By Chris Joseph
By Terrence McCoy
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
Sheriff Ed Bieluch is decked out in full regalia: green uniform topcoat, slacks adorned with an ankle-to-hip gold stripe, white gloves, and a neck scarf. His hat, broad-brimmed and straight, covers most of his short, white hair. Aviator sunglasses obscure his eyes. As he stands before a throng gathered June 7 to dedicate the opening of the Palm Beach County Sheriff Office's District 7 Substation in west unincorporated Boca Raton, Bieluch looks the quintessential lawman -- though from an earlier era.
Bieluch, all six and a half feet of him, towers over the officials beside him. The 60-year-old carries no prepared speech; he instead offers anecdotes from the 1970s, when he first patrolled as a deputy in the county. "Most of you probably haven't lived here that long," Bieluch says to the audience of about 200. "It was a no man's land out here." Interstate 95 ended at Okeechobee Boulevard. Farmland covered the landscape west of Boca Raton, Delray Beach, and Boynton Beach. The few who did live in this generally inhospitable terrain were migrants in labor camps. Those workers, however, were plentiful enough to keep the area's two deputies busy. Nightlife in the camps involved boozing and gambling, which routinely ended in brawling.
After one particular fight, Bieluch recalls for the crowd, the two deputies arrested six men and were then faced with the predicament of transporting them all in one car to the station house. They succeeded in cramming five into the back seat; the sixth climbed into the trunk at their behest. In the hubbub of booking the men later, the deputies forgot the trunked captive, whose plaintive thumping was eventually heard by a deputy from a new shift. "They let him go," Bieluch recounts. "They probably figured he'd done his time. There were no lawsuits, no claims of civil liberties violations." He pauses. "We've come a long way."
Given the number of lawsuits Bieluch's department has weathered since he took office January 2, 2001, the sheriff might just yearn for those less-litigious days. He clearly has one leg planted firmly in the past while the other steps into the complex reality of what the department has become. The sheriff's office employs almost 3000 men and women, more than 1000 of whom are sworn officers. It's among the ten largest departments in the country, operating on an annual budget of close to a quarter billion dollars. After Bieluch's election in November 2000, many considered him the man who would finally modernize the department by setting professional standards in hiring and promoting. Scores within the department thought that the previous sheriff, Republican Robert Neumann, was imperious and lacked an understanding of deputies' work. Bieluch, a quiet and hard-working former captain who ran as a Democrat, seemed to be Neumann's opposite: He was a soldier's soldier.
Few had more to gain from Bieluch's election than his campaign manager, Ken Eggleston, whose ambitions included professionalizing the department and, eventually, becoming sheriff. Monte Friedkin, chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party, also labored mightily to snatch the sheriff's office away from Republican control.
Today, Eggleston and Friedkin aren't even on speaking terms with Bieluch.
"He's just double-crossed everybody," Friedkin laments, "and there's nothing I can do about it."
"The sheriff never made the transition from watch commander -- that's the ceiling he hit," Eggleston asserts.
The fracture shines a light on the ugly side of mixing raw, partisan politics with an agency whose primary mission is patrolling the streets and guarding the jails. Upon taking office, Bieluch approved a flurry of transfers and promotions that smacked of the very favoritism he'd campaigned against. Thirteen of those whom Bieluch tried to fire or demote have filed suit against the sheriff's office -- actions that have cost the department no less than $200,000 in settlements and legal fees, with two cases still pending.
Indeed, Eggleston, who had risen only to sergeant before leaving the department in 1999, found himself elevated to second in command and being groomed for a run at the sheriff's seat in 2004. A dispute between Bieluch and Eggleston, however, closed the door on the young man's aspirations for the top-cop spot. Undaunted, Eggleston used the latitude of his position to seek a greater prize: the U.S. Congress. As Bieluch consolidated his power within the department, however, Friedkin claims Eggleston's ambition became a threat -- and not just as heir apparent to the sheriff's seat. Bieluch had developed ties with U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, whom Eggleston was positioning himself to challenge in November.
Bieluch didn't hesitate to sic the agency's internal affairs investigators on Eggleston and his nascent campaign. Over Eggleston's protests that the inquiry should have been conducted by an outside agency, Bieluch tossed him out of the department a year and a half after the protégé had helped him take office.
Last week, Eggleston announced that he was dropping out of the race for Congress and would concentrate on family and "clearing my name" -- by filing a lawsuit against Bieluch for interfering with his campaign. Having experienced both the upside and the downside of Bieluch's penchant for cronyism, he maintains that the sheriff's capricious ways have damaged far more than his own political aspirations.
"He promised the citizens of Palm Beach County professional law enforcement," he declares. "Instead, he has become enamored with himself, and he has truly forgotten his fiduciary and public duties to the taxpayers."
Eggleston launched his campaign from offices a couple of miles west of I-95 on Okeechobee Road that offered the makeshift décor of any transitory headquarters. From here, he had hoped to unseat Foley, a Republican now serving his fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. On an afternoon in late May, Democratic banners touting Eggleston, County Commissioner Carol Roberts, and Janet Reno dotted the walls and windows of the strip-mall suite. Reams of paper covered a jumble of outdated desks, in no discernible order. Eggleston worked out of a cubby of an office, which basically consisted of his chair and desk and one other chair tucked very, very close to him. This array was likely the result of conscious design as much as exigencies: Eggleston loves to talk, and he wants you close when he's doing so.
That day, Eggleston wore a bright-blue polo shirt that was snug enough to suggest sizable pecs. The 36-year-old keeps his black hair short and crisply combed. His closely set eyes add intensity to his gaze. When you're in Eggleston's personal space -- such as in that chair beside his desk -- he overwhelms you with his physical presence and his zeal for exposition. Bieluch puts a less flattering spin on Eggleston's gift for gab: "I've often told him that he missed his calling," the sheriff testified at an internal affairs investigation in April. "He should have been a used-car salesman, because he has the ability to turn things around." Indeed, Eggleston possesses unflagging confidence that, just given the chance, he can bring anyone around to his point of view.
Raised in Fort Lauderdale, Eggleston attended the Broward County Police Academy in Davie and earned an associate degree in criminal justice at Broward Community College. The law-enforcement career that followed is filled with as much conflict as accomplishment. The Deerfield Beach Police Department hired him in 1987, but he was fired in 1989 for allegedly urinating in a cup for a fellow recruit to beat a drug test. He hired an attorney; in 1992, the city manager concluded that Eggleston had done nothing wrong and reinstated him. In the meantime, he had joined the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office in September 1989. While working as a patrolman, he attended classes at Barry University in Miami Shores and received a bachelor's degree in public administration. With an eye toward moving up in rank, he attended the command school at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.
In annual evaluations, Eggleston's supervisors at the sheriff's office consistently praised his communication skills and problem-solving ability. The biggest criticism was for being unshaven too often during his first year. Eggleston's allegiance to superiors, however, was not blind, and he has never hesitated to protect his interests. Shortly after beginning work in the Delray Beach district, he composed a petition that outlined a pattern of discrimination and retaliation by the district lieutenant, Ralph McCotter. Two sergeants and 14 deputies signed it, and Eggleston submitted it to then-Sheriff Richard Wille. McCotter was transferred. Eggleston was subsequently passed over for promotion, despite scoring highly on a written exam. In response, he filed a whistle-blower lawsuit alleging that he was being punished for writing the petition. That lawsuit and another relating to the same issues weren't resolved for seven years.
Eggleston first met Bieluch when he became night commander of the Delray district in 1992. Good-ol'-boyism was rife among the older officers at that time, Eggleston recalls, but Bieluch seemed different, despite his tenure level. "He seemed more progressive," Eggleston says. "We got along well."
New Times requested an interview with Bieluch to discuss his relationship with Eggleston and other personnel issues. Diane Carhart, the agency's spokeswoman, said there was no time in Bieluch's schedule for it.
In 1996, Bieluch asked Eggleston to help campaign for Jim FitzGerald, police chief of Palm Beach Gardens, who was running against incumbent Sheriff Charles McCutcheon in the Democratic primary. The two ran the campaign in the southern part of the county. FitzGerald had promised Bieluch a prominent position in the administration if he won, Eggleston says. FitzGerald lost in a close vote. Republican Neumann defeated McCutcheon that fall. Bieluch and Eggleston continued to work together in Delray Beach until the latter transferred to the community policing unit in 1998.
As a brash young sergeant, Eggleston frequently clashed with certain senior officers in the department. "I was a change agent," he explains. "I'd engage the administration in what I perceived to be healthy discussion." The perception of some superiors, however, differed. Despite Eggleston's high score on a test for would-be lieutenants, Neumann skipped over promoting him. In the meantime, Eggleston and his wife had been building a business distributing a nutritional supplement called Advocare. In the wake of its success -- the business brought in almost a quarter of a million dollars in 1999, he claims -- Eggleston resigned from the force in September 1999. His ongoing lawsuits were settled as part of his resignation. The move also gave him more time to spend with his wife, Jacqueline, and sons, Sean and Shane. Sean, now 11 years old, is autistic; Eggleston attributes his son's condition to vaccinations the boy received at 22 months of age.
Neumann promoted Bieluch to captain in January 1998 -- but with the caveat that he work on getting an associate's degree, according to Eggleston. Bieluch made an attempt at college but later argued with the administration that being a captain and attending classes was too grueling a schedule. As a result, he retired from the force in January 2000.
With the 2000 elections about a year away, one incumbent was thoroughly and painfully stuck in Monte Friedkin's craw: Neumann. The Democratic leader believed that Republicans were getting too much leverage out of holding that office. "One of the problems we had was the sheriff running the Republican Party out of the sheriff's office," Friedkin bristles. "He had staff literally doing work for the Republican Party and for Jeb and George Bush. I was incensed at the whole thing. I decided I was going after Neumann." No likely candidate, however, was in the stable.
Many employees in the sheriff's office had also come to the conclusion that Neumann had to go, but not for partisan reasons. Neumann had used the office as entrée into state-level politicking and had shown, in general, a lack of interest in sheriffhood. Ernie George, president of the Police Benevolent Association, which represents more than 800 employees in the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, recalls that on disciplinary matters, Neumann was both capricious and inflexible. "Neumann would never listen to anybody else," George says. New Times left a request for an interview with Neumann's spokeswoman; Neumann did not respond.
In late 1999, Eggleston, by then a civilian, and a cadre of uniformed officers -- including Ed Bieluch -- drove to Friedkin's office to offer Bieluch as a contender. "They said, 'We've got a problem. We've got 2700 employees in the sheriff's office, and 2500 of them hate Neumann. He's destroyed the sheriff's office.' They pleaded with me to get Bieluch elected." So universal had disdain for Neumann grown among workers, Friedkin asserts, that many Democrats in the agency planned to register as Republicans to vote for Neumann's primary opponent, Fred Mascaro.
That day in Friedkin's office, Bieluch explained his position. Friedkin recounts the conversation thus: "Essentially, he said, 'I want you to know that I have a place in North Carolina. I've been in the sheriff's department for 27 years; my wife's been here 25 years. We're both retiring and moving. These guys have come to me and convinced me to run for sheriff. I've decided that after listening to them, I'm willing to give four years of my retirement to be sheriff.'" And after four years? Friedkin asked. Bieluch replied, "'I'm going to North Carolina, put my feet up on the stool and retire. I'm doing this for one term.'" And then? the party boss pressed. "'It's very simple,'" Bieluch summed up. "'Ken Eggleston is going to be my undersheriff,'" Bieluch announced. "'Four years from now, he'll be the new sheriff in this county, and you'll be in good shape for a long time.'" Friedkin threw his lot in with the Bieluch supporters.
Mindful of the previous campaign they worked on, Bieluch had approached Eggleston about managing his bid for the sheriff's seat. "I believed 100 percent in Ed Bieluch when I came onboard to help him win that race," Eggleston says. "He committed to me that we would move forward with professionalizing the agency. That was my key interest. At that time, he committed to me that I would be part of his command staff. He told me that I would be number two."
Eggleston says the campaign's inside circle recognized that Bieluch had several weaknesses going up against Neumann. "First, he couldn't speak publicly. Second, he didn't have any strong administrative abilities and lacked a formal education. And we were up against a very viable candidate who was articulate, poised, and an excellent public speaker." Eggleston had at one time supported Neumann but had become disillusioned with him. "Neumann had a lot of good ideas and promised professionalism. But he got involved in too many things on the governor's level. He lost interest in the day-to-day operations of the department, and it suffered. Our pitch to voters was: Return a law enforcement officer to a command position."
Eggleston rejects the suggestion that he was setting himself up as a puppet master. "I had loyalty to him," he declares. "My strengths are in administration and running numbers. He would be the policymaker, pointing direction. We believed in his vision."
Bieluch won by more than 55,000 votes, garnering the strongest support in the western unincorporated areas he had once patrolled.
The post-election transition was, by almost all accounts, ugly. An orgy of ill will, threats, promotions, transfers, demotions, and terminations ensued -- some of which resulted in litigation that persists 18 months later.
Glen Bassett now practices law in Riviera Beach, specializing in employment issues. It was for that expertise that PBSO hired him in August 1998 as in-house employment counsel. Bassett was living in Tampa and wasn't familiar with the county or the sheriff but had seen an ad for the position. He accepted the job and presumed it would be long-term.
Bassett, now 48 years old, is slim and wears large, thin, wire-rimmed glasses beneath his balding pate. His voice remains calm even when describing highly charged events that led to his termination. Bassett actively supported Neumann for reelection, attending campaign meetings, waving signs on street corners, wearing Neumann T-shirts. "Having worked with him, I'd seen the decisions he made and how he dealt with problems," Bassett explains. "I knew his record, experience, education. I was fairly familiar with the records and education of people running against him. To me, it was an easy choice."
Neumann supporters were "downcast" the day after the election in November 2000, he recalls. Bieluch chose Capt. Jack Maxwell to head the transition team. "I thought that the new sheriff could make my life miserable, but he can't fire me, not without cause," Bassett recalls. "I figured even under a new sheriff, I'd do my job and be supportive of whatever decisions he makes."
Bassett's assumption, however, was quickly challenged when he learned that the new administration planned to demote seven lieutenants -- Christopher Calloway, James Durr, Edward Jablonski, Thomas Neighbors, Rob Hawkins, Rolando Silva, and Ken Thomas. All but Ken Thomas had openly supported Neumann during the campaign. Bassett reviewed the state law and internal policies regarding demotions, concluded that demoting the seven was inadvisable, and wrote up a memo on December 13 for his superiors outlining the reasons. "I wrote, 'Here's what I see as potential problems for the agency,'" Bassett explains. "It wasn't really written to protect the lieutenants. I was concerned this would lead to litigation. I still considered myself a long-time employee and thought this might be litigation I might have to defend." Indeed, the seven filed a lawsuit in federal court in February 2001, claiming that the demotions were without cause and violated their free-speech rights. A federal judge dismissed the case in September 2001, ruling that sheriffs can fire employees for political reasons. The case is pending appeal in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The plaintiffs' attorney, Susan Dolin, declined to discuss the case.
Several days after submitting the memo, Bassett was summoned to the sheriff's office, where he was told he would not be "reappointed." Without apparent bitterness, Bassett now chuckles about the word choice. "I said, 'That's fine, because I wasn't appointed in the first place. I was hired.'" Bassett maintained that under the state's Career Service Act, he could be terminated only for cause; the new administration claimed he was a political appointee. Along with Bassett, the sheriff fired four others: Paul Miller, department spokesman; Mike Wright, assistant director of uniform services; Frank DeMario, chief of internal affairs; and Daniel McBride, head of training. The five men filed suit in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, claiming they were illegally terminated.
These dismissals were among the most visible, but other personnel changes baffled the inner circle. Ken Eggleston says Maxwell's appointment to lead the transition was a shock to him. "He wasn't even involved in the campaign," he says. Friedkin recalls with dismay Bieluch's other plans for Maxwell. "Essentially 24 hours after the election, I got a phone call from someone who said, 'You need to get hold of Bieluch, because he's going to double-cross Ken,'" Friedkin says. Bieluch planned to make Maxwell his permanent second in command by resurrecting the position of undersheriff, which Neumann had eliminated. The move was a stunning about-face because Eggleston had been promised the job. Incredulous, Friedkin called the sheriff and asked why. Recalls Friedkin: "[Bieluch] said, 'Well, I don't know. [Eggleston is] a young kid. I don't know if he's ready. The other guy's got more experience.'" Friedkin pressed him, saying, "A deal is a deal." Others joined Friedkin, and Bieluch relented. Eggleston became undersheriff at a starting salary of $112,332 -- more than twice what he had earned as a sergeant a year before.
Maxwell, however, had managed to make some trouble during his brief stint in power, according to an internal affairs investigation and civil lawsuit filed against him by five high-ranking officers. Maxwell had apparently chafed under the leadership of the previous sheriff and had branded certain officers "Neumannites." According to the civil complaint, a day after Bieluch was elected, Maxwell told Capt. Alfred Musco, "All you Newmannite [sic] cock-suckers will pay for the three and a half years of shit I had to eat. You're looking at the Under Sheriff." Maxwell was obsessed with keeping certain officers from talking directly to Bieluch. In one instance, the complaint states, Maxwell told William Kenny, a manager in the internal affairs department, "There is a chain of command. Any motherfucker that goes around me, I'll cut their motherfucking legs off."
The internal affairs investigation in May 2001 concluded that Maxwell had harassed and intimidated personnel. No disciplinary action was taken against him, however; he took family medical leave until he retired in August 2001. The civil suit against him is still pending.
"He was Bieluch's buddy, and he let him off the hook with early retirement," Friedkin claims.
Bassett questions the wisdom of the sweeping changes. "As an employment lawyer, I would not have advised them to take dozens of actions they took at the beginning of the administration based on principles of employment law," he says. "Frankly, if you want to revamp the sheriff's office in a new image, there are ways [Bieluch] could do that legally."
Eggleston is also critical of many of the personnel decisions made by Bieluch and Maxwell. For the record, however, Eggleston still considers Bassett to have been a Neumann political appointee. "In the first 30 days, the Bieluch administration made so many mistakes -- out-of-control promotions, transfers," he says. "There were 135 transfers, promotions, and changes in pay grade made on January 2, 2001, when the sheriff officially took over." Such massive shifting had never occurred before, he contends.
What galled Eggleston above all, however, was the promotion of the sheriff's good friend Dan Smith from corporal in the bicycle unit to major in charge of the special operations division on December 27. His annual salary jumped from $42,672 to $83,424. "When that promotion occurred, it was the first sign that we were not going to do things in a professional way," Eggleston says. "Majors control budgets of $30 million to $60 million. [Bieluch] promoted someone who had never pursued any formal education, held any supervisory level, or taken any supervisory exam, or ever showed an interest in doing so. He hadn't even taken a sergeant's exam. After something like that, how do you explain that you're building a department on professional standards and ability?"
Attorneys for Bassett and the other four men tried in vain to discover the basis of Bieluch's personnel changes when they deposed him on March 12, 2001. The sheriff comes off as having virtual amnesia about decisions made just three months earlier. For example, when asked whether he'd considered firing Bassett before being elected, Bieluch responded, "It's a possibility that I had that in mind. I'm not sure." When he told the attorneys that he "probably" had come up with the idea of firing Miller, he was pressed on the qualifier. He answered, "Well, because it was probably me. It probably wasn't anybody else. I don't know. I don't remember." Bieluch had suspended the promotions policy when he took control, and the attorneys asked whether he'd shelved any other policies. "You know, I believe we have, but I don't recall which ones," he replied.
The lawsuit was settled January 31, 2002. Although the parties are barred from discussing the settlement, the agency clearly was trying to cut its losses. The sheriff's department paid DeMario $25,000, McBride $35,000, Miller $40,000, Wright $25,000, and Bassett $45,000. The agency paid their attorneys a total of $27,500. All except Bassett were rehired.
The working relationship between Bieluch and Eggleston smoothed somewhat after the first few months -- primarily, Eggleston maintains, because Bieluch was often away, either attending conventions or patrolling in a squad car. He contends that the sheriff never even read the budget submitted to the County Commission last year.
"What I tried to do as second in command was take his arbitrary positions and say, 'Let's try to fix it this way, that way,'" he explains. Their relationship deteriorated in August after Eggleston requested Smith's demotion. He recalls: "I walked right in and said, 'Major Smith cannot do his job. It's not his fault. He's never had training.' I suggested he be demoted to a lieutenant and put him under a strong captain to teach him his job."
Union leaders say members have had fewer complaints about Bieluch than about Neumann. "Neumann just cared what the public thought about him; I believe Bieluch cares more about what his employees think," says David Moore, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #50, which represents about 700 corrections employees in the county. "He's done things that a lot of people aren't happy about, but we have too many employees to make everybody happy." The perception exists, however, that promotions are more arbitrary now than they were under Neumann, George says of the Police Benevolent Association. "It's even more 'who you know' to get promoted than whether you're qualified," he adds.
The aftermath of 9/11 occupied much of Eggleston's time in the fall, and by November 2001, he rarely talked one-on-one with Bieluch. Democratic Party leaders, however, were very much interested in the undersheriff, whose bona fides in law enforcement made him an attractive congressional candidate for 2002 in a country with a heightened interest in security.
Regardless of Bieluch's supposed declaration in 1999 about serving only one four-year term, he seems to have had a change of heart sometime after getting elected. Friedkin contends it didn't take long. "I think Bieluch came back from one of his trips after four months and basically concluded that he'd like to be sheriff for more than four years," he says. "He had payroll remorse."
As Bieluch's intent became clear, Eggleston's interest in the congressional race waxed. As it turned out, that objective was fraught with its own hazards.
The first tremors of the quake that would lead to Eggleston's dismissal arose on February 1 of this year, when Bieluch asked the undersheriff to report to his office. They later recounted the meeting in sworn testimony given during the sheriff's office internal investigation of Eggleston's campaign activity.
"We sat down at the table," Bieluch testified. "Without making any small talk, I told him that for a long period of time, I'd lost complete trust in him and his decision-making. I had no faith in him. I asked for his immediate resignation. Needless to say, he wasn't happy with that. We talked about it a little bit. He did most of the talking. I refused to get into that type of discussion with [him], because he just won't give up. He's very strong-willed, and he has quite a gift of gab."
"When I asked him for reasons," Eggleston testified, "he just moved his eyes around the room and shuffled in his seat. I said... 'Give me an instance where I have not done my job,' and he couldn't provide one."
Eggleston continued: "While I'm at this meeting, I'm looking at Mark Foley's picture sitting off to the side of the sheriff's desk. It puts me in an interesting scenario. I asked him point-blank why he wasn't supportive of my run for Congress. He said, 'I think Mark's a nice guy.'"
Eggleston, however, refused to resign and pitched instead the idea that he step down from the undersheriff position and be demoted to a captain and a district commander. The sheriff pondered the plan during lunch. "I came back that afternoon and said we would try it with some pretty strong directions that he would have to abide by," Bieluch testified. "The first was that he was absolutely not allowed to campaign on duty, that he was to take leave time when campaigning during his normal workday." He also said he'd told Eggleston that he couldn't campaign while on duty or in uniform and could not use agency e-mail and cell phones.
The press statement released that day by the sheriff betrayed none of the ill will in that meeting. The release noted that "being undersheriff was too demanding to enable [Eggleston] to also wage a vigorous campaign." It continued, "I have encouraged Ken to run and offered my support." Eggleston agreed to a pay cut of roughly $27,000 per year.
Both men claim they wanted the demotion and campaign restrictions in writing. Both blame the other for not doing so. "He really wasn't happy being pinned down to specific things," Bieluch testified. "I think Ken likes to live in a world of ambiguous, cloudy things."
Eggleston testified that he'd asked the sheriff to "give it to me in writing. Give it to me point by point by point so I don't step outside the boundaries."
According to Bieluch, Eggleston stepped out of those boundaries on April 10, when he drove to Saint Lucie County to meet with Sheriff Kenneth Mascara using an agency car while in uniform. Eggleston testified later that the purpose of the trip was to be "introduced to people in the community" in regard to "pursuing a congressional campaign." He added: "It wasn't a campaigning event." He claimed that captains had the freedom to drive their cars outside the county and did not need to ask permission to do so.
A reporter from the Palm Beach Post learned of Eggleston's trip and called Carhart, the agency's media relations director, for more information. Carhart informed Bieluch, who was in New York at the time. Bieluch returned to Palm Beach County on April 13, a Saturday, and on Monday, he requested an internal affairs investigation of Eggleston's trip. He placed the captain on administrative leave with pay.
During his nearly two-hour deposition for investigators, Eggleston displayed a Clintonian ability at parsing questions thrown at him. For example, when asked whether Bieluch had told him he could not campaign while on duty, Eggleston responded, "Technically, as a district commander, we're on duty 24-7." Despite being asked a half dozen times what his "normal duty hours" were, he insisted that such a designation wasn't apt for captains. (His time card, however, listed his regular duty hours as 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.) At one point, he dismissed the questioner, a sergeant, by telling her, "[Y]ou wouldn't understand how things are operated in the real world of law enforcement or in the real world of a commander." Eggleston repeatedly pointed out that he, Bieluch, and other high-ranking officers appeared in uniform at events for purely political purposes. Thus, he claimed, the sheriff was a hypocrite to discipline him now.
The final investigative report, dated May 7, concluded that Eggleston had violated a direct order by campaigning in uniform and had publicly criticized the agency's policies. Bieluch fired him May 8.
Eggleston says he had asked that the inquiry be conducted by the West Palm Beach Police Department or Broward Sheriff's Office but was denied that. He contends that an impartial investigation could not be done internally. Further, the violations were not severe enough to justify termination, he insists.
Eggleston dropped out of the race on June 13, the same day he filed suit in federal court against Bieluch. "Family considerations were number one," Eggleston says of the aborted run. His son Sean, whose cognitive level is roughly that of a three-year-old's, requires constant attention, he says.
Second is the lawsuit. "I have to clear my name, and this type of litigation costs money," he says. In his suit, Eggleston contends that Bieluch violated his rights to free speech and campaigning when the sheriff ordered him not to identify himself as a law-enforcement officer during administrative leave in April and May. He also asserts that Bieluch retaliated against the undersheriff's criticisms, such as baseless promotions, special treatment of friends, and purchase of high-priced items without seeking bids. The suit also names a half-dozen other PBSO officers who were accused of criminal or immoral behavior in the past but kept their jobs.
Friedkin bristles over what he considers the sheriff's betrayal of the party that helped him gain office. "Bieluch clearly made a deal with Foley," Friedkin declares. "Bieluch committed himself to get Ken out of the race and keep him from running against Foley."
Carhart says Bieluch was neutral about the Foley/Eggleston race. As for reelection, Bieluch has every intention of running -- and as a Democrat, she says.
That road, however, might be bumpy.
"At the end of the day, the Democrats in this county will take him out as fast as they put him in," Friedkin declares. "He will not get a free ride in 2004 -- I don't care if he stands on his head. He has really hurt himself among the Democratic community because of what he's done to Ken. I'll do everything in my power to help whoever's running against him."
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