Bruiser in Blue

Hollywood's "Heavy-handed Joe" is either Cop of the Year or a two-fisted enforcer

The State Attorney's Office dropped the charge against Rains. Dagon pleaded no contest to her attempt to pull away her fiancé from the aggressive Pendergrast.

This incident and the subsequent depositions draw stark contrast to Pendergrast's short but seemingly stellar tenure at the Hollywood Police Department. Six months after the incident with Rains, Pendergrast received Hollywood's top police honor: 2002 Officer of the Year. The same year that Pendergrast allegedly broke Rains' ankle, the graduate of South Broward High saved a woman who was choking on a sandwich while sitting in her car and, in another incident, acquired information that foiled a bank robbery plot.

Pendergrast is an effective cop. Generally, the award is given to more senior law enforcement officers. The young Pendergrast, who joined the force in 1998 after nearly two years as a corrections deputy with the Broward Sheriff's Office, is an exception for his age.

Tom Rains
Tom Rains

But he otherwise appears to fit the mold of Hollywood top cop. The current Officer of the Year, Pete Salvo, has been accused of brutality, sexual battery, and murder. The Hollywood Police Department has a decade-old reputation for brutality, which was cemented by Lt. Jeffrey Marano's Raiders, a black-clad, street-level unit that was accused of malfeasance and civil rights violations before it was finally disbanded in February 1997. In November 2004, a video expert testified before Broward Circuit Judge Michael Gates that Hollywood police doctored a surveillance video used as evidence in a criminal trial. Currently, a wrongful-death lawsuit is pending against the city after 31-year-old Vincent Del'Ostia died following an altercation with police in January 2002. Among those named in that federal lawsuit are Officers Murray and Salvo.

Pendergrast faces court battles as well. Rains, whose only indiscretions have been three offenses in Port St. Lucie for driving on a suspended license, filed a federal lawsuit in June 2004, alleging civil rights violations against the City of Hollywood and Officers Pendergrast, Murray, and Verdugo. Although Rains closed on his $115,000 house three weeks after the alleged beating, he was forced to sell the home two years later. His ankle, which during his December 2004 deposition was "swelled up like a grapefruit," prevented him from holding steady employment. He couldn't keep up with the $1,300 monthly mortgage payment.

Rains' isn't the only lawsuit pending against Pendergrast. Last month, Aubrey Hall, who is serving 15 years for a cocaine conviction, filed a jailhouse lawsuit from Santa Rosa Correctional Institute in Milton, in north Florida. He alleges that Pendergrast beat him after finding the African-American Hall riding his bicycle through a commercial area. "You don't look so fast now, nigger," Hall alleges Pendergrast told him between body blows.

Bradley Winston, a 42-year-old civil attorney with a bald pate and goatee, sits back in a leather chair in his office on Broward Boulevard in Plantation. Behind him is a framed electric guitar signed by the Rolling Stones. Winston took Rains' case on contingency because he believes he can prove that Pendergrast's brutal behavior has been tacitly condoned by police brass.

"In Hollywood, a policy or custom of deliberate indifference to the need to train, supervise, or discipline can be inferred," Winston says.

Rains puts it more bluntly: "Hollywood police are bad. People get pulled over for traffic tickets and get beat up."

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