After the Sun Sentinel obtained records from a high-speed chase involving Coconut Creek police officers that transpired back in December 2017, the findings revealed that all of the law enforcement officials involved had violated several of their department’s policies. And this wasn’t the first time this has happened.
The police chase began on the night of December 2, 2017, when a call came into the police department from a woman who was complaining about the noise level in her neighborhood. Officers Rocco Favata, Chris Lewis, David Morales, and Christian Salas all responded to the call. When the officers arrived at the neighborhood, Favata approached a 2002 Buick LeSabre occupied by two young people with its ignition on to “peek” inside. He reported that the vehicle had smelled of marijuana and alcohol and that is when he ordered the driver to turn the Buick off. The driver, who was later identified as Fabreece Ductan, decided to take off. Favata claimed Ductan almost ran his foot over with his vehicle.
After Ductan fled from police, officers began chasing after the vehicle. One of the officers reportedly began traveling at 91 mph on Sample Road, despite the fact that the posted speed limit was only 45 mph. The source says that two other officers were said to be going 78 mph as the chase continued down to Rock Island Road. As the chase ensued, officers even went as far as boxing in the Buick for 11 seconds. But here’s where the officers went wrong. According to the source, none of the four responding officers called in the chase, which would have likely been called off immediately, nor did they receive authorization to employ any tactics, including boxing in the vehicle.
The source stated that during the time when the officers boxed the vehicle in, Lewis pulled alongside Ductan going 66 mph and Morales pulled in front of the Buick and hit his brakes. Salas had been traveling behind Lewis. Ductan decided to slow his vehicle to 34 mph and then made an illegal U-turn in an effort to get away from the officers. He managed to lose them for 27 seconds. Unfortunately, as the chase continued on, Ductan, who was said to be going 92 mph, crashed into another car. Although Ductan survived the accident, his passenger, 18-year-old Abigail Espinoza, was transported the hospital where she later died.
After investigators were called to the scene of the accident, they recovered two pounds of marijuana and half a bottle of Hennessey from inside the car. Ductan submitted to a drug test although no drugs or alcohol was found in his system. Now, despite the fact that “neither sergeant supervising that night had any idea about the chase,” Ductan, who is now 21, was charged with vehicular homicide which he pleaded guilty to, and just last month began serving his 16-year prison sentence. And after an internal investigation was conducted and it was determined that the officers had all violated several policies, they received their punishments as well, although many may be reluctant to call them “punishments.”
Officers Favata, Lewis, and Morales all received a five-day suspension without pay and Salas received a written reprimand given that this was his first offense.
The source says the officers recently received their notice of suspension and the Coconut Creek Police Chief, Albert “Butch” Arenal, believes this was a fair punishment. He stated that “the officers were aggressively chasing somebody that had broken the law and were doing their due diligence to protect the citizens of the city and the county against somebody who was driving erratically and was a danger to the general public and that’s what they’re paid to do.” He defended his officers by saying “these are good officers” and are “hard-working.” Despite the mistakes they made, he doesn’t believe their actions were the direct result of Espinoza’s death.
But according to the attorney representing Espinoza’s family, “the punishment just isn’t stiff enough for the tragedy.” Had the officers called in the chase, which would have then been called off, Ductan would likely not have had to travel at such a fast rate of speed nor would he have crashed into another vehicle which means 18-year-old Abigail Espinoza would still be alive. But, as you can see from this case and others like it, it can be extremely difficult to hold a police officer accountable for their negligent behavior, even when they have violated one or more of their department’s policies or procedures.
However, regardless of how difficult it can be to recognize a police officer for their unjust behavior or mistakes, you always stand a chance at obtaining justice when you are represented by an FL police brutality attorney who is willing to defend your rights and will stop at nothing until justice is served. So, if you were recently involved in an accident with a law enforcement officer who was abusing their power or they caused you to suffer an injury after applying force when it wasn’t needed, contact USAttorneys.com. We can get you connected with a reputable FL police brutality attorney in your area who is qualified to take on your case and prepared to help you.