Love & Loathing

A routine traffic stop led to Pahokee's own Rodney King incident. Too bad there was no videotape.

Sasser and Love were part of a citizens group that went out and found candidates to run against the sitting commission. Sasser ran and narrowly lost a commission race in 2001 and was preparing to do so again in 2002 when the group's candidate for mayor dropped out of the race for health reasons. Love insisted that Sasser run, and with both of them rounding up voters from their own neighborhoods, he won.

"The good ol' boy network was very upset," Sasser maintains. "That's the group that basically was pushing their own personal agenda and profiting by it at the expense of the city and the rest of the citizens. We turned the financial situation around by putting the money in the bank instead of in people's pockets."

It was not an easy transition for many, regardless of race. (The current commission consists of two white men, two black men, and one black woman.) "When change started coming, they screamed," Love says of the faction he calls "black panthers."

Pam Shavalier
Robert Love stands beside the street where he was beaten by Pahokee police this winter, the climax of a yearlong feud.
Colby Katz
Robert Love stands beside the street where he was beaten by Pahokee police this winter, the climax of a yearlong feud.

"They said the white folks gonna take this, take that. I said, yeah, Sasser's a white mayor, but what do I need a black mayor who's not doing the city any good?" When they attacked him for "working for a white man," he'd answer, "No, I'm working for the right man."

Love's political influence isn't limited to Pahokee; he convinced County Commissioner Tony Masilotti to pony up $250,000 in county funds to build a children's water park in Pahokee. The city will name the park after Love.

Duran came on board as chief in August 2003, shortly before the City Commission hired Lillie Latimore to replace Finizio as city manager. A 58-year-old business consultant and former assistant to the city manager in Miami, Latimore was the first black and first woman to be hired for the position.

Capable of a steely stare from behind her gold-rimmed glasses, she had a no-nonsense reputation. Duran reported directly to Latimore, and the two immediately clashed. "In Pahokee's form of government, a police chief is a department head," Latimore explains in her understated manner. "Chief Duran came from an elected department, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, and they did things differently."

Part of their conflict arose from Duran's directive to officers to crack down on petty crimes. "I told my officers that if you see people gambling out there, you need to do something about it," Duran says. "If you see them drinking, open container, you need to do something about it. If you see them selling drugs, you need to do something about it."

As the police presence grew, so did citizen complaints of harassment. Latimore intervened in some cases. Duran got the message to cool it from commissioners and other townspeople in subtle ways, he says. "'Pahokee's always been like this,'" they'd say. 'It's a way of life. So what's wrong if we mosey around the streets with an open container?'"

In the wake of such hyperpolicing, it didn't take long for law enforcement to snag Robert Love. He'd been driving with a suspended license because of unpaid child support in North Carolina -- a delinquency he'd corrected without bothering to inform the Florida DMV. After several warnings to Love about his suspended license, Duran says, he told his officers, "You see him, you nail him."

On Easter weekend in April 2004, Love received several tickets for suspended license from Lyndean Peters, an imposing, 250-pound, doughy-faced white cop with a thin mustache. He'd left the Belle Glade Police Department in 2003 while being investigated for "violating moral character standards," according to his personnel file.

"From that point on, [Love] was against the cops," Duran says. "He'd antagonize you. After football games, he'd see us, lower his window, and give us the finger and yell, 'Pussy-ass cracker motherfuckers!'"

Love's jihad against the cops, however, wasn't sparked by narrow self-interest, he insists. A growing number of Rardin residents were getting fed up with the new, aggressive policing. "I had people at my house every week, from girls to 60-year-old people, sayin' what the police is doing to them," Love says. "How the police come to their house and show no respect for them. The chief couldn't do nothin' with 'em!"

Latimore says she cajoled Duran to find a community-relations role for Love involving the Police Department. "He'd been active in the community, and he wanted to remain that way," she says, adding that it was Love's way of "being made whole by being a part of something bigger." Asked about Duran's reaction to her suggestion, she says, "The chief rarely reacted to anything."

The breaking point for Love came in January 2004, when Sgt. Lawrence Holborow Maced and arrested Love's half-brother, Christopher Simmons, who was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest with violence, possession of cocaine with intent to sell, disorderly conduct, and obstruction of justice. Love contended that the charges against his brother were bogus.

Nicknamed "New York" for his frequent boasts of working as a cop in the Big Apple, Holborow possessed the same beefy frame as Peters and, at 40, was one year his senior. Holborow was a holdover from the Frechette days, and Love considered him to be the root of all evil in the Police Department, a bad cop whose attitude rubbed off on the new hires.

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