SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE (CBS4) - An undercover Miami-Dade Police detective told CBS4 Friday that he is looking at several possible suspects in the recent slayings of horses in Miami-Dade; but is urging the public to help by providing more specific tips about horses slaughters.
Detective Fernandez, who asked that his first named not be used because he works undercover, allowed CBS4's Peter D'Oench to ride along with him as he toured areas where horse remains had been found recently.
Fernandez, who has worked with Miami-Dade's Agricultural Patrol unit for the past six years, told CBS4 he is passionate about protecting horses and is astounded by the amount of horse bones that he found in remote fields of Southwest Miami-Dade.
They looked like killing fields, but they are where the remains of horses are dumped, Fernandez said, after they are often stolen, slaughtered, and stripped of meat that is sold on the black market for $7 to $9 a pound.
"An animal such as a horse is somebody's pet," said Fernandez. "It's horrific. I get tired of seeing this. This is not just the slaughter of an animal. This is a homicide. We treat each scene like a homicide."
The first stop with Fernandez was at S.W. 202nd Street and 197th Avenue. That's where he found a cooler that horse meat had been stored in, bags with horse remains and a slew of bones from a horse that was left there about a week and a half ago.
"You can see a jaw, a horse jaw right here and we've already tagged it," said Fernandez, pointing at the bones. "You can still see the horse hair here and a bag with remains. It's obvious this horse was slaughtered somewhere else and then left here. Vultures may have moved bones around."
Just a few blocks away, Fernandez came across a new discovery. "You can see a series of bones spread out all over. This is part of a horse's backbone here," Fernandez said.
At a third stop at S.W. 165TH Street and 205th Avenue, Fernandez came across bones that were a few months old.
"There's a hind section here," he said. "This looks like a piece of a horse's rib cage. There are leg bones right here. There's a skull and a jawbone."
Fernandez said a key problem is the lack of evidence in such crime scenes.
"What we need is the public to give us more information," he said. "Call the Police and give us a tag number of the vehicle that you have seen. Tell us the name of the individual that you know about who is doing this. Tell us where this is happening and when this is happening."
"You do not have to worry about retaliation as you will remain anonymous if you call Miami-Dade Crimestoppers," he said. "We need more tips."
Budget cuts have not helped the Agricultural Patrol unit, Fernandez said. It now has 10 detectives, down from 15 investigators before the cutbacks.
Fernandez showed D'Oench a stack of photos of crime reports that he had on his desk as well of cases of horse slaughters.
He said about between 22 and 25 horse slaughters are reported every year to the Agricultural Patrol unit. He said the numbers have not changed significantly since 22 slaughters were reported in 2009.
That's when ranch owner Roberto Chavez, 53, and Ricardo Olivarez, 45, were arrested for allegedly selling horse meat to an undercover officer.
"That deterred these slaughters for a while, but they picked up," said Fernandez. "A lot of people don't know the consequences of a law that passed and implemented in 2010."
That law makes it a third degree felony to slaughter horses for sale or transport. A conviction brings a mandatory, minimum term of a year in prison and a $3500 fine.
"You can't say enough about that," said Fernandez.
Fernandez is concerned about a number of cases that have occurred in the past few months.
Eleven severely malnourished horses were discovered in Southwest Miami-Dade on March 5. On February 20th, a miniature horse's bones were found in the C-9 basin in Northwest Miami-Dade. And on December 26th of 2011, the head of horse was found in a canal in Southwest Miami-Dade.
"There are two key areas where we are usually finding these horse remains," said Fernandez. "One area is along Northwest 183rd Street between 127th and 132nd Avenues. The second area is known as the 8.5 square-mile area or the Las Palmas Community which is a large area west of Krome or 177th Avenue and between Southwest 136th and 184th streets."
Friday's tour took Fernandez and CBS4 south of that area.
"I really want to arrest somebody," said Fernandez. "It would just be to put another bad guy in jail, someone that needs to be put away."
Detective Edna Del Castillo of Miami-Dade Police told CBS4, "The biggest task that detectives is trying to find the evidence and trying to find the information. We need more information and more specifics. If you do see a vehicle and do get a tag, call Crimestoppers and try to provide a good description of the suspects. We are stressing to our citizens to help our detectives by giving them what information they have."
Victims like Miguelangel Santimanzano hope more people will help police. He told D'Oench that his quarter paint named "Dakota" was stolen and slaughtered five years ago and he is still heartbroken.
"It was very terrible," he said. "The horse is like a member of your family when you have them for a long time. We were devastated that she was taken and devastated to find out about all the slaughters and all of the horses that were taken."
"The public should help out," he said. "We just want to continue helping the police and asking for the public to call in so they can give information to help track down everyone who is involved in this."
Horse meat is a delicacy in some European countries and in some Latin American countries, it is believed to have medicinal value.
Fernandez said if you can help Miami-Dade Police find the people who are slaughtering horses, call Miami-Dade Crimestoppers at (305) 471-TIPS (8477).
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