February 25, 2020

In the News

He got shot by a Miami cop. Decades later, officers say he lit them up with a laser pointer.
 
 
Rolando Yague got shot by a Miami cop. Decades later, officers claimed he lit them up — with a laser pointer.
 
Thirty-five years ago, Yague and his wife were pulled over by a Miami police officer, who wounded the unarmed couple. The controversial shooting drew newspaper headlines. Yague sued the city, claiming police brutality.
 
Decades later, the construction worker was jailed after Miami cops claimed he was the man who aimed a laser pointer at a police helicopter, putting the aircraft in peril of crashing by blinding the pilot. A Miami-Dade jury last week wasted no time acquitting Yague.
 
“They had no direct evidence. It was circumstantial,” said his defense lawyer, Richard Gregg. “Neither the pilot, nor the flight officer, could describe what the guy looked like.”
 
But Yague, 60, is not free and clear. Instead, Yague was shipped this week to a Polk County jail to face an allegation he violated his probation — for an old conviction on a 1988 armed robbery and attempted murder.
 
Yague must now convince a Polk judge that he didn’t violate his probation by getting arrested for a crime of which he was later acquitted.

CONTROVERSIAL SHOOTING

It was on the night of Dec. 25, 1985, that Miami Police Officer Francisco Pichel stopped Yague and his wife, Leticia, who were driving a Camaro near the Orange Bowl in Little Havana.
 
Pichel wound up shooting Yague in the left side of the neck, an inch below his earlobe. The same bullet hit his pregnant wife in the left arm. She later had a miscarriage, which she blamed on the shooting.
 
Pichel and Yague have given different accounts of what happened. Yague claimed Pichel had a grudge against him and shot him without provocation. Pichel at first claimed the shooting was an accident, then said Yague intentionally tried to run him over.
 
Reached Thursday, Pichel recalled Yague as a “career criminal” who had been involved in several dangerous car chases with Miami cops back in the 1980s.
 
“I thought this guy was dead, it was so long ago,” Pichel said. “We’re talking about 35 years ago.”
 
Miami-Dade prosecutors decided against charging Pichel with the shooting, because the witness statements were so contradictory. Yague, however, filed a federal lawsuit against Pichel and the city, claiming his civil rights were violated.
 
The case later settled, but for exactly how much is unclear, his family said.
 
Pichel went on to become a well known — and controversial — figure in city circles.
 
A few years later, Pichel was suspended after allegedly leaking information to the Miami Herald about the city’s questionable handling of evidence during the search for a serial rapist. He was later reinstated.
 
By 2008, while Pichel was working as a sergeant-at-arms at City Hall, he was accused of selling small amounts of steroids and Cialis, the erectile dysfunction drug. Prosecutors later dropped felony charges as part of a plea deal in which Pichel agreed to give up his police certification.
 
Last year, Pichel ran unsuccessfully for a Miami City Commission seat.
 
As for Yague, he could not stay out of trouble after he was shot in Miami.
 
In 1988, Yague was arrested for an armed robbery and attempted murder in Polk County. Details of the crime were not available on Thursday, but records show he pleaded guilty.
 
Yague wound up serving 13 years in prison. In 2001, he was released on probation.
 
He picked up a smattering of small-time arrests in the ensuing years. But the most serious came in December 2018.
 
On the evening of Dec. 24, 2018, Yague was working as a heavy-machinery operator for Odebrecht, for road work being done on the Dolphin Expressway. At the same time, the control tower at Miami International Airport called police to report that an airliner had been blinded by a laser pointer.
 
When a Miami police helicopter flew over to investigate, the pilot and spotter “also got affected by the laser,” according to an arrest report.
 
Laser pointers have long been a bane of pilots — it’s both a state and federal crime because it can lead to an aircraft crash. Just in January, a man was arrested for allegedly aiming his laser pointer at planes at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport; the pointer was found in his pocket.
 
In Yague’s case, no laser pointer was ever found and he made no confession. Instead, the police helicopter crew said it spotted “an individual maneuvering the laser” and then getting into a Ford Escape SUV leaving a field being used for construction-worker parking.

Yague was charged with misuse of a laser pointer, a third-degree felony. Because of his criminal past, he faced up to 10 years in prison.
 
But at trial, defense lawyer Gregg argued Yague did nothing but drive away from a field crowded with workers all wearing orange vests.
 
“There was absolutely no direct evidence. No video. No physical evidence. No laser pointer was ever found,” Gregg told the Herald. “Not a single person could identify Rolando Yague as having a laser in his possession at that field.”
 
Rolando Yague