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Prosecutors Open Case Against ‘River Cops’

December 14, 1987

MIAMI (AP) _ Prosecutors zeroed in on the drowning deaths of three drug boat guards as opening arguments began today in the federal trial of three Miami policemen accused of running a deadly cocaine ripoff ring.

″On July 29, 1985, three dead bodies floated up in the Miami River,″ special federal prosecutor Trudi Novicki told the jury. ″Those three dead bodies sparked an investigation into what has come to be referred to as the ‘Miami River cops’ case.″

Authorities say the officers stole cocaine from traffickers, then resold it through their contacts. The first case ended in a mistrial in January.

According to authorities, a group of officers, arms drawn, raided a boat yard to steal a shipment of cocaine hidden aboard. Four guards were forced into the water, and only one survived.

Two of the three officers on trial, Osvaldo Coello and Omar Manzanilla, face possible life imprisonment on civil rights charges growing out of the three drownings. They, along with the third defendant, Mario Carballo, also face racketeering and drug-trafficking accusations.

Novicki said approximately 15 people had been arrested in the case, but told the jury they only had to decide the fate of the three former officers now on trial. Three other people are fugitives in the case, while the rest have pleaded guilty to a variety of drug and tax charges.

About 40 Miami officers have been fired or suspended since the investigation into the ring began two years ago, and Police Chief Clarence Dickson said the investigation is continuing.

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