Miami’s Katherine Fernandez Rundle falsely threatened to arrest police whistleblowers for taping Homestead police
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After a Homestead police officer tried to evict him from the street, Eric McDonough began keeping an eye on the local police. The Homestead resident, who has a PhD in organic thermochemistry, started filming police officers, criticizing the department at public gatherings, and demanding a body camera program from the city institute. As a thank you, McDonough was handcuffed three times from a public commission meeting last year.
However, according to a federal appeals court in Miami, that’s not all the Homestead and Miami-Dade Counties police have done to harass Homestead’s most prominent police whistleblower. Homestead police attempted to team up with prosecutor Katherine Fernandez Rundle to threaten McDonough not to record the police, according to a ruling by an appellate judge issued last week.
Now, after a lengthy lawsuit, the 11th Court of Appeals has ruled that Rundle’s office illegally tried to prosecute McDonough for merely tapping an encounter with the police chief.
The case mirrors both Al Rolle, the head of the Homestead, who was previously accused of destroying records in a separate case (which prompted the head of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association to demand Rolles’ arrest in 2014), as well Rundle badly reflected. The prosecutor, who, according to critics, is too close to the police.
The judge’s order, issued last Wednesday, appears to show Rundle is working to intimidate a police whistleblower on behalf of a disgruntled police chief.
The case began in 2012 when McDonough tried to complain to Homestead Police Officer Alejandro Murguido about reckless driving. In response, McDonough said the officer simply arrested him for no reason. McDonough filed a police complaint – but in April 2013, Murguido arrested McDonough again on charges that were eventually released. McDonough then filed a second harassment complaint against the police officer in January 2014.
In response to the ongoing battle, Homestead boss Al Rolle invited McDonough to sit down with him and discuss the case. (Rolle is the father of NFL player Antrel Rolle and the uncle of players Brian, Samari, and Myron Rolle.) On February 7, 2014, McDonough, a friend who had witnessed some altercations, an HPD detective and Rolle sat down together. And McDonough took out his cell phone to start recording.
“At the beginning of the meeting, McDonough put his cell phone between himself and Chief Rolle free on the desk and recorded the conversation,” said the judge’s decision. “Chef Rolle saw McDonough’s cell phone but claims he didn’t know McDonough was taping the meeting.”
During that meeting, McDonough presented the boss with a pile of documents, testimonials, testimonials, and incident reports allegedly showing that Murguido, the police officer, had had bad behavior in the past. McDonough also filed another complaint against the officer, requesting records to ensure HPD still has the documents he had given the boss.
Surprisingly, the request came back with some missing documents. McDonough then made another, more specific request, and the boss denied ever receiving the files.
McDonough then returned to his recording: the sound clearly showed he was handing the files over to the boss. So McDonough posted the clip on YouTube. In the YouTube clip, McDonough accused Rolle of illegally destroying public records related to the case:
The video bothered someone enough to file a complaint with Rundle’s office. On December 9, 2014, Rundle’s office sent McDonough a letter threatening to arrest him if he ever “illegally” recorded anyone again. Florida law requires both parties to consent to the recording, but provides exceptions for “public gatherings” and other cases where individuals have no “expectation of privacy.”
The threat from Rundle’s office read:
A complaint has been filed with our office indicating that on February 7, 2014, you recorded conversations with Chief Alexander Rolle and Detective Antonio Acquino for Internal Affairs in the Chief’s offices at 4 South Krome Avenue in Homestead, Florida to have. Florida Act Section 934.03, Interception and Disclosure of Wired, Oral, or Electronic Communications, prohibits either party from intentionally intercepting wired, oral, or electronic communications without the consent of the other party.
Recording a conversation without the permission of the other party or parties is a violation of the law and a 3rd degree crime. We are bringing this to your attention to prevent further violations of Florida law as future violations would result in criminal prosecution. Attached is a copy of the relevant law.
In response, McDonough sued Rundle, claiming that the state’s two-party recording law was inapplicable to the case as police also recorded the interview and the meeting was technically held in a public forum. First, a lower court judge sided with Rundle, saying McDonough could be arrested if he tried to re-record the police in a similar manner.
But McDonough appealed and won his case last week. The appeals court ruled that McDonough had the right to record the conversation as several people attended the meeting and the police themselves recorded the incident. (A judge disagreed.)
“The topic of their meeting was of acute public interest: citizens discussed allegations of possible misconduct by the police with the police chief,” judged the judges. “The fact that the content of the meeting is likely to be made public is underlined by the fact that Aquino [a detective present] McDonough assured that “we recorded all of what you said.”
The incident – and the judicial defeat – add to the allegations made by critics who attacked Rundle for her treatment of local police forces. Since Rundle took over Janet Reno in 1993, despite numerous questionable murders since the 1990s, he has never prosecuted a police officer for the murder of someone in the workplace. Indeed, a June investigation by the New Times found that her office had been investigating police shots for years and threatened a family’s chances of winning a civil rights or death lawsuit against the state. Rundle was also caught lying about her police misconduct last May to make herself look better.
In March Rundle declined to pursue four prison guards who were overseeing Darren Rainey’s death. In response, Rundles’ hometown party leader, the Miami-Dade County’s Democratic Executive Committee, has asked her to resign, but she refuses to comply. Instead, she put the idea of running for governor into practice.
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Jerry Iannelli was a former employee of the Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated from Temple University with honors. He then earned a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University.