Beach Beat

When Chris Caulfield got stomped near South Florida's most notorious nightclub, he didn't roll over

Chris walks across the street with a few friends, pulls out his cell phone, and calls Max. "That's him," he tells his father.

"I thought so," Max replies.

Chris is sure this guy is Dreads. Those boots, he believes, broke his nose.

Going after his son's attackers was nothing new for Max Caulfield. He does such things for a living.
Michael McElroy
Going after his son's attackers was nothing new for Max Caulfield. He does such things for a living.

Max calls the police department and tells a dispatcher he has a positive identification on a suspect in an aggravated battery. He gives his location, then watches the suspect. Twenty minutes later the police show up. Max describes the situation to two officers, Jorge Reyes and Joseph Mogavero, who inform Max that, without a detective and case file, they can't make an arrest. So Max makes a suggestion: "Why don't you just turn him upside down and see what falls out?" The officers agree. Reyes and Mogavero calmly walk across the street, past dozens of kids hanging out, and approach the suspect, whom police later identify as 24-year-old Curtis Peele. When Peele sees the officer, he drops three small baggies of marijuana, Reyes later reports.

"Get down on the sidewalk and spread your legs in front of you," Reyes orders.

Peele, with a practiced air of nonchalance, does as he is told without a word. Reyes puts on rubber gloves, digs his hands into Peele's pocket, and pulls out a wallet. Then, as some nearby teens loudly protest the arrest, the officers handcuff Peele and walk him to the patrol car across the street.

Reyes tells Max that he is going to book Peele on a drug-possession charge and forward the information to a detective. Chris, Reyes says, will be asked to come to the station sometime in the next week to identify Peele. When the cops leave with Peele, Max looks at his watch. The time is 1:40 a.m.

"Sixty minutes later it's cleared," he says with a smile. "Hell, it's not like a fuckin' [La Cosa Nostra] member, but it'll do. Did I take matters into my own hands? Was this vigilante bullshit? No. I did what I would have done for any client under the same circumstance."

Now it's time to wait for the police. Again.

Two weeks pass after Peele's arrest with no word from the cops. Chris and his father become more and more impatient. Yet again it seems the case has fallen through the cracks. The case still hasn't been forwarded to a detective, police spokesman Reed says.

Peele, meanwhile, pays a $100 bond and is released hours after his arrest. Neither Reyes nor Mogavero learns Peele's address, which is listed only as "at large" on the arrest report. Reyes writes that he approached Peele "in reference to a follow-up investigation on a battery which occurred on 3/24/01." Reyes's mistaken date (the attack had occurred March 18) angers Max less than the reference to an "investigation."

"I can only think it was my investigation, since the police didn't have one going," he says.

In mid-April Max finally contacts an FBI friend, special agent David Grazer, who works in the Miami office. Grazer contacts the Fort Lauderdale Police Department and complains on Max and Chris's behalf. Det. Mike Hoelbrandt, who handles violent crimes on the beach, suddenly takes an interest in the case. Hoelbrandt says the FBI has nothing to do with his involvement; he has taken the case only because he's heard about Max's complaints.

Hoelbrandt is investigating the battery but doesn't hide his misgivings. The detective intimates that Chris may have provoked the beating, especially since he was smoking marijuana. "When you're putting yourself in a position like that with people you don't know and then you curse at them, I don't know how that would play out with a jury," he says.

Hoelbrandt says he'll forward the case to the State Attorney's Office and let prosecutors decide whether to charge Peele. One major problem: He hasn't been able to find Peele. It's not even known whether Peele is Dreads. "I need to find out what [Peele's] version is," Hoelbrandt says. "I'll give it a week or two and see if I can find him. If I can't find him, I'll forward what I have."

Chris doesn't expect an arrest. And he's angry. "It makes me want to call the cops every time I need help," he says with sarcasm. "It just goes to show that the bad guys always win, one way or the other."

Despite his growing resentment toward the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, Chris says he hasn't stopped dreaming of becoming a police officer. He plans to get his GED and enter the police academy. In the meantime he's not going to stop exploring South Florida and meeting everyone he can: "I'm here on this earth, so why can't I say hi to you? Some people think I'm dumb, that I'm a cracker. But just because we're different, I can't say hi?"

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