A former Hialeah police officer convicted earlier this summer of the armed-kidnapping of a homeless man was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison Wednesday by a judge who found the officer was remorseless and terrorized the victim.
The judge’s decision came after several hours of emotional testimony in which Rafael Otano’s mother and wife pleaded for leniency and the former officer — dressed in a red jumpsuit, handcuffed and seated alone in the jury box — gave a brief statement, at one point breaking down and putting his head between his cuffed hands.
In his statement, Otano said he did nothing wrong, never mentioned the victim and said he wished he hadn’t gone to work that day. He also asked the judge to let him go home to his wife and child.
“With every inch, with every foot, he [Otano] could have stopped this from happening,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Andrea Wolfson said as family members looked on. “This is an extremely egregious betrayal of the public trust.”
Otano’s attorney Michael Pizzi vowed an immediate appeal and called the decision “an absolute travesty of justice.”
Otano, 27, was found guilty of armed kidnapping by a six-member jury in August after a six-day trial. But those jurors also said prosecutors failed to prove that he took part in the beating of Jose Ortega-Gutierrez, a man well known to police and considered a nuisance by shopkeepers at a Hialeah strip mall where he spends most of his time.
Prosecutors say that on Dec. 17 of last year, Otano and another Hialeah cop named Lorenzo Orfila were called to a mall at West 19th Avenue and 60th Street by the owners of Los Tres Conejitos bakery. They told police Ortega-Gutierrez had been harassing customers and said one of the owners poisoned the food and stole tips.
When the officers arrived, prosecutors say, they put Ortega-Gutierrez in a patrol car and drove him about seven miles away to a remote area outside the city limits. Then, at the end of a street near a wooded area that’s a popular illegal dumping site, they beat Ortega-Gutierrez and left him there. When he regained consciousness after a few minutes, an off-duty Miami-Dade police officer spotted the homeless man wandering down a street aimlessly and injured and called police.
Both men were charged with armed-kidnapping and battery and immediately fired from the Hialeah Police Department. Orfila’s trial date has not yet been set.
Otano’s family and friends took up almost the entire seating one side of the criminal courthouse’s largest courtroom during Wednesday’s 2-1/2 hour hearing, in which Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Shawn Abuhoff asked that Otana serve 8 1/2 years. Pizzi pleaded for three years of probation, arguing that it was unfair for Otano to be separated from his family, while Ortega-Gutierrez continues to harass shopkeepers and customers at the mall.
“There were so many opportunities for the defendant to turn around, to turn away,” Abuhoff said to the judge and Pizzi. “The only thing justified by the victim’s actions was a ride to the jail. This is victim shaming 101.”
At one point during the hearing, Otano’s mother Juana Teresa Quinones took the stand and told the judge that her son was a part of her.
“He doesn’t deserve what’s happening to him,” she said.