Your Worst Nightmare

Welcome to Riviera Beach, home of slums, violent crime, a police department in turmoil, political hit lists, union busters, angry ex-wives, junkyard insurrections, and Zedrick Dwayne Barber, South Florida's most-investigated cop

Years later, after a lengthy internal-affairs investigation, scrutiny by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and several hearings, the Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission ruled that Barber had neither used excessive force nor made any false statement regarding the arrest. The commission did reprimand Barber for making a criminal matter out of what probably should have been left a civil dispute. It fell far short of taking away Barber's gun and badge.

But the matter is still far from finished. Lamore, through his attorney Sharpe, is now suing the City of Riviera Beach for negligent hiring and retention. "That's the way to the money," Sharpe explains, in discussing his legal strategy. Part of the strategy involves making Barber look as bad as possible. Voluminous medical records attest to the fact that Sharpe's client does suffer from painful spinal damage, which has already required surgery and may again in the future. Lamore says the spinal damage was incurred during his tussle with Barber, a charge Barber finds laughably improbable. The City of Riviera Beach has declined to settle the lawsuit.

For Sharpe the incident at Barney's Junkyard sums Barber up: an abusive cop prone to violent explosions. In fact, former Police Chief Lorenzo Brooks points out, Barber's many internal-affairs investigations show a distinct paucity of excessive-force complaints. Over the years there have been four, all found to be either unfounded or otherwise not sustained.

What does exist, Brooks notes, is a laundry list of complaints involving verbal altercations with other officers, allegations of domestic violence never clearly proven, and fairly minor infractions that might easily have been handled administratively rather than through the mechanism of internal-affairs investigations.

"Every time he stubbed his toe, there was an internal-affairs investigation," Brooks remembers. "But many of the complaints sustained against him were of a trivial nature, and some shouldn't have been investigated in the first place. When you look at the totality of it, it's nothing that I would call horrendous. It's a lot of little things that, when you pull the string and get to the end, there winds up not being much there at all.

"Anyone looking at that record and not knowing the circumstances would think he shouldn't be a police officer," Brooks adds. "But you have to look at the whole story, the big picture."

Former Assistant Police Chief Charley Napier, now retired, recalls a time in early 1987 when Barber drove a departmental sedan to Tallahassee to attend a training session. While there, he backed out of a parking lot in a sleet storm and managed to pull loose the gas line from the car's undercarriage when he collided with a mailbox.

Barber called his training captain, the assistant chief, and the chief of police. Napier instructed him to repair the gas line. It cost less than $100. Barber says he even tried to report the incident to Tallahassee police; but local police-reporting practices had recently changed, and cops in Tallahassee declined to fritter their time on such trivia. But in July 1988, the auto accident was brought up again as part of an argument for terminating Barber.

Sharpe's dire version of the mishap: "While in Tallahassee for educational training, Barber gets involved in accident with city vehicle (taken without proper authorization) and fails to report the accident to local police or the city...."

On another day, in December 1987, Barber was late to work and driving fast. He says he had his car stereo turned up loud and didn't notice the West Palm Beach cop trying to pull him over until he got to the Riviera Beach police station. It was this particular incident that inspires Sharpe to describe Barber as a "maniac," a flagrant flouter of the law. Another internal-affairs investigation resulted.

While embroiled in a custody battle with his ex-wife, Barber showed up at her house on Mother's Day in 1993. He had with him a collection of gift-wrapped boxes that he wanted to drop off for his kids, this being a family custom. His wife called the police -- three or four times. Various officers from the West Palm Beach police force showed up, including Barber's father, who happened to be on duty. The atmosphere was predictably heated. One officer noted that Barber's former spouse "...was loud, hollering." Why didn't Barber just leave? Two months later an internal-affairs investigator wrote: "Officer Barber says he waited for police so he could give his side [of the story] as well as get a visitation date."

Barber's ex-wife filed a complaint. Another internal-affairs inquiry launched itself, eventually concluding that Barber used poor judgment in showing up in the first place. Barber agrees.

What about Barber's unfortunate stints at HRS and the South County Mental Health Center? Because his personnel records have been sealed, the incidents are open to speculation. In the latter case, Barber says he tussled with a large patient -- after the patient began slapping his own mother. "I don't agree with people slapping their mothers," Barber says. At HRS, as he was about to be rehired at Riviera Beach, Barber claims his supervisor sent him out to the home of an alleged child-abuser -- without bothering to tell him that the man had called the office and threatened to "blow that nigger away with a shotgun if he comes near my house again."

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