Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sweetwater...still dirty after all these years

The tiny town of Sweetwater was founded in 1941 by retired Russian circus midgets.

Sweetwater's first mayor, a 6-foot tall show business promoter named Joseph Sanderlin, was married to one of the midgets.

By 1946, most of the midgets had left town. Sweetwater hasn't been the same since.

On May 31, 1966, a quarter-century after Sweetwater's founding, "Bud" Curlee won election as town mayor.

Curlee trounced opponent James Milton Roberts, winning by 276 votes to Roberts' 110.

"We're going to clean this city up," he told the Miami News following his election. "We're going to try to get rid of the bad name this city's got."

Curlee had his work cut out for him.

His tiny town - less than a square mile in size - had a big reputation for trouble.

For years the city's only businesses were two rowdy bars and an auto inspection station.

In 1953, the station sold 8,500 inspection stickers in a town of 400 residents. Word around Dade County was that if you couldn't pass inspection elsewhere, all you had to do was drop by Sweetwater's inspection station where they didn't even bother to use brake testing machines.

In 1979, Miami News reporter Bill Gjebre noted some of Sweetwater's other low points:
* Two grand juries urged that the city be abolished because it existed "solely to permit the existence of two liquor licenses" for the town's two bars, both on SW 109th Avenue near the Tamiami Trail.

* Drunks were regularly placed in the old city jail overnight and released without any record kept of their having been incarcerated.

* In 1973, the city council voted to abolish the police department and spend the money on a swimming pool. Residents responded by throwing eggs at several councilmen.

* A story that made the rounds for years was that a goat found wandering the streets one evening was placed in a jail cell because the police didn't know what else to do with it.
A 1984 Miami Herald story ticked off a few more items from Sweetwater's checkered past:
* A one-time Sweetwater police officer quit to become a thief, then became a city council member, only to be kicked off when he punched the fire chief and then returned to burglary.

* One of the city's early mayors was forced to change jobs because the townspeople didn't think their mayor should be a bartender.
In the decades since its founding, Sweetwater - located at the western end of Flagler Street - had become a seedy version of TV's Mayberry.

Today, the Russian circus midgets are gone; replaced by Nicaraguan immigrants.

But, Sweetwater just can't seem to shake its shady past or its penchant for scandal.

In 1981, three Sweetwater police officers were charged with brutality, false imprisonment and filing false reports after they beat motorists they had stopped for traffic infractions.

One of the three Sweetwater officers, Manuel Pardo - a cop with a history of violence - would be sentenced to death in 1988 for murdering nine people.  (Pardo was executed by lethal injection in Dec. 2012.)

In 2003, three Sweetwater cops - Allen St. Germain, George Alvarez and Catalino Rodriguez - were accused of beating a teenage theft suspect so severely that he sustained internal injuries. St. Germain and Alvarez stood trial on charges related to the beating but were found not guilty.

In 2005, Roberto Fulgueira, a veteran Sweetwater cop with 22 years on the force, was sworn in as chief of the historically troubled department.

Now, Fulgueira is enmeshed in his own brutality scandal.

CBS4's Jim DeFede, has obtained surveillance video from April, 2010 that shows a Sweetwater reserve officer grabbing a handcuffed suspect by the neck and throwing him to the floor of the station house.
The suspect, Alberto Dominguez, hits a metal chair and then lands face first on the floor, resulting in a large cut over his right eye. The department’s surveillance cameras capture Dominguez bleeding profusely as the officer, Paul Abreu, continues to grab him by the head and neck, twisting and turning him, until he gets Dominguez on his belly. A second officer enters the picture and grabs Dominguez by the shirt, dragging him into a nearby cell, leaving him face down and bleeding – his hands still cuffed behind his back.

DeFede also reports that:
Sweetwater Police Chief Roberto Fulgueira defended Abreu, saying while his “technique” in subduing the suspect was not ideal, it was not illegal. He said he sent a copy of the video to the Miami Dade State Attorney’s Office which concluded there was no “criminal intent” on the part of Abreu.

But other questions are raised by the officer’s sworn arrest affidavit from the April 17, 2010 incident. The report documents that Dominguez was initially arrested for criminal mischief for allegedly puncturing the tires of a car parked near his trailer. The report then notes Abreu was transported to the Sweetwater Police Department.

Abreu claimed that once they arrived at the station, he ordered Dominguez “4 to 6” times to place his hands on the counter inside the police department. He said Dominguez refused to comply with his demands. Abreu also swore that “suspect launch forward toward officer” and that as a result the suspect was “taken down to floor.” Abreu added the charge of resisting arrest with violence against Dominguez.

A review of the video, however, shows that Dominguez, 38, could not possibly comply with Abreu’s command to place his hands on the counter because his hands were cuffed behind his back. Also nowhere on the video is Dominguez seen launching himself toward the officer. On the contrary, Dominguez was standing still when Abreu grabbed him and threw him to the ground.
DeFede told me on Friday that he intends to stay on top of this story.

One thing is clear, however. Exactly 45 years after "Bud" Curlee's election as mayor of Sweetwater, the tiny town still has a way to go before it's "cleaned up."


Read Part 2 of "Sweetwater...still dirty after all these years" by clicking here.




  3. I ended up paying $500 to the city of Sweetwater (nothing sweet about it) for a "release" to pick up my car towed by Southland The Towing Company which is located in the Gables, not even the city of Sweetwater and pay them $200 for the towing. What goes around comes around. Hope the FBI nails MaroƱo and all his accomplices all the way. The FBI should make them pay restitution charges to all involved


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