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Video: Did Florida cops frame driver?

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    >>> poke to vani" vanity fair " magazine .

    >>> let's begin with that fender-bender in florida and the alleged coverup that could cost at least four police officers their jobs. nbc 's mark potter is in hollywood , florida this morning. mark, good morning to you.

    >> reporter: here at the hollywood police department the chief says the officers involved in that incident are all under investigation after recording technology, which usually helps the police , in this case actually helped the accused. in an odd twist of events, this 23-year-old was invited to the hollywood , florida police department to give a statement against the very same officers who had arrested her months before.

    >> what we have here are a bunch of officers conspiring to manufacture evidence to create a crime.

    >> reporter: last february she was arrested on dui charges after she stepped on her brakes and was rear-ended by a hollywood police car . she said she stopped because a cat she was carrying had jumped out of her window.

    >> the car was moving when this occurred?

    >> yes.

    >> reporter: after handcuffing her and putting her in the police car , several officers are next heard on their own dash camera microphone using that same cat story to try to shift blame for the auto accident away from the officer who, because he hit her from behind, could be ticketed.

    >> i don't want to make things up ever, at all. but if i need to bebd it a little bit to protect a cop --

    >> reporter: at first officers came up with the story that the cat distracted the officer.

    >> literally a cat jumped out the window, at which time he thought could have been a pedestrian? by distracted him?

    >> reporter: later officers talk about filing a report blaming the woman for quickly changing lanes .

    >> as far as i'm concerned, i'm going to word it she was in the left-hand lane, that she -- when the cat jumped out, she abruptly cut over into this lane and slammed on the brakes.

    >> reporter: on friday, the hollywood police chief announced that three officers and two others have been suspended. all charges against the woman have been dropped and now the officers are under investigation. defense attorneys say in addition to finding that the incident report had been falsified also say they discovered that the videotape sent to prosecutors by those officers had also been edited and the part about the officers changing their story had been left out. matt?

    >> mark potter in florida for us this morning, thank you very much . alex torrence-vilas is with us exclusively along with one of her lawyers, mark gold, the founder of the ticket clinic. good morning. this is a little bit complicated. this happened in february. when were you told that this tape existed that has on it what we just heard?

    >> almost exactly two weeks ago is when my lawyer, larry, and i watched the tape together and discovered that.

    >> you're sitting there watching this tape together and you're hearing what i'm going to say is this, we're going to blame this on her. how did you feel when you heard this?

    >> it confirmed everything that i thought . you know? i knew that that's not what happened that night and it just confirmed everything that i was saying from the beginning.

    >> i want to clarify something. because when we're listening to these officers on that tape make these statements, the video we're seeing right there is of you sitting there, makes it sound as if or look as though you could hear everything they were saying. you couldn't hear any of this.

    >> no. i didn't know. no.

    >> you were not actually in your car when was rear-ended by the police officer .

    >> exactly.

    >> when that officer finally came over to you and you were off looking for your cat, what's the first thing you said to that officer?

    >> can you give me five minutes to go save my cat?

    >> you didn't say anything about what might have happened that caused the accident.

    >> didn't even know.

    >> this is important now. there have been reports that you told the officer that you had been drinking. did you say that to the officer?

    >> yes. i'm not going to lie.

    >> did you say how much you'd been drinking?

    >> i estimated.

    >> did they give you a breathalyzer test at the scene?

    >> no, not until i was taken to the station.

    >> and what were the results of that breathalyzer test?

    >> matt, i just need to jump in here for a second. what's important to know here is that officer presley, kind of the ring leader of this entire incident, was the same person that gave her the breath test results and recorded the breath tell the results.

    >> when it came back you were two times the legal alcohol limit, are you questioning the validity of that test?

    >> we have to question the validity of this entire incident. the man who suggested he was going to create this walt disney to get officer francisco off the hook was the same then that administered the breath test .

    >> let me ask you a simple question. do you think based on what had you to drink that night it is possibly you were two times over the legal limit?

    >> no.

    >> you don't think so?

    >> no.

    >> basically speaking, if the breathalyzer test was accurate, then thee cops in some strange way did you a huge favor because, by their idiocy, they gave you a get out of jail free card . i mean that figuratively.

    >> only because we found that on the tape.

    >> because the charges have since been dropped.

    >> yes, they have.

    >> do you plan some sort of litigation against these officers?

    >> we are absolutely looking into civil litigation . it's a federal offense , violation of the constitutional rights under section 1983 . absolutely we're looking into that now.

    >> monetary damages ?

    >> absolutely.

    >> how has this impacted you? how do you view law enforcement after this?

    >> i still have the utmost respect for all of them. you know? just because you have a couple bad apples doesn't mean the whole orchard is rotten. i don't know how that saying goes. but, no. i had planned on returning back to georgetown university this fall and that was delayed because i didn't know if i was convicted would i have to do probation. i can't leave the state . besides the time and the financial stress i had to go through. but more than that, my reputation and -- was, you know, you can't buy that back. you know?

    >> alex , we'll follow the case. see what happens to these officers in particular down in florida . thanks for joining us.

    >> thank you so much .

TODAY contributor
updated 8/3/2009 8:57:05 AM ET 2009-08-03T12:57:05

Even after being framed by police, a young Florida woman said that her faith in law-enforcement personnel remains unshaken.

“I still have the utmost respect for all of them. Just because you have a couple of bad apples doesn’t mean the whole orchard is rotten,” Alexandra Torrens-Vilas told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Monday in New York.

Until two weeks ago, the 23-year-old Georgetown student was facing four charges related to a February DUI arrest in Hollywood, Fla. During the incident that led to the arrest, Torrens-Vilas’ car had been rear-ended by a patrol car driven by Officer Joel Francisco after she parked her car in the left lane of the roadway to retrieve a cat that jumped out of her window.

‘A little Walt Disney’
In preparing her defense, Torrens-Vilas’ attorneys had requested copies of dash-cam videos from the patrol cars that responded. The videos showed Torrens-Vilas performing sobriety tests, but the attorneys realized there was missing material. Unable to get the missing video from Hollywood police, the attorneys finally obtained it from the state.

What they saw not only resulted in all charges against Torrens-Vilas being dropped, it also led to the suspension of five Hollywood police personnel. Rather than admit to being responsible for rear-ending the woman’s car, police concocted a story that would make everything her fault.

“It confirmed everything that I thought,” Torrens-Vilas told Lauer. “I knew that that’s not what happened that night, and it just confirmed everything that I’ve been saying from the beginning.”

According to the tape, Officer Dewey Pressley took the lead in the plot, saying, “Well, I don’t lie and make things up ever because it’s wrong, but if I need to bend it a little to protect a cop, I’m gonna.”

He then tells another officer: “I will write the narrative out for you. I will tell you exactly how to word it so it can get him off the hook. You see the angle of her car? You see the way it’s like this? As far as I’m concerned, I am going to word it she is in the left-hand lane. We will do a little Walt Disney to protect the cop, because it wouldn’t matter because she was drunk anyway.”

The cat out the window
Torrens-Vilas did not deny to Lauer that she was drinking on the night of Feb. 17, when the incident occurred around midnight on Sheridan Street in Hollywood. She was caring for a friend’s cat, which she was holding on her lap as she drove. When the cat jumped out of the driver’s window, she pulled the car over into the left lane, parked it and ran out to get the cat. That’s when Francisco rear-ended her car.

The woman told Lauer she wasn’t even aware her car had been hit. When police addressed her, her first concern was the cat. “Can you give me five minutes to go save my cat?” was the first thing she said to police.

Hollywood, Fla., police had Torrens-Vilas submit to a field sobriety test, as recorded by their dashboard camera.

Police put her through a field sobriety test and arrested her on DUI charges.

Lauer asked Torrens-Vilas if she had been drinking.

“Yes,” she said. “I’m not going to lie.”

She said she was given a Breathalyzer test at the police station. The test, said her attorney, Mark Gold, was administered and recorded by Pressley, the officer heard leading the cover-up plot in the patrol car. The police report said that Torrens-Vilas’ blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit, but Gold said that result is called into question because Pressley recorded it.

“We have to question the validity of this entire incident,” Gold told Lauer. “Dewey Pressley is the same person who administered the breath test.”

Five suspensions
In any event, once the tape surfaced and was posted on local newspaper Internet sites, all charges were dropped against the woman. On Friday, Hollywood Police Chief Chadwick Wagner confirmed that five officers and police personnel had been suspended pending the completion of the investigation. The suspended employees are Francisco, Pressley, Sgt. Andrew Diaz, Community Service Officer Karim Thomas and Crime Scene Technician Andrea Tomassi.

Attorney Mark Gold, a specialist in DUI cases, appeared with Alexandra Torrens-Vilas on TODAY.

Local newspapers have reported that the case may call into question other arrests made by the officers involved. Already, one woman has come forward claiming that traffic charges she faces were fabricated.

Gold is the founder of the Ticket Clinic, a law practice that specializes in DUI and other traffic offenses. He told Lauer that he is contemplating filing a civil suit against Hollywood police seeking damages.

Torrens-Vilas, a high school salutatorian, had put plans to return to Georgetown in the fall on hold while preparing her defense. Now, she may be able to return for the fall semester.

But the fallout from the arrest isn’t going away.

“Besides the time and financial distress — my reputation. You can’t buy that back,” she told Lauer.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints


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