It’s not as if ex-Hialeah police officer Jesús Menocal Jr. got a complete walk, as the deal cut required him to plead to three federal misdemeanors for violating the constitutional rights of his victims. He had to give up his police license and promise never be a cop again, which some might argue is part of the punishment although others might point out merely removes the authority that enabled him to commit the crimes to which he almost pleaded guilty. What crimes?
During a Friday afternoon hearing before U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams, the fired officer pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges accusing him of depriving three of his victims of their constitutional rights when he forced them to touch his penis, perform oral sex or have intercourse, according to federal court records. The three incidents were part of a series of complaints dating back to 2014 and 2015 that included alleged oral sex involving a 14-year-old girl.
Among the many abuses and offenses enabled by the authority conferred on police, and the insulation provided them in order to execute that authority, is sex. A cop so inclined can use the threat of arrest to coerce sex. We trust them not to use their power in such an outrageous and offensive way, and most do. Some do not. Menocal did not, and he got taken down for it, even if it appears to have taken quite a while for there to be any consequences. And even though there were, eventually, consequences, they weren’t the consequences they should have been, the consequences that might have been had he not been a cop.
Now, under a plea deal reached with Miami federal prosecutors, Menocal could serve up to three years in prison. Prosecutors would not discuss the deal but sources said it was struck because of the risk of proving a criminal case built on victims, including a few former sex workers, that defense attorneys might discredit on the witness stand.
The risk of proving a criminal case is often built on the alleged victims. This is nothing new, and nothing that should have any meaning to prosecutors, even if the way it’s characterized suggests that it raises “issues.” A few were “former sex workers”? So what? Putting aside the stigma that still attaches to prostitution, even if people are coming around to the notion that if a person chooses to be a sex worker, that’s her choice, and no less fair a choice as “selling” any other part of one’s mind or body, are they suggesting that cops get to rape prostitutes with impunity?
At trial, every defense lawyer will do what he can to discredit the accuser on the witness stand. That’s the job. But the nature of what we discredit isn’t their choice of occupation, but their veracity. If the issue is that these women were lying about Menocal, then the exposure of being discredited is the least of the problems. The far greater problem is that the government was prosecuting an innocent person. This, too, happens to cops, particularly effective cops who can be targeted for false accusations because they do the job too well.
But the credibility of witnesses is a constant concern at trial. This is nothing new for a prosecutor. So what distinguishes the risk of acquittal at Menocal’s trial from that of any other defendant, assuming the prosecution does not possess information to suggest that their witnesses are lying about their allegations against Menocal?
There is a possibility that the witnesses have given conflicting stories to police, to federal agents, to others, such that they will be discredited as liars on the stand. If such information exists, it should have been disclosed as Brady material to the defense. Is this what the prosecution is referring to?
There’s no mention of it, and there is a strong likelihood that if the defense possessed such information about the prosecution’s witnesses, a plea would not be in the offing. Cops are funny that way, about not caving into to admitting crimes they didn’t commit, or can’t be proven to have committed. If this is the case, losing his job, his pension, tends to be a price too heavy to pay for a case he could beat at trial.
What’s left after the accusations and excuses are sorted is the one thing that the prosecution should be acutely aware of, that Jesús Menocal Jr. got a sweet deal for no real reason other than being a cop. If Menocal used his shield to rape women, to force children to perform oral sex on him, then it adds insult to outrage that they cut this ex-cop a break for being a cop, the very weapon he used to commit his crimes. Yet, this is how the case comes off, another cop given another break for no reason other than being a cop.