A police officer in Florida has been charged after allegedly demanding a female drunk-driver punch him in the genitals because he “really enjoys it”.
Thomas Merenda, 35, and his colleague Franklin Hartley, 32, stand accused of pulling over a car containing two females and demanding the occupants perform sex acts or face arrest.
According to prosecutors, the pair are charged with unlawful compensation - legally defined as receiving reward in return for failing to perform a public duty - and battery. They are believed to have handed themselves in to police last Thursday, with each facing up to 60 days in prison if convicted.
The incident allegedly took place on May 24 last year and involved two women, aged 29 and 31 respectively, who had been drinking at the Vegas Cabaret strip club near Lauderhill.
According to prosecutors, Hartley stopped the women as they left the club and got into a vehicle. After initially threatening to arrest them, Hartley is accused of demanding the women follow him to the car park of a nearby shopping centre, where they were joined by Merenda.
Hartley then allegedly demanded one of the women perform oral sex on him, before going on to have full sexual intercourse with her. According to Merenda’s arrest report, his request was considerably less time-consuming.
“Officer Merenda asked the victim [name withheld] to punch him in the 'nuts,' meaning genital area,” the report says.
It adds that “[Merenda] who at the time of the incident was an on-duty public servant, did intentionally, unlawfully and corruptly request and accept the benefit of having the victim … strike him in the groin by threatening arrest, citation or seizure.”
It is claimed Hartley encouraged the female driver to punch Merenda in the groin, stating “Tom really enjoys this”.
During an investigation into the incident, detectives found the GPS tracker in Merenda and Hartley’s patrol car suggested the pair had spent around an hour and a half parked in the shopping centre car park. Detectives also found one of the women’s discarded underwear at the scene.
Three women have subsequently come forward to claim Merenda has a history of enjoying sexual pain, with two reportedly stating he takes particular gratification from punches to the groin.
Merenda’s lawyer, Eric Schwartzreich, said the charges against his client were baffling, adding: “The only thing that's nuts here is the prosecution of this case and the way it's been filed”.
Mr Schwartzreich went on to say: “We look forward to him being vindicated of these outrageous, outlandish and absurd accusations…Unlawful compensation is defined as gaining a benefit or advantage. As a member of the male gender, I can tell you that being struck in the testicles is not a benefit or advantage. Any male can attest to that. He's not into that kind of thing“.
Hartley's lawyer, Anthony Livoti, said several aspects of the arrest reports struck him as suspicious, including allegations the police officer threatened to arrest the passenger for driving under the influence.
“Why would an officer threaten to arrest a passenger in a vehicle for DUI?,” he said, before going on to question why a police officer would ask a suspected drunk-driver to follow him in a car to a different location.
According to Mr Livoti, there is no DNA evidence linking Hartley to the crime, adding that a photograph he allegedly later sent the passenger was in response to her giving him her phone number and sending him a photo of herself.
Merenda, who has spent 11 years as a police officer, and Hartley, who has served for five, are currently on unpaid leave from Lauderhill Police Department.
Merenda is married and has two children. “His wife is aware of the accusations and supports him unequivocally, 110 per cent,” Schwartzreich said. Hartley is also married, has two children and has his family's support, Livoti said.
Lauderhill Police Chief Andrew Smalling issued a disproving statement over the allegations, saying: “I and the men and women of the Lauderhill Police department are truly disappointed with the nature of the allegations made against these two officers and if they are proven to be true, the consequences should be severe.”
He added: “The alleged actions of these two officers are in no way any reflection of the character and integrity of the many hard working men and women of the Lauderhill Police Department.“
Bradford Cohen, a lawyer representing the reported victims, said they were distraught about the whole experience and are hoping the trial reveals just how shameless the officers' conduct was.
Cohen said: “The allegations are extremely serious in regard to both officers… They look forward to bringing these two individuals to justice,“ adding that the women have not made a decision on whether to press charges.
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