Pichel, a nonpartisan who is trying to unseat Mayor Francis Suarez (R), was booked in the county jail at around midnight and released at about 3 a.m. after posting a $5,000 bond, according to an arrest warrant obtained by The Washington Post.
“Incidents such as these always concern me,” Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said in a news release.
Pichel, a licensed private investigator, was recently accused by Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo of collecting “dirt” on behalf of a city commissioner and other elected officials. Acevedo, whose job is on the line after recently clashing with Miami officials, wrote in a memo last week that Pichel was set to be arrested. The case was one of several incidents Acevedo highlighted that he said showed a pattern of city officials meddling in police affairs.
Attorneys in Florida say impersonating a police officer is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison, five years of probation and a $5,000 fine.
Matthew Baldwin, Pichel’s attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. Ramsay told the Miami Herald that authorities notified Baldwin of the arrest warrant, and asked Pichel to surrender, earlier this week. Baldwin said Thursday that Pichel had already planned to surrender.
“He’s not that kind of person,” Baldwin told the Herald.
Pichel’s record as a former city of Miami police sergeant, however, has raised questions.
Considered years ago “one of the most well-connected cops in city history,” as the Miami New Times put it, Pichel was suspended in 2000 after being accused of instructing a public service aide to file a false police report in an effort to cover up the police beating of a prisoner who later died. He was never charged in the alleged incident.
In 2003, the sergeant was suspended for allegedly leaking information to the Herald about how the city handled evidence in the search for a serial rapist. Pichel was arrested in 2006 for selling steroids and the erectile dysfunction drug Cialis while he was sergeant-at-arms at City Hall. Pichel agreed to give up his police certification as part of a plea deal that saw his felony charges dropped.
He ran for a seat on the Miami Board of Commissioners in 2019, but was defeated, receiving around 5 percent of the vote. Pichel is one of five mayoral challengers to Suarez, who has recently gained a national profile promoting Miami as a new Silicon Valley and has faced relatively little opposition in his bid for a November reelection.
On May 30, Pichel was sitting in his white BMW in a residential neighborhood of Key Largo in Monroe County when Robert Love, an off-duty Miami-Dade County police officer visiting a friend, noticed him, according to the arrest warrant. When Love and his friend approached the car and asked the driver what he was up to, Pichel “displayed a gold law enforcement badge, stated that he was a ‘Monroe County police officer,’ and that he was working on a case,” the sheriff’s office said.
“Pichel also stated, ‘Don’t worry, I’m Monroe County,’ and that he was waiting for another law enforcement officer to relieve him,” police said in a news release.
Love felt something was off and decided to take down the BMW’s tag number and pass it along to the sheriff’s office, the arrest warrant states.
That same day, another Key Largo resident, Reward Reyes, who also happened to be an off-duty police officer, said Pichel walked into his backyard and “asked if he knew a contractor named Freddie,” according to the arrest warrant. Reyes, who was working on his boat at the time, said no, and Pichel left the property “as if [he was] looking for something,” police said.
“The neighbor thought it was strange someone would walk onto another’s property that way,” the sheriff’s office said in a news release.
While it’s unclear who Pichel was referring to in the exchange, Suarez — who authorities say was the target of the candidate’s surveillance — was believed to have been visiting a home on the block that day, the Herald reported.
A spokesperson with the mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reyes notified the sheriff’s office of the incident on June 1 and later identified Pichel out of a photo lineup as the man who walked into his backyard, the arrest warrant states. Love also identified Pichel out of a photo lineup provided by the sheriff’s office, and surveillance video confirmed the interaction he had with the former Miami officer.
Acevedo suggested that Suarez’s security detail could have been responsible for leaking the mayor’s whereabouts that day, and the police chief later condemned city commissioners for allegedly meddling in the internal affairs investigation of the case. Commissioners, meanwhile, have slammed Acevedo for saying the police department was run by the “Cuban Mafia” and some are now pushing for his ouster. (Acevedo was born in Cuba, and came to the United States with his family as a child.)
Ramsay praised “the staff who worked on this case as well as our partners with Miami-Dade Police Department for their help” in arresting Pichel.