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Miami officer's attorney denies reckless driving

By Michael Martinez and Vivian Kuo
updated 4:05 PM EDT, Fri November 4, 2011
Miami Police officer Fausto Lopez was pulled over by the highway patrol after allegedly speeding on the Turnpike.
Miami Police officer Fausto Lopez was pulled over by the highway patrol after allegedly speeding on the Turnpike.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The attorney for Miami Officer Fausto Lopez says the case is a "misunderstanding"
  • Lopez was ticketed for reckless driving in his squad car at 120 mph on the Florida Turnpike
  • Lopez was in a hurry to get to his off-duty job
  • The case is "blown out of proportion," attorney says

(CNN) -- The Florida case of a trooper ticketing a Miami police officer in his squad car for driving 120 miles per hour "is a simple misunderstanding that has been blown out of proportion," the officer's attorney said Friday.

Officer Fausto Lopez, 35, of Miami was handcuffed at gunpoint last month and charged with second-degree reckless driving, a misdemeanor, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Lopez, who was speeding on the Florida Turnpike, was released shortly after, authorities said.

Lopez was accused of weaving his marked police car through traffic at more than 120 miles an hour so he could be on time for his off-duty job, authorities said. He led Florida trooper D.J. Watts on a seven-minute, nearly 12-mile chase in the predawn darkness of October 11, a highway patrol report said.

"It was an unfortunate situation that happened, and although Officer Lopez may have been going too fast, the Florida Highway Patrol trooper clearly overreacted," Bill Matthewman, Lopez's attorney, told CNN. "This matter was very much blown out of proportion."

"Officer Fausto López is a good police officer who has worked as a uniform patrol officer on the streets of Miami for nearly six years, protecting the citizens of Miami," Matthewman said separately in a statement. "The allegation that he was driving his police vehicle 120 mph is not accurate and is disputed. He was not driving recklessly, and a review of the videotape shows he was not driving recklessly."

Meanwhile, the highway patrol released the audio recording of the dispatch call made by state Trooper Donna Jane Watts as she pursued Lopez on the Turnpike, also Florida State Route 91, according to CNN affiliate WSVN.

"I don't know what agency he is. I'm on 91 almost to Sunrise. He's well over 120 and he's not stopping," Watts said.

The audio and video of the chase were recorded at 6:30 a.m. on October 11. That is when Watts spotted a speeding vehicle on the Turnpike.

"All I can see is a white patrol car with blue or something like that, bright lights. It would be a Miami or D.O.T., and I'm sure it's not D.O.T.," she said to the dispatcher.

Then an unidentified person on the radio tells Watts: "If they tell you it's a patrol car, just have her back off."

Watts was driving on the turnpike when the white marked Miami police car blew by and "crossed over all lanes of traffic," according to the state highway patrol report.

She couldn't overtake the Miami police car "due to the unit traveling extremely reckless, in and out of traffic at high rates of speed, in excess of 120 mph," according to the report.

The Miami officer ignored the state patrol officer's siren and lights -- and even "accelerated" at times and continued changing lanes, the report said.

At one point, the Miami officer slowed to 78 miles an hour, but sped up again, the highway patrol said.

Finally, the Miami officer, wearing his uniform, pulled over his squad car at 6:35 a.m. in Hollywood. A state highway patrol video shows the state trooper pulling out her service handgun as she approached the police car with the officer seated behind the wheel.

The Miami police officer "stated that he was en route to an off-duty work detail and that he had to be there by 7:00 a.m.," Watts wrote in her report.

On the Florida Highway Patrol offense report, the document lists Lopez' occupation as "police officer" whose employer is "City of Miami Police Departmen(t)" and lists the style of automobile as "police car," a white 2008 Crown Victoria.

Miami Police Detective Willie Moreno told CNN affiliate WFOR in Miami last month that the department will determine whether to take any action against Lopez after a judge rules on his case.

The turnpike's website nicknames the highway "The Less Stressway."

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