2 former Florida police officers face felony charges for allegedly beating homeless man

Three people, including two former Florida police officers, are facing felony charges in connection with the alleged beating of a homeless man and attempt to cover it up, officials said Thursday.

Lorenzo Orfila, 27, and Rafael Otano, 22, were charged with kidnapping and battery and Orfila was charged with official misconduct over the incident, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle told reporters. A civilian, Ali Amin Saleh, was charged with witness tampering for allegedly paying Jose Ortega Gutierrez to recant his statement about the beating.

“We will not allow rogue police officers to abuse their powers and to betray the public that they serve," Fernandez Rundle said.

This combo of booking photos provided by the Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitation show Lorenzo Orfila, 27, left, and Rafael Otano, 22, who were booked into jail Thursday morning, Jan. 26, 2023, in Miami. The two former South Florida police officers turned themselves in to face felony charges over the beating of a homeless man who had been drinking outside a shopping center last month.

Ex-officers beat homeless man, state attorney says

  • The former Hialeah police officers were called to a shopping center Dec. 17, where they encountered Ortega Gutierrez, 50, who is known to frequent the area, Fernandez Rundle said.

  • Orfila handcuffed Ortega Gutierrez and put him into a police vehicle, she said. A review of surveillance footage from the area found no violations that would have justified taking him into custody, Fernandez Rundle said.

  • Instead of taking Ortega Gutierrez to jail, Fernandez Rundle said the officers took him "to an isolated and dark location against his will." She said officers beat him and Ortega Gutierrez lost consciousness.

  • After he woke up bleeding and unhandcuffed, Ortega Gutierrez was spotted by an off-duty Hialeah police officer who called 911, Fernandez Rundle said. She said Ortega Gutierrez was treated for his injuries and told police about the beating.

  • Police launched an internal investigation and found evidence that verified Ortega Gutierrez's account, according to Fernandez Rundle.

Civilian charged with witness tampering

Nearly two weeks after the beating, Ortega Gutierrez told detectives during a follow-up interview that a civilian, Saleh, had offered him more than $1,200 to sign an affidavit contradicting his original statement, Fernandez Rundle said.

Ortega Gutierrez told detectives he cannot read, his original statement was true and he took the money “because he’s homeless and he’s unemployed," she said.

Saleh was charged with witness tampering.

City fires officers, plans to invest in training

Hialeah police Chief George Fuente said the officers involved were fired after an internal investigation.

"It's a sad and disappointing day when any officer betrays a badge," Funete said. "Let these arrests send a clear message to everyone who wears a badge, that swears to uphold the oath, that we will not accept anything less than an unblemished integrity from those that entrust us to serve and protect."

Hialeah Mayor Esteban Bovo Jr. said in a statement the city plans to invest in more training and education for officers to improve the department.

"As mayor, I have worked closely with Chief George Fuente to create a department that is not only professional, but meets the standards that the residents of Hialeah deserve, demand and expect. The actions of these officers fails to meet these expectations," he said. "The officers involved violated numerous established policies and procedures."

What do the officers say?

Attorneys for Orfila and Saleh denied the allegations to the Washington Post. Michael Pizzi, Otano's attorney, told WPLG "there's been a horrible miscarriage of justice."

"This case will be tried in a court of law and at the end of the day, it is our expectation that Mr. Otano will be exonerated and get his job back," he said.

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Contact Breaking News Reporter N'dea Yancey-Bragg at nyanceybra@gannett.com or follow her on Twitter @NdeaYanceyBragg

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ex-Florida police officers accused of kidnapping, beating homeless man