Strong Arm of the Law

Hollywood's Police Officer of the Year has been accused of sexual battery, manslaughter, and brutality

Yet the behavior of Salvo and Saladino following the incident appeared to lend some credibility to the allegations of Schapler, who had no criminal record and died two years ago, according to records. During the traffic stop, Salvo never informed the dispatcher of the driver's name or automobile registration information. Upon meeting with his superior that night, Saladino said nothing about a crazy broad dancing naked. What's more, though the statements of Salvo and Saladino were similar, they differed on one important fact: Salvo said Schapler began to dance when they were behind Builder's Square, while Saladino said she danced at the initial traffic stop in the front parking lot.

Still, a grand jury wasn't convinced that the state had a winnable case against the officers. It declined to pursue sexual battery charges.

Allegations of police misconduct have dogged the Hollywood Police Department for more than a decade.
Allegations of police misconduct have dogged the Hollywood Police Department for more than a decade.
Pete Salvo, at far left, and other Hollywood police officers demonstrated against former Chief Rick Stone in September 1998.
Pete Salvo, at far left, and other Hollywood police officers demonstrated against former Chief Rick Stone in September 1998.

David Dehass and Larry Dean Smith were having fun during a late night on April 12, 1993. The two men had recently met through Dehass' brother, and that evening they decided to go out for a few drinks. "We were just riding around," the 33-year-old Dehass said in a statement. They were both drunk.

At 2:18 a.m., Smith's cream-colored 1982 Nissan Stanza passed the 5700 block of Wiley Street. Parked on the corner were two Hollywood police cruisers driven by Officers Pete Salvo and Todd Bradford.

"While we were sitting there talking, we saw a car come by, traveling pretty fast in a northbound direction on 57th Avenue," Bradford remembered. The Stanza's rear taillight was out. The two officers took off in pursuit. The Stanza turned east on Plunkett Street, accelerating. "It appeared that he was trying to get away from us," Bradford recalled. Salvo reacted immediately, gunning the engine of his cruiser. He pulled up close to the Stanza's rear and ignited the bright, pulsating red and blue.

Smith stopped at the corner of Plunkett Street and 56th Avenue, in an industrial area of Hollywood. Salvo approached the driver as Bradford moved toward the passenger side. Both officers drew their weapons.

Salvo arrived first. He began to question Smith. Then Salvo said he noticed something between the passenger seat and the center console. "There's a holster there," Salvo said. "Do you have a gun in the car?"

Bradford pointed his gun at the passenger and ordered him out. Dehass opened the door.

"Where is the gun?" Salvo questioned.

"There is no gun," Smith replied, according to Salvo's report.

And that's when the officer allegedly saw it.

"As [the passenger Dehass] moved, this officer observed a handle of a firearm under his left thigh," Salvo would write. "The firearm was positioned in a way which made it accessible for both the passenger and the driver."

"Keep your hands up," Salvo ordered. Smith began to look around, allegedly dropping his right hand slowly toward the firearm. "Keep your hands up," Salvo ordered again. The driver looked at the officer, continuing to lower his hand.

A shot sounded.

Bradford heard the gunshot, dragged Dehass out of the car, ordered him to the ground, and retreated behind the cruisers. "10-33," he radioed, requesting backup.

Salvo joined him. "I asked Pete what happened," Bradford recalled. "He said the guy went for a gun that was in the seat."

While standing a few feet away, Salvo had fired a bullet that hit the top of the Stanza's driver's-side door, tearing a hole in the metal and plastic before fragmenting into several pieces that pierced Smith's abdomen and chest.

"I don't think Officer Salvo knew if it was a fatal shot," Bradford explained. "I still thought [Smith] was alive 'cause he was moving in the seat and stuff, so my concern was for other units to get there until we could make sure that there wasn't another incident, another shooting."

There wasn't. Smith died soon after arriving at Hollywood Memorial Hospital. An officer collected Salvo's .38-caliber Smith & Wesson as evidence.

The IA investigation led to a state grand jury inquiry. The Broward State Attorney's Office tried to make a case for manslaughter, relying on Dehass' account of the incident. He claimed that he never heard the officers say anything about a gun. Dehass also maintained that his pistol, a nickel-colored, H+R .22-caliber purchased at a pawnshop for $107.50, was secured in its holster and placed at his feet. It was, Dehass said, inaccessible to the driver. Smith was killed in retaliation for being a drunken wise ass, Dehass alleged. "He didn't do what the fuck they said," he explained.

Yet the uniform seemed to protect Salvo once again. The grand jury found on July 7, 1993, that the facts did not support a criminal indictment. In their statement, the jurors said they chose to believe Salvo's story. While noting that Dehass claimed the gun was holstered and inaccessible to the driver, they added that Smith lowered his hand toward the revolver, which justified lethal force.

"There's a certain sympathy extended to the police officer because he is involved in dynamic, unfolding, and often dangerous circumstances," explains Mary Cheh, a law professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. "You don't want to impose hindsight. You want to give the benefit of the doubt to the officer."

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