By Rick R. Reed
When I first started hearing about the Jonathan Bleiweiss case a couple of months ago, I wasn’t sure what to believe. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office officer had been accused of sexual misconduct while on the job—and the misconduct involved forced sex in his patrol car with undocumented Latino immigrants, all male. According to the accusations, Bleiweiss fondled the immigrants and forced them to allow him to perform oral sex on them. He allegedly also compelled the men to give him cell phone numbers and repeatedly texted and called some of them. Why on earth, I wondered, would an officer of the law text an undocumented illegal immigrant, “Que pasa, amigo?”
On the other hand, this was a commended and celebrated openly gay police officer, profiled in a South Florida gay publication and once honored as the Broward Sheriff Office’s Officer of the Year. His record was pretty much untarnished—from joining the department in 2002—until the first accusations started coming in. The match was put to the gasoline when Bleiweiss was arrested last June on fourteen charges, including sexual battery, false imprisonment, and stalking. Detectives said Bleiweiss stopped a 30-year-old man waiting for a ride to work. After discovering he was an undocumented migrant, Bleiweiss groped him during a pat-down, detectives said.
I read through the subsequent blogs and news stories that fluttered around Bleiweiss like ash after a fire, looking for the truth, hoping maybe that this commended openly gay police officer was not guilty of the crimes of which he was accused. Maybe, as his lawyer asserts, he was simply the victim of retaliation. After all, one of the things for which he was commended was his ability as an “enforcer” and his high arrest statistics.
But as I saw more and more about this case, and about Bleiweiss, I became less and less hopeful that the poor gay officer was simply a victim of a vendetta. As far back as a year ago, there were complaints against him. According to NBC Miami, “An Oakland Park priest sent an email to the mayor, city commissioners and sheriff officials, informing them of a deputy that was abusing the homeless people who attended his church’s soup kitchen.
“Father Bob Daudill had even posted a flier inside the All Saints Catholic Mission soup kitchen with Bleiweiss’ picture on it, warning the homeless to avoid that deputy, according to The Miami Herald.
“Daudill sent his email in June 2008. Apparently nothing was done about it.
“Not even an investigation.
“In fact, nine months later, Bleiweiss ended up receiving the BSO’s 2008 Employee of the Year award for the Oakland Park District.”
I understand how law enforcement officials can be targets for retaliation; that only makes sense. But to ignore complaints from a priest and a community group seems out of line…and arrogant.
But it got worse when I realized that Officer Bleiweiss was allowed to continue working on the streets for three months after the sexual misconduct charges were filed against him. Whether the allegations were true or not is not the issue here. I was not the only one to wonder if the case were slightly different—oh, say a male officer accused of sexual misconduct with some American citizen women—would the Broward Sheriff’s Office have let that cop continue to work the same areas where he was accused of victimizing people? I kinda doubt it.
Public Defender Howard Finkelstein has been quoted as saying, “If this had been a teacher accused of sexually assaulting a student, all it would take is one complaint and they'd be removed from the classroom and charged. These cases show there are two sets of standards—one for police and another for the general public.”
At least eight undocumented immigrants have come forth to point a finger at Bleiweiss, including a minor, and all have the same stories to tell: tales of being outside in the early morning, waiting to be picked up for a job, being detained by Bleiweiss—detainment that included fondling beneath their underwear accompanied by crude remarks, detainment that led to forced oral sex (or risk deportation), and being compelled to give the officer their cell phone numbers. And the accusations do not stop with just the official paperwork. So it’s pretty hard not to believe this officer horribly abused his power and his uniform.
But that’s just one person stepping way out of line (and I’m not minimizing the officer’s alleged crimes here). What really angers me is a couple of things. The first is how the establishment in South Florida treated these accusations, allowing an accused officer to be in a position—for three months—to commit, over and over again, the same crimes he is accused of. The second thing that angers me is how Officer Bleiweiss, unfairly or not, stands as a very tarnished representative of the gay community. Of course, the song goes, “One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl,” but come on…this story made national headlines, portraying at least one openly gay person in a very bad light…as someone with no respect for human rights, a victimizer, and an abuser of power. And I don’t kid myself; there are those out there who will only too gladly latch onto this story as anecdotal proof of how twisted and corrupt “the gays” are. Michael Rainer, a South Florida gay rights activist, has said, “This is not an act that necessarily impacts the gay community…This is an act of an individual, not a community.”
It’s nice to think so, Michael, but my trust that the whole world will agree with you has been sorely diminished.
I hope Bleiweiss, if guilty, gets punished for his behavior to the fullest extent of the law. I also hope the Broward Sheriff’s Office is being closely watched now, to ensure that officers are not given special treatment when it comes to crime.