By Curt Anderson
MIAMI — A former Miami Beach police officer was charged Tuesday with four felonies in an alleged drunken all-terrain vehicle crash that seriously injured two people, one of several incidents within the last two years to stain the popular tourist destination's police force.
Derik Kuilan, who had been an officer for six years before he was recently fired, is charged with two counts of driving under the influence with serious bodily injury and two counts of reckless driving, also with bodily injury, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said. Each charge is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Kuilan, 30, and another officer had been drinking while on duty at South Beach's Clevelander Hotel with a group of women from Pennsylvania having a bachelorette party, Rundle said. Kuilan invited one of the women to take a ride down the beach on his police ATV. Witnesses said he was traveling at high speeds with no lights just before dawn July 3 when the ATV slammed into Kitzie Nicanor and Luis Almonte, both 29.
"No one in law enforcement, none of us, can ever tolerate the concept of a drunken on-duty police officer," Rundle said. "This officer will be held accountable."
Kuilan surrendered to authorities Tuesday and was released on $30,000 bail. It wasn't immediately clear if he had hired an attorney. Officials at the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter did not return a call seeking comment.
Nicanor remains hospitalized with multiple injuries and is in serious but stable condition, Rundle said. Almonte is recovering from a broken leg. They were on the beach early to watch the sunrise.
The charges were announced a day after Miami Beach officials moved to fire two other police officers accused of taunting and falsely arresting a gay man in 2009. And earlier this year, the city's police department was harshly criticized for a police-involved shooting _ captured on amateur video and shown worldwide on TV and the Internet _ in which some 100 shots were fired in a fatal confrontation with a motorist during the busy Urban Beach Weekend surrounding Memorial Day.
Police Chief Carlos Noriega said each incident is unrelated. Noriega said the actions of Kuilan and the other officer who was fired for drinking on the job, Rolando Gutierrez, do not reflect deep-seated problems but have damaged the department's image. Gutierrez is unlikely to face criminal charges.
"These two officers do not represent the 500-plus employees we have at the City of Miami Beach," Noriega said. "It is mind-boggling. It was a fleeting act of stupidity. It tarnished our public trust."
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said the department's tactics during Urban Beach Weekend, which draws thousands of mostly African-American college students and young people, have long called into question its policies. For example, he said it took years for the department to stop simply arresting thousands of people during that week rather than using less drastic methods of crowd control.
"I don't want to condemn the entire department for the actions of a few, but it is clear there are problems in that department," Simon said. "I'm happy to see the state attorney step up and begin to charge police officers whose conduct is not only unprofessional but criminal."
The shooting over Memorial Day of 22-year-old Raymond Herisse drew harsh criticism from South Florida residents and visitors, even though Herisse was wanted for armed robbery and allegedly tried to run down several officers in his car. So many shots were fired that four people were wounded in the chaos.
The state attorney's office is investigating that shooting. John Rivera, president of the state Police Benevolent Association that represents some of the 11 officers involved, said the widely-viewed video of the shooting does not show the violence that led up to it.
"Sadly enough, the rest of the world did not get to see how menacing the perpetrator really was," Rivera said. "He endangered the lives of many tourists and police officers. Everybody involved in this is more than confident that the shooting was completely justified."
Coinciding with the charges in the ATV case, Miami Beach officials took steps Monday to terminate officers Frankly Forte and Eluit Hazzi for their actions in the 2009 arrest of Harold Strickland. Court documents show that Strickland saw the officers beating a man, who was gay, and then began shouting anti-gay epithets at Strickland. They then arrested him, contending he was trying to break into parked cars. The charges were later dropped.
Strickland sued the department and a settlement is nearly complete.
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