On the surface, Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Johnette Hardiman was a champion of women’s rights; the chairwoman of a prominent women’s group that promoted itself as fighting against sex trafficking.
But beneath the surface, Hardiman was protecting a predator while blaming his victims.
The predator is Hialeah Police Sergeant Jesus “Jesse” Menocal, who is accused of sexually abusing four females, including a 14-year-old girl forced to perform oral sex on him. Menocal happens to come from a very powerful cop family in Miami-Dade with a well-documented criminal past.
Hardiman refused to interview three of the four alleged victims, writing them off as “gang members” and discrediting the juvenile by calling her a “bipolar chronic runaway,” according to an explosive Miami Herald article in November.
Less than a month later, the FBI stepped in to arrest Menocal on two counts of deprivation of victims’ rights under the color of law dating back to 2015 – which was when the allegations against Menocal first became public.
It was an embarrassing moment for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office which has long protected bad cops not to mention a professional setback for Hardiman who has worked for the state attorney’s office since 1987, according to her LinkedIn page, two years before she was even admitted to the Florida Bar. She not only knows where the bodies are buried but has buried a few herself. Figuratively speaking, of course.
Shred of credibility, she resigned from her position as chair of The Women’s Fund Miami-Dade despite having only 12 days to go to complete her two-year term.
According to the Miami Herald:
Hardiman, a veteran prosecutor, submitted her resignation Thursday to The Women’s Fund Miami-Dade because of repercussions over her handling of a 2016 state investigation into Hialeah Police Sgt. Jesús Menocal Jr., according to the nonprofit advocacy organization. Hardiman’s resignation took effect immediately — 12 days before her two-year term as chair of the board was to end on Dec. 31, 2019.
Hardiman’s handling of Menocal’s case came under scrutiny after the Herald revealed last month that she had not interviewed three of the cop’s alleged victims before dismissing them as lacking credibility. In a memo dropping the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office investigation into Menocal, Hardiman referred to the women as “gang members.” The memo described one of those alleged victims — a teenage girl who had tearfully told investigators that the cop forced her to perform oral sex on him when she was 14 years old — as a “bi-polar chronic runaway.”
The Women’s Fund, founded in 1993, has taken on a highly visible role in recent years, joining forces with the Miami Super Bowl Host Committee, the Office of State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle and federal agencies to lead The Stop Sex Trafficking Campaign during the upcoming NFL championship game in February 2020.
“We are going to send a very strong message that we will not tolerate the exploitation of our youth,” Fernández Rundle said last month at a news conference unveiling the initiative.
Menocal, meanwhile, has pleaded not guilty and is out on bond which means his victims may be in danger because he has threatened them in the past. He has finally been fired but only because the feds stripped him of his Blue Privilege.
According to the Miami Herald:
Menocal, who despite the criminal allegations was a decorated 13-year veteran of the Hialeah force, could receive up to life in prison on the first charge because it involved “kidnapping” the minor teen by holding her in a camera-less room at the police station while pressuring her to have sex with him. He also faces up to 10 years on the second charge involving the young woman, who was allegedly stopped on the street and forced to have sex.
Menocal has faced allegations over the past four years that he sexually assaulted and threatened four girls and women, though only two of the alleged victims are cited in the indictment. He is accused of directing one minor to remove her clothing “for his own sexual gratification” and exposing himself to the second victim and grabbing her. He was on duty both times.
In a news release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said: “This investigation remains ongoing.”
Hialeah Police Chief Sergio Velázquez, who reinstated Menocal to street duty in 2016 even before the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office cleared him of wrongdoing, announced on Friday that he had “terminated [him] from employment with the Hialeah Police Department immediately.”
Suzy Betancourt, one of the four victims, died five months after filing an internal affairs complaint when, police say, she fell from a moving vehicle in an incident her friends and family find suspicious.
She told investigators he had threatened to kill her if she dared tell anybody what happened.
The 14-year-old girl whom Hardiman refused to interview but was able to determine she was a “bipolar chronic runaway” told investigators Menocal threatened to make her “disappear” if she ever told on him.
Read a timeline of the scandal compiled by the Miami New Times which provides insight in his criminal cop family.