By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
James FitzGerald, police chief at the time, wrote to the city manager expressing concern:
After having reviewed the dozen or more founded complaints with this Department as well as the report from HRS outlining his work there, I would have serious problems with his re-employment as a City Police Officer. I am attaching copies of these reports for your review.
Considering the high liability risk we would be exposed to under negligent hiring/retention, I cannot recommend same in the best interests of the City. As you will note after reviewing the attached reports, Mr. Barber has physically threatened supervisors who still work for us as well as his supervisor at HRS with the use of deadly force.
(Despite his concerns, FitzGerald rehired Barber, partly because Barber threatened to sue the city for wrongful termination.)
Barber's rehiring, among other things, gave retired Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Lou Reiter pause for thought. "It is as if Officer Barber were untouchable," Reiter wrote in an expert-witness affidavit, for which he was paid $4000. "There is no indication why such a protective shield would have been provided for Officer Barber. This form of historical neglect can only be described as a conscious decision to avoid any corrective action by supervisors and command personnel of the Riviera Beach Police Department."
Internal-affairs investigator Lt. Larry Kersey interviews witness Hyppolite Monfort under oath, August 22, 1994:
Kersey: The little guy... the officer grabbed ahold of him then?
Monfort: He hold him.
K: And what did he say? Did he tell him he was under arrest?
M: He say, "You under arrest." Then he keep say, he call the officer a monkey. "You is monkey. You is monkey." And he keep calling the officer monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey....
K: Mmm hmm.... Did you see the officer when he struck him at all?
M: Struck him?
K: Yeah, with his fist.
M: Pardon me?
K: Did the officer strike him with his fist?
M: Like punch him, stuff like that?
M: No. Officer doesn't do like that.
Four years ago on July 30, Hyppolite Monfort, a Haitian immigrant, went to Barney's Junkyard on the outskirts of Riviera Beach. He had been looking for a radiator for a 1980 Toyota Celica.
The problem was that, on at least three previous visits, the junkyard had given Monfort the wrong radiator, one that either was broken or didn't match the car he was fixing. Now Monfort wanted his money back, but a big sign over the counter read "No Refunds." An argument began. Monfort refused to leave without his $60. The junkyard manager called the cops.
Monfort's experience was nothing new. On many occasions Riviera Beach cops had responded to the junkyard to quell similar disputes. In previous incidents the police officers had always removed the customer, explained to him that he could sue the junkyard in small-claims court, and effectively washed their hands of the matter. But something new was about to happen.
Zedrick Barber showed up with another black cop, Alex Freeman. Instead of arresting Monfort, Barber told the junkyard manager he was going to arrest him if he didn't return Monfort's money. "I was sticking up for the little guy," Barber explained later. Other cops had treated the junkyard disputes as purely civil conflicts; Barber thought the junkyard was ripping off its mostly poor, mostly black customers through a classic bait-and-switch scam that fell under state criminal-fraud statutes.
The manager, Richard Whittemore, refused to return the money, and Barber began to handcuff him. As he did so, witnesses say the manager's brother-in-law, Randall Lamore, came from behind the shop counter and started toward Barber. All the while Lamore was spewing invective and racial epithets.
"It's a free country," Lamore told an internal-affairs investigator the next day. "I can say whatever I please. I didn't threaten the officer or anything else. I made the statement that you illiterate monkeys don't know what kind of a lawsuit you're in for."
But the question of whether Lamore threatened Barber is open to interpretation. What the athletic, 220-pound Barber saw at that moment was a scrawny, screaming, 128-pound stranger coming at him. Precisely because of the disparity in their sizes, Barber was alarmed. "I thought he had lost his mind," Barber says. "For all I knew, he had a shotgun up under the counter. I figured he must've had something on his side of the equation that I didn't know about, or he never would have done something like that. It was totally nuts."
Barber took the handcuff from around Whittemore's wrist and proceeded to arrest Lamore for obstruction. "You try to control the situation," Barber explains, citing a law-enforcement adage.
The arrest took Barber and his partner a few minutes. Lamore kicked and floundered, alternately cursing the cops and laughing, witnesses say. Later he would claim that Barber kicked him and "punched me very hard on the left side of my face." But snapshots taken within hours of the arrest don't appear to show any external damage to Lamore's face. Barber, who bench-presses weights upward of 350 pounds, must be a poor boxer.
Or perhaps the punch didn't happen. Two eyewitnesses, including an investigator with the public defender's office, say it never did. The investigator, like Monfort, happened to be at the junkyard trying to return a faulty radiator.