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.
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 suspensionsIn 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.
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.