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6 Miami Officers Indicted in '88 Death of Drug Dealer : Law enforcement: The new charges claim a police cover-up in the fatal beating. Earlier acquittals had sparked violence in Puerto Rican community.

July 24, 1993|MIKE CLARY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MIAMI — Yet another explosive criminal case involving a killing by police was rekindled this week with new federal indictments charging six Miami officers with planting evidence and conspiring to cover up the beating death of a well-known drug dealer almost five years ago.

Four of the six officers named in the grand jury indictment have been tried once in the death of Leonardo Mercado. Their acquittal on civil rights charges in December, 1990, led to fiery protests on the streets of Miami's largely Puerto Rican Wynwood neighborhood. About 200 riot police were called out to quell a disturbance in which several businesses were burned.

This time, those four officers, along with two others not previously charged, are accused of fabricating evidence, including planting a knife in the kitchen where Mercado died, and then agreeing to lie about it.

"A lot of people are very happy about this," Bill Rios, executive director of the Wynwood Community Development Corp., said Friday, a day after the indictments were announced. "This validates the community's belief that there was a conspiracy."

The trial of the six officers, expected to begin this fall, will once again focus attention on police actions that have led to violent deaths and equally violent community reaction. Since 1980, Miami has been rocked by four major riots sparked either by killings by police or jury verdicts involving such killings.

Mercado, 35, died Dec. 16, 1988, minutes after six officers from Miami's Street Narcotics Unit stopped to question him about a death threat one of the officers had reportedly received. Punched and kicked so hard that footprints were visible on his face, Mercado was a victim of what a police spokesman later called "just a frenzy." His death was ruled a homicide.

Six officers went to trial on federal civil rights and conspiracy charges, and after six weeks of testimony, all were freed after the jury either acquitted them or could not decide on a verdict.

One of the six officers initially charged died two years ago in a sky-diving accident. Another, Thomas Trujillo, has been granted immunity and is expected to testify.

"This indictment should assure people that the system can check itself," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Bruce Udolf.

In pursuing charges of evidence planting and conspiracy, prosecutors hope to use statements the defendants made to police internal affairs investigators. Those statements were suppressed in the first trial.

Charged for the second time in the Mercado case are Pablo Camacho, 46; Charles Haynes, 34; Nathaniel Veal Jr., 34, and Andy Watson, 36. All were allegedly involved in the beating.

Facing charges for the first time are officer Armando Aguilar, 37, and Jesus Aguero, 30, who was fired from the force in December for receiving unlawful compensation and committing perjury.

Over the past 4 1/2 years, Camacho, Haynes, Veal and Watson have each received more than $180,000 in pay while under suspension from duty.

During a normal workday, the four are required to stay at home and telephone the internal affairs office once each morning and afternoon.

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