Hearing held for ex-Hialeah cop accused of beating handcuffed man

3 suspects in case remain jailed without bond

HIALEAH, Fla. – A bond court hearing was held Friday morning for fired Hialeah Police Officer Rafael Quinones Otaño, 27, a day after the Miami-Dade state attorney announced he was being charged for allegedly beating a handcuffed homeless man.

“It’s a sad and disappointing day when any officer betrays the badge,” Hialeah Chief of Police George Fuente said Thursday at a news conference.

Otaño’s defense attorney challenged probable cause for his client’s charges, however the judge ordered that the former officer remain in jail without bond until at least his next court hearing.

From left: Rafael Quinos Otano and Lorenzo Orfila. (Miami-Dade Corrections & Rehabilitation)

According to Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine 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, Officer Lorenzo Orfila, 22, 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.

“He was taken to an isolated and dark location against his will,” she said.

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.

The victim later notified detectives that he was approached by Ali Amin Saleh, 45, who he has seen before, days after the incident. He said Saleh 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.

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

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.

Saleh also had a court hearing Friday and his attorney denied the accusations against his client.

“We believe they’re fabricated by someone who the state and everyone calls a homeless guy,” attorney Stephen Lopez said. “(He) has 57 pages of criminal convictions, including convictions for attempted murder and for crimes of dishonesty -- everything is based on his word -- he’s changed his story numerous times.”

Lorenzo Orfila’s Attorney Robert Barrar also said in court Friday that the victim can’t be trusted.

“The so-called homeless man has a record a mile long, he’s not the saint they’ve portrayed him to be and we believe the jury, when they hear the evidence, will realize that and realize that these men are not guilty,” he said.

Otaño’s family was present in the courtroom Friday. His attorney too claims his client is innocent.

“He’s not guilty,” attorney Robert Barrar said. “He looks forward to going to trial, and we believe wholeheartedly that he’ll be exonerated completely.”

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

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

All three suspects remain jailed without bond. Orfila and Saleh both have court hearings scheduled for Feb. 6.

About the Authors:

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

Annaliese Garcia joined Local 10 News in January 2020. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami, where she studied broadcast journalism. She began her career at Univision. Before arriving at Local 10, she was with NBC2 (WBBH-TV) covering Southwest Florida. She's glad to be back in Miami!