Crime

In Florida police spat, officer changed his mind after pulling over trooper

MIAMI — It could be described as Miami police officer Thomas Vokaty's "oops" moment.

When Vokaty realized the state trooper he had just pulled over had family ties to Miami police - the trooper's brother was a sergeant with the department's internal affairs unit - Vokaty quickly asked the trooper not to report it, even offering to buy him dinner, according to a report the Florida Highway Patrol has released.

Vokaty, was given a formal warning from his department last week for the traffic stop, which was done well outside the city limits.

The stop happened Nov. 8 and had appeared to be one of the last retaliatory moves due to tension between the two law enforcement agencies that started last month, when Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Donna Jane Watts drew her gun, handcuffed Miami Officer Fausto Lopez and charged him with reckless driving on Florida's Turnpike as he rushed to an off-duty job.

In her report, Watts wrote that Lopez was traveling at speeds in excess of 120 mph.

The incident, captured on video, sparked furor among citizens, many upset at Lopez's alleged speed. It also brought anger from law-enforcement officers who say Watts acted recklessly in drawing her weapon, yelling and handcuffing a fellow police officer.

In posts on an online law-enforcement blog, Watts has been ridiculed and threatened. Someone dumped feces on the patrol car of Trooper Joe Sanchez, a former Miami city commissioner. The car was parked in front of Sanchez's home in Miami.

Then Vokaty made the traffic stop on Florida's Turnpike.

According to the FHP briefing report, Florida Highway Patrol Cpl. Victor Luquis was on his way to an off-duty job. Vokaty told Luquis he had clocked him going 90 miles an hour in a 70-miles-an-hour zone. Vokaty, a 27-year veteran, said, "How does it feel to be stopped in a marked unit?" the report stated.

When Vokaty realized Luquis' brother was Sgt. Ronald Luquis, he then backtracked and said, according to the report, "Please, I have three kids. I'll buy you dinner."

Luquis called dispatch and called his brother.

In the recordings that FHP released, Luquis is heard reporting to supervisors that a Miami cop "tried to light me up here," referring to the sirens used in the traffic stop. As Miami superiors were en route, Luquis said on the radio that Vokaty "freaked out," returned to his car, and left the scene.

According to the report, Vokaty took off in his patrol car. Miami Sgt. Javier Ortiz then ordered Vokaty to report to the station.

Ortiz said he made the decision based on the information relayed to him from the scene. He said the incident, which ended without guns drawn or citations written, was how he wished Watts had handled the stop of Lopez.

A few days later, interim chief Manuel Orosa issued Vokaty a formal warning. Orosa also tightened the department's policy for pulling over fellow law-enforcement officers, mandating no traffic stops without approval from a supervisor and only if the targeted officer is suspected of a felony.

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