San Juan, PR – The government of Puerto Rico is going after the police officer who released pictures of millions of bottles of water sitting on a runway that was supposed to be given to Hurricane Maria victims.
For reasons unknown, that water has sat untouched for months.
A decorated member of the Policia de Puerto Rico’s elite FURA squad released multiple pictures of 20,800 pallets of water that have been left sitting abandoned on the runway of Jose Aponte De La Toree Airport in Ceiba.
FURA is the acronym for Puerto Rico’s SWAT unit, and the actual name of it translates to United Rapid Action Forces.
A source from Puerto Rico PD told Blue Lives Matter that numerous people knew the water had been sitting there for at least nine months before the pictures became public.
Puerto Rico Policia Agente Abdiel Santana, a 34-year veteran of the Puerto Rico police force, told David Begnaud of CBS that when he released the pictures, he was “mad” the water was still there, and that it had never been distributed to storm victims in need.
The pictures showed $22 million in bottled water delivered to Puerto Rico by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that had never been delivered to thirsty hurricane survivors.
In the pictures, millions of bottles of water still in sealed cases were lined up on the runway of the former U.S. Naval Station Roosevelt Road, according to Telemundo.
FEMA’s Director of Disaster Operations for the Office of External Affairs Marty Bahamonde told CBS that the water had initially been stored in more than 1,100 containers at a cost of $300,000 per day, and that they moved it to the runway for distribution in January to save taxpayers money, CBS News reported.
Once the water was on the runway, it was the responsibility of the General Services Administration in Puerto Rico to distribute, but that didn’t happen until May.
And then when the water was distributed to a few towns five months later, they got feedback that it all had a bad smell, so nothing more was done with it, Ottmar Chavez told Telemundo.
Instead of going after whomever was responsible for the complete failure of the island’s emergency supply distribution, the government is seeking to make an example out of Agent Santana in order to discourage other police officers from ratting out government officials in the future.
Tu Noticia PR reported police officials had initiated an investigation into Agente Santana’s release of the pictures, looking for potential violations of the police department’s general orders.
The pilot of the aircraft and his crew have been summoned to appear before the superintendent of public integrity this week.
A source in the Puerto Rico PD told Blue Lives Matter that Agente Santana is an airborne tactical observer in FURA’s elite Aviation Unit. As such, he is the crew member responsible for the safety of the helicopter and the operation of the infrared camera.
He is a highly decorated agent who has served in the air, marine, and K9 units of the island’s police force, according to the source.
Puerto Rico Police Commissioner Henry Escalera denied that any such investigation was happening.
"The Police Bureau has not initiated any administrative investigation against the personnel of the Bureau of the United Rapid Action Forces (FURA) in relation to the aerial photographs taken of the water bottles from the Federal Agency for Disaster Management (FEMA) in Ceiba," Commissioner Escalera wrote in a statement to Telemundo.
However, Blue Lives Matter’s sources inside the Policia de Puerto Rico said that there most certainly is an informal investigation ongoing, and that they believe it’s meant to scare off other officers who might report government failures that they see on a daily basis, but that they’re downplaying it because of the public outcry.
He said the government is looking for a scapegoat in the water debacle, and so they are now investigating when and how the pictures were taken to determine if Agente Santana violated any of the police department’s ethics rules when he took the pictures while flying over the runway while he was on duty.
The veteran officer said the investigation only became “informal” after news of it caused major blowback in the press and on social media.
The source said that police officials backed away from calling it an official investigation by the Office of Public Integrity when they saw how much support Agente Santana had from the citizens and media.
“The cops, the local media, everyone feels betrayed with the way the local government plays with the well-being of the citizens,” the source told Blue Lives Matter.
“I’ve been a cop in Puerto Rico for 33 years and never seen an administration like this one – lie over lie,” the source said.
“It’s true that a major hurricane hits us and everything changes in an instant, but real leaders show what they are made of in such situations,” he explained.
The source told Blue Lives Matter that it’s difficult for the police force to keep working under such dysfunctional leadership.
“It’s hard for me to wake up every morning and deal with all of this,” the officer said. “We have the finest men and women on the force, but the police are too politicized.”