SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Two former police officers have been charged with trying to extort $50,000 from a suspected drug dealer in exchange for help in getting his case dismissed, authorities said Tuesday.
One officer, 30-year-old Abimael Arroyo Cruz, is accused of misidentifying the suspect in court to force prosecutors to drop the case. The other, 36-year-old Josue Becerril Ramos, is accused of not showing up at court to testify and of not giving a prosecutor the documents needed to validate a search warrant, according to the indictment.
Both officers are free on $25,000 bond each, although U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez said federal prosecutors are seeking to revoke the bond. Police Special Assistant Ricardo Martinez said the officers have been suspended without pay.
It's the first time police officers in Puerto Rico have faced these types of charges, but Rodriguez said she believes there may be similar cases that have not yet been investigated.
"I think it's a small number," she said. "If you have 17,000 police officers, it's to be expected. It's unfortunate, but I don't think it's unusual."
The charges come as the island's police department, the second largest compared with any U.S. state, continues under federal scrutiny for other cases of corruption and civil rights violations.
Federal prosecutors said the two officers had arrested the unidentified suspect, his brother and six other people in August on charges of possessing marijuana and unregistered firearms. Before a court appearance, the officers asked the suspect and his brother to wear matching grey jackets and to sit next to each other so they could purposely misidentify the suspect, according to the indictment.
The officers received a first installment of $20,000 in cash before the court hearing, the indictment stated, adding that the money was thrown over the side of a highway as requested.
After the court hearing, the officers are accused of receiving a second installment of $15,000 in cash that was placed in the passenger seat of a car parked at a fast-food restaurant.
Rodriguez declined to provide more details about the case, including how the officers had access to the suspect. The indictment said that the suspect and officers spoke by phone. It also stated that the people who dropped off the money were informants.
Rodriguez said local prosecutors plan to drop the case against the suspect as a result of the officers' arrest.