Monday, June 23, 2014

Deputy who let his drunk friend use patrol car's loudspeaker to cat call women and make lewd comments about their private parts fights to be reinstated after firing

A sheriff's county deputy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is fighting to get his job back after driving his drunk friends around in his police vehicle and allowing them to use the car's loudspeaker to heckle passers-by, particularly women.

The vehicle was driven by Rodrigo Mello, 33, a deputy with the Broward County Sheriff's Office for nearly a decade. According to authorities, Mello was off-duty when he took his two drunk friends on a joyride through Las Olas, a popular nightlife district, in his marked 2007 Dodge Charger.

'Girls, put your vaginas back in your pants' the speaker from the car kept repeating, a hot dog vendor that witnessed the heckling told the Orlando Sun-Sentinel.

'They're saying extremely lewd and really stupid things over the P.A.' one caller told 911. Most witnesses who called expressed disbelief that there was an officer behind the wheel.

'They're saying rude comments and driving around. ... I don't think sheriffs would act like that,' one caller said.

Mello was fired for the August 11, 2013 incident, but has since been fighting to be reinstated as a deputy. Mello is currently attempting an arbitration process to broker a way for him to return to work. However, he is meeting tough resistance from his former employer, who is refusing to reinstate him.

According to the sheriff department's internal investigation, Mello had called in sick for his morning shift at 12:22am that evening, two and-a-half hours before he was stopped. He had texted his boss that he had 'food poisoning'.

Surveillance cameras at different locations that evening caught the vehicle stopping in the middle of roadways, using emergency lights and yelling rude remarks at passers-by.

According to the vendor, the car passed by at least three times in a half-hour, each time stopping to heckle him.

'Hey, how are your hot dogs? Those hot dogs any good?' the vendor, who is not identified by name in the investigative report, said he heard. 'I want a hot dog.'

'It was stupid as could be and I look back at it now and it's absolutely ridiculous,' Mello later said in a sworn statement. 'It was innocent fun. Now looking back at it, it was the stupidest decision I ever made in my life.'

According to his statement, Mello said he had joined a group of about 10 gym friends at a bar on Las Olas Boulevard about 9pm. He said that had two or three alcoholic drinks during the three or four hours he was there, and he did 'not at all' feel intoxicated.

After leaving the first, the group went to another in the same area. By the end of the evening, Mello agreed to drive his 'extremely intoxicated' friends home.

Mello said his friend remarked that he'd never been in a police car before, so Mello 'flashed his lights once' and gave him permission to say something over the P.A. system. Mello did not recall anything lewd or offensive being said.

Sheriff's Capt. Fernando Gajate reportedly found Mello sitting on the curb with one of his friends who was in the vehicle. The other occupant of the vehicle was found laying in a grassy knoll.

'It was an absolute stupid decision,' Mello said, according to the investigative report. 'I've brought embarrassment to myself, my family, the department.'

Gajate received a written reprimand for allegedly failing to take suitable action, according to the report. He opted to send Mello home after taking his vehicle. According to Gajate, Mello did not show any signs of being drunk, such as bloodshot eyes and slurred words.

Since his January 14, 2014 firing, Mello has been fighting to get his job back. He was terminated for lack of discretion, conduct unbecoming and having unauthorized passengers in his vehicle. An arbitrator has not yet been selected for Mello's fight regarding the termination.

According to Mello's LinkedIn page, he began working for a small law enforcement training firm as the Chief Logistics Officer after his departure from his previous job. On his page, he also claimed to have been awarded a Medal of Honor while working with the Broward County Sheriff's Office.

Original report here




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