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By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
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In daylight it's easy to find the massive, two-story, square, white building trimmed in cobalt and gold with its name etched in Flintstones-like letters above the front archway. Kids and adults, playing and exercising, are clearly visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows of both stories of the Palladium Athletic Village in Davie. Imagining the place on the evening of February 17, however, is difficult. The downstairs area, which houses the reception desk, a basketball court, and an indoor soccer field, was filled with fans of house, acid, and ambient music. Kids trod along the faux-slate walkway; flashing lights and hypnotic thumping sounds emanated from the makeshift club.
The event was too successful. Hundreds of patrons showed up, so many that just before midnight the fire marshal declared the place a hazard and shut it down. Off-duty Davie police officers, hired to provide security, surrounded the building and told visitors the party was over. Revelers hung around the parking lot, likely wondering where else they could get their fix of electronica. Just before 1 a.m. Miami attorney Robert Bollinger, dressed in a blue business suit, arrived with several of his friends. Despite the late hour, Bollinger was hoping to meet a potential new client, Alex Omes of Ultra Productions, Inc., who had hosted the fete.
Bollinger didn't expect to end up in jail with a concussion, fractured ribs, and sundry other injuries. And Davie officer Dale Engle probably didn't suspect that he would suffer a broken thumb, which would require a splint, pain medication, hand therapy, and possibly surgery.
Bollinger, who turned 40 years old this month, is five feet, ten inches tall and weighs about 170 pounds. He lives in an $83,000 Miami Beach condo and works for the small Miami law firm of Richard Gendler & Associates, which he joined last year as a real-estate and civil-litigation attorney after closing a solo practice on Las Olas Boulevard. Wearing small glasses and a charcoal-color suit, he doesn't appear to be a guy who would mix it up with a cop. Nor does his record indicate violent tendencies: He's received three traffic tickets and was arrested but not convicted in 1997 for carrying a concealed weapon.
A month after the incident at the Palladium, prosecutors have charged him with trespassing, resisting arrest with violence, and battery on a law-enforcement officer. A lawyer who is convicted of a felony loses his license for five years and must reapply for it after that. "This is a dark cloud hanging over me," says Bollinger.
In Bollinger's version of what happened that night, a friend, Miami bail bondsman and part-time promoter Russell Charles Faibisch, accompanied him; his wife, Melinda Selyem; and a couple of other friends to the Palladium. The attorney says he attended only to meet Omes for business reasons. His suit made him stand out from his casually clad friends and the club kids. "It wasn't my kind of music," Bollinger says. "I like stuff from the '70s."
When the group arrived, Faibisch pointed out Omes, who was standing behind the line of cops. Bollinger contends he told one of the officers (Engle, though Bollinger didn't know the officer's name at the time) that he was an attorney and asked to cross the line to meet a client. According to Bollinger -- and to sworn, notarized affidavits by Bollinger's wife, Faibisch, and three other friends -- Engle responded that he hated attorneys and threatened to arrest Bollinger if he did not leave. (Engle did not return two phone calls from New Times seeking comment.)
"So I turned around, holding my wife's hand, to leave," Bollinger says, pantomiming, "when suddenly [Engle] said, "No. You know what? You're under arrest.'" Then, the lawyer claims, Engle lunged at him from behind, and officers Richard Moore and Matthew Drake joined Engle. The lawyer alleges all three ground his face into the pavement, hit him with their nightsticks, kicked him, and threw him on the hood of a police car, sending the contents of his pockets flying. "I was like a turtle on its back, unable to fight back," he recalls.
The Davie police report, written by Moore during the early morning hours of February 18, recounts the incident differently: Bollinger twice refused to leave the property when asked, then violently resisted arrest. During the struggle Bollinger grabbed Engle's thumb, dislocating and breaking it.
After the arrest Bollinger was taken to jail. "I was so dizzy, I just curled up on the floor and slept," he recalls. His wife picked him up early the following afternoon after his friend Faibisch posted $1500 bond. Bollinger promptly sought medical attention from a clinic. Records state that, in addition to the concussion and broken ribs, he suffered injuries to his trachea and sternum. Color photographs of Bollinger taken after the incident show several scrapes on his face, wrist, and knee. "They really don't look like much," the lawyer admits.
But when he walked into work Monday morning, fellow attorney Juan Berrio, who now represents Bollinger, says he and other coworkers were stunned. "We asked, "What in the world happened to you?'" Berrio recalls. "He was, like, "The Davie police happened to me.'"
Engle, too, sought treatment after the arrest. An emergency room worker popped the officer's dislocated thumb back into its socket; 48 hours later the thumb was swollen and one of its bones fractured, according to a report by Dr. Bruce Berkowitz. "He claims Robert broke his thumb," Berrio says. "I say he did it himself while he was beating Robert."
No firm date has been set for trial. But if the case proceeds that far, a jury is likely to hear about internal-affairs memos that show Bollinger is one of several people who have complained within the last year that Davie's finest were unnecessarily rough. Though police officials dismissed two grievances against Drake and another two against Engle, the case files raise questions about the officers' past conduct.
One complaint against Engle involves Nori Milliken of Davie. According to police records, Engle and his partner, Craig Greer, stopped Milliken's son Jason in the family's driveway on SW 56th Avenue August 6, 2000. (The reason for Jason Milliken's arrest is not listed on an internal memorandum filed by Sgt. Ronald Maresco.) When Jason called for help, his mother ran outside and, police say, grabbed Greer's arm. Engle responded by throwing her on the hood, an act that bruised and scraped her arms, shoulders, and legs, then handcuffing her. After placing the woman in the cruiser, he shackled her feet. She was charged with battery on a police officer. The case is still open.
The day after her arrest, Nori Milliken complained to Maresco that Engle had used excessive force, according the internal memo. A close reading of the document hints that officers intimidated Milliken into dropping her complaint. After Maresco informed her that sworn statements and medical records would be necessary, she stalled, saying she wanted to meet with an attorney. Several weeks later she called back, saying she had decided to proceed, and even gave a sworn statement at the Davie police station. But after internal-affairs investigators argued that her behavior during the arrest had been documented by Greer and Engle, she ended the interview and left the station. Two days later, the memo alleges, Milliken begged police to destroy the records of her complaint. (Neither Milliken nor Maresco returned phone calls seeking comment.)
Drake was the subject of a complaint filed this past December by Boca Raton resident John Marinacci, who was cited for trespassing at a car show in Davie. Marinacci asserted that the officer became angry at him when he did not immediately comply with an order to pick up a beer bottle, then shoved his patrol bicycle into Marinacci, shouted at him, pushed him, and pulled his hands behind his head. Marinacci's written complaint includes the names and phone numbers of five witnesses who he claims would vouch for him. However, Drake and three other officers convinced internal investigators that Marinacci had been "disorderly and profane" while refusing to leave the premises. Thus the Boca man's accusations were "not sustained." (Drake could not be reached for comment before press time.)
This past May 9, Richard Clark, a Police Athletic League coach (and husband of town council member Geri Clark), complained Drake had harassed him after a baseball game. Clark's claim: When he tried to intervene in a situation between Drake and some PAL baseball players, the officer goaded and threatened him. "I thought he was going to shoot me," Clark wrote in a three-page letter describing the incident. Internal investigators, however, said witnesses told them that both Clark and Drake had acted loudly and offensively. Therefore, officials wrote in a memo, Clark's complaint was "not sustained."
The records, as well as the sworn affidavits from Bollinger's friends, attorney Berrio says, suggest a pattern of Davie police officers mistreating citizens: "If they're going to do this to someone who is an attorney and who knows their rights," he says, "what's going to stop them from doing it to a citizen who doesn't know about the law?" Bollinger won't pursue an internal-affairs complaint or civil litigation until his criminal case is finished. "We want to see how this case shakes out," Berrio says. "We don't want to antagonize the cops further."