South Miami police detective arrested on child pornography charges

Joseph Mendez, 47, also accused of serving alcohol to minors

By Amanda Batchelor - Senior Digital Editor

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - A veteran South Miami police detective, who worked as a federal task officer with the Drug Enforcement Agency, was arrested Tuesday on eight counts of possessing child pornography and four counts of serving alcohol to minors, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said.

Detective Joseph Mendez, 47, the son of a police officer, has been with the South Miami Police Department since 1995. He was the coordinator of the South Miami Police Explorer Program from 2009 to 2014.

A federal law enforcement source told Local 10 News that Mendez's father, Joe Mendez Sr., was also on a federal drug task force and was terminated for having "relations" with female maintenance workers. A source close to the family said the elder Mendez was forced to retire after signing off on the workers' overtime.

On Wednesday, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office confirmed that Mendez Sr. retired after an internal affair investigation into allegations of "insubordination, harassment and conduct unbecoming were sustained."

Agents said the younger Mendez had child pornography on his cellphone and gave alcohol to underage girls.

"He told us he was having some marital issues, and that's why he spent so much time with those kids," a close acquaintance told Local 10 News.

The FDLE said it has been investigating Mendez since June 2014, when it received a complaint of misconduct by a fellow South Miami police adviser in the Explorers Program. Agents said the complaint alleged that Mendez had inappropriate interactions with multiple underage female cadets, some of which were sexual in nature.

Mendez was known to pick up participants of the program from their homes and often traveled with them to competitions.

According to an arrest report, Mendez picked up one of the female cadets from her home and told her he wanted to play a game called "dare double dare." He then dared her to "flash her breasts," the report said.

The girl claimed she told Mendez that she was not comfortable doing that, and he told her that she would have to drink alcohol then. She claimed that Mendez also showed her naked photos of a female and asked her to guess her age.

The report said Mendez dared another girl to allow him to slap her buttocks and eventually kissed her while drinking beer.

Mendez told agents that he bought the girls alcohol to loosen up and get "fresh ideas" for the Explorer competitions, the report said.

Agents said several thousand images of undressed males and females were found on Mendez's personal cellphone, eight of which depicted sexual performances by children.

South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard said he was shocked by the news and said the Explorers had won various awards under Mendez's leadership.

"Obviously we look to find people who are good with kids and have integrity and a lot of sense," Stoddard said. "(I'm) still pretty stunned by this and extremely disappointed that one of our police officers violated the basic principles of his responsibilities to the public."

South Miami police Sgt. Henry Guzman said that if the allegations are true, his department does not condone Mendez's actions.

Mendez was taken Tuesday to the main Broward County jail in Fort Lauderdale, where he was later released on a $42,000 bond.

Local 10 News reporter Amy Viteri asked Mendez as he was leaving the jail if he had a message for the South Miami community.

"They know who I am," Mendez said. "They know I didn't do anything."

Agents believe that there may be additional victims. Anyone with more information about Mendez is asked to call the FDLE Miami Regional Operations Center at 800-226-3023.

Mendez has been suspended without pay pending the resolution of the investigation.

Follow Amy Viteri on Twitter @TVAmyViteri

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