is charged with kidnapping by a law enforcement officer and battery.

Orfila is facing the same charges, in addition to a charge of official misconduct by a public servant.

The third suspect, Ali Amin Saleh, 45, has been charged with witness tampering.

Ali Amin Saleh. (Miami-Dade Corrections & Rehabilitation)

According to Fernandez Rundle, the incident began around 5:13 p.m. on Dec. 17 when the officers were dispatched to Los Tres Conejitos bakery at 1912 W. 60th St. regarding a disturbance.

She said the victim, Jose Ortega Gutierrez, 50, who is homeless, is known to wander around the shopping plaza.

When the officers arrived, Orfila handcuffed the victim and placed him in the back of his patrol car, she said.

She said the officers then drove him to an isolated area off Northwest 97th Avenue and 174th Street, which is out of their sector, and beat him until he was unconscious.

The victim told detectives that he woke up alone in the same area and was no longer handcuffed. He then began walking south on 97th Avenue and encountered an off-duty Hialeah police officer who was walking his dog and who called 911.

According to the state attorney, Orfila later inquired about the victim’s condition to another officer and asked that officer to mark the call down as a “no report.” The officer did not comply with that request, she said.

Twelve days after the incident, the victim notified detectives that he was approached by Saleh, who he has seen before, and who asked him to sign an affidavit in English and Spanish about his encounter with the officers. The victim said Saleh told him he would give him $1,200 in exchange and it would be easy money for him.

The victim, who the state attorney says does not know how to read in English or Spanish, said he signed the affidavit because he was homeless and needed the money.

According to Fernandez Rundle, the affidavit stated that the victim had been arrested for public drinking and was not beaten by the officers. It was also notarized, but the notary admitted that they notarized the affidavit as a favor to Saleh without the victim being present, she said.

The officers are also accused of failing to turn on their body-worn cameras throughout the entire encounter with the victim, however Fernandez Rundle said surveillance video shows that the victim didn’t do anything that he should have been arrested for that day and surveillance video also corroborated his claim about Saleh approaching him.

The state attorney said the three men, who were taken into custody Thursday morning, face non-bondable charges.

“We will not allow rogue police officers to abuse their powers and to undermine our criminal justice system,” she said.

Ofila, who has been with the department for three years, and Otano, who has been employed for five years, were both fired Thursday morning by the Hialeah mayor, Chief of Police George Fuente confirmed.

He said both have had minor disciplinary issues in the past.

“Let these arrests send a clear message to everyone that wears a badge,” Fuente said. “We will not accept anything less than an unblemished integrity.”

Attorney Michael Pizzi, who is representing Otano, said that investigators got it all wrong.

“There’s been a horrible miscarriage of justice,” he said. “This case will be tried in a court of law and at the end of the day, it is our expectation that Mr. Otano will be exonerated and get his job back.”


About the Author:

Amanda Batchelor is the Digital Executive Producer for Local10.com.