Nine months after he first received complaints from a Key Largo father concerned for his 14-year-old daughter’s well being, Det. Daniel Mehler arrested Jorge Bravo-Machuca, 19, Monday charging him with lewd and lascivious acts on a minor and using a computer to solicit a minor.
Patience, said Det. Mark Coleman, is a key word and critical tool in his unit’s line of work.
Coleman is part of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Division comprised of detectives who specialize in crimes against persons, specifically sex crimes and death investigations.
Once a case is made, Coleman explained, it can take years to investigate, link chains of evidence and work in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies across the state and nation.
Det. Sgt. Linda Mixon, who supervises the unit, said the team of five detectives and four victim advocates handle a range of cases including child abuse, sex crimes, death investigations, missing children and adults, cyber crimes against children as well as management of registered sex offenders and predators from Cow Key Bridge to the Dade County line.
“We have a detective and an advocate available on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” said Mixon, a 19-year veteran of the sheriff’s office.
In Det. Mehler’s case, he began investigating Bravo-Machuca last June when the victim’s father discovered Bravo was sending his daughter lewd communications on her Facebook account. He printed out the conversations and gave them to Det. Mehler. His investigation included interviews with the victim, who admitted to “dating” Bravo and that the two planned to have sexual relations together.
In November of 2011, the father reported his daughter had snuck out after attending a Homecoming Dance. When confronted, she admitted to having sex with Bravo multiple times, both after the dance and at other times. She said Bravo told her he was 17 years old.
On Monday, Bravo was arrested and booked into jail where his bond is set at $25,000.
The men and women behind the badge
After working road patrol in Central Florida in the late 80s, and eventually joining Florida Highway Patrol, Det. Deb Ryan began honing her investigative skills with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office in 2001.
“The really cool thing about this unit is that it’s a specialty,” Ryan elaborated. “We have to be able to interview someone, whether a small child or a battery victim, and be able to put them at ease while simultaneously getting information from them.”
Det. Geni Hernandez, who only recently joined the Major Crimes unit in December, joined the sheriff’s department in 1988 as a corrections officer has since served in nearly every capacity across the department. She called the work of her current post very important because of the victims they serve.
“They need someone who takes an interest in what’s happened to them,” Det. Hernandez emphasized. “They need a voice, and we’re usually the first one to help them. We speak up when they can’t.”
Hernandez’s specialization within the division is sex crimes. Part of her work is to manage the sex offenders between Marathon and Anne’s Beach in Islamorada.
“Florida is very progressive in terms of tracking sex offenders and predators,” Hernandez continued. As a detective specializing in sex crimes, Hernandez takes a hard line in cases involving young children who’ve been victimized at the hands of people they’re supposed to be able to trust.
“You only get to have 18 years to be a child, and we’re talking about people who’ve robbed a child of that innocence.”
Sheriff’s office veteran Det. Manny Cuervo recalled his work on a 30-year-old cold case out of New York in which a man raped a young girl before pitching her body off the top of a building. Investigators tracked the suspect to Big Pine Key, and while Cuervo was on road patrol, he tracked the man for nearly two months before he successfully collected DNA evidence from a cigarette butt that helped close the case.
Though the convicted man died while awaiting transport back to New York, Cuervo said he was happy to have helped the family with some closure.
Justice not possible without advocacy
Four victim advocates posted across the county – one of whom is always on call to assist when a case opens, support the five detectives.
Victim advocates not only help secure services, like money to help pay for funerals, for individuals and their families, they serve as a support system to help navigate the legal process. Many continue with a case for years until it’s closed.
Sallyann Crawford, the unit’s victim advocate in Key Largo, explained that navigating the court system and referring victims for social services and counseling is only part of her job description.
Her past duties have included everything from helping families shop for clothing that is appropriate for court to transporting domestic violence victims when they no longer have access to the family vehicle.
“Appearing in court can be scary for victims, so we are there, to literally hold their hand through the process and provide support.”
A common thread across the unit is the passion each share for their lines of work.
“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” Crawford concluded.