South Miami cop who bought booze for underage cadets gets probation
BY DAVID OVALLE
An ex-South Miami police detective who bought booze for underage cadets in a student program won’t be doing any jail time — but he must give up his law-enforcement credentials.
Joe Mendez, 48, pleaded no contest Thursday to four low-level misdemeanor charges of buying alcohol for minors. He’ll also serve one year of probation, finish 35 hours of community service and pay more than $56,000 to the state for the cost of the investigation.
“He’d been relieved of duty this whole time and he didn’t want to be a police officer anymore,” said his lawyer, Douglas Hartman. “He said, ‘I’ll take the misdemeanor plea and move on.’”
Before the plea deal, Mendez officially retired from the department.
The plea deal capped a three-year investigation into Mendez, an officer who had been lauded for his work with the South Miami Police Explorer program, which gives students a glimpse into police work.
One underage cadet told the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that Mendez picked her up at home, then dared her to flash her breasts before repeatedly trying to get her to drink wine. He also tried kissing her, an arrest warrant said.
With another girl, Mendez allegedly tried to play “truth or dare,” asking her to “let me slap your a--” and eventually kissing her over beers, according to an arrest warrant.
Mendez “flat-out denies” those allegations, his lawyer said. According to evidence in the case, Mendez admitted to buying the drinks while with the girls only to “loosen up” and get “fresh ideas” for the Explorer competitions.
Agents later seized his smartphone, finding 31 images that “depicted females under the age of 18.” Eight of those purported to show “sexual performances by children.” He was slapped with allegations of possessing child pornography.
But then his youthful 30-year-old girlfriend came forward to say the pictures were actually of her. Unable to date the photos or determine how old she was when they were taken, prosecutors could not disprove the woman’s claim and dropped the eight felony counts.