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June 26, 2000 01:48pm
Senior Miami Policeman Caught in Prostitution Sting
Source: Reuters

(MIAMI, FL) -- One of Miami's highest ranking police officers, who helped in the Elian Gonzalez raid and was runner-up to become city police chief, has been removed from his post after allegedly soliciting sex from an undercover police officer, Miami police said on Monday.

Major Juan Garcia, who heads Miami's Special Investigations Section, an elite drug and money-laundering investigation unit, was nabbed early on Saturday in a prostitution sting operation north of the city's downtown.

Police said Garcia, an 18-year police veteran, was stopped while returning home from a farewell party on Miami Beach for former Assistant Chief John Brooks, who resigned during the fallout from a raid in April to seize Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives.

``It's very difficult for us to deal with situations like this,'' Officer Angel Calzadilla, an aide to the Chief of Police, said on Monday.

``Our first reaction is disbelief -- it can't be. In the back of our hearts we still hope that's the case, that there's an explanation.''

Garcia has not been arrested, said Calzadilla, and State Attorney's office spokesman Dan Ungarait said it could be days or weeks before they decide whether or not launch a case.

Garcia has been reassigned to a paid desk job, Miami police spokesman Lt. Bill Schwartz said. He is the seventh Miami police officer to be relieved of duty in three days. Schwartz said he could not release more details pending an internal police investigation.

Garcia, 40, was one of three Miami police officers who played a crucial role in assisting federal officers to remove 6-year-old Elian from his Miami relatives' home in an April 22 raid to reunite the child with his father. Garcia was in charge of maintaining a barricade around the Little Havana home.

Garcia was also one of two senior officers considered for the post of police chief following the resignation of Police Chief William O'Brien during the raid's aftermath. Then-city manager Donald Warshaw said he finally chose Raul Martinez for the post because he had more experience, but said he expected Garcia would some day become chief.

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