Love & Loathing

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

Indeed, Holborow's career has been an unimpressive hodgepodge of short stints at police departments and security firms. According to his personnel file, he was asked to leave the NYC Police Department in 1989 after working two years and resigned from the Miami-Dade County Schools Police Department "while being investigated for violating moral character standards." He pleaded guilty to reckless driving in Miami-Dade in the fall of 2002 and shortly after that began working for the Pahokee police.

Love began videotaping Holborow, Peters, and a few others during their shifts, surveillance that quickly grated on the cops. The opening salvo in the war between Love and police came just before midnight on April 17, 2004, when Love began taping Holborow and yelling things like "You're a bad cop!" and "I'm going to get you!" They got into a shoving match at a sandwich shop, and Holborow arrested Love and charged him with battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest with violence, and disorderly conduct.

Love rejected an offer by the State Attorney's Office to drop the charges against his brother if Love would plead guilty to disorderly conduct -- an offer that just reinforced his belief that his half-brother had been used by the police as a pawn. "I ain't pleading guilty to a damned thing I ain't done," Love says. "I don't give a damn if my brother don't get off." (Simmons eventually pleaded guilty to resisting with violence and possession of cocaine.)

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.

Love resumed his campaign while out on bail, showing up once with his video camera while Holborow interviewed a 17-year-old girl. By August, Love had managed to get himself arrested several times and faced more than a dozen charges, ranging from assaulting an officer with a deadly weapon -- Peters says Love tried to hit him with his pickup -- to stalking.

In February, however, Robert Shepherd, an assistant state attorney in Belle Glade, dropped all the charges, though he retained the right to refile them within six months. The move came after numerous discussions between Shepherd and Duran, Sasser, the public defender, and others. "We were attempting to keep peace in the valley -- that's how I'd describe it," Shepherd says. "I didn't want to see a long, hot summer with constant problems of bottle-throwing and everything else in Pahokee. Naive as I may have been, I thought we might have been able to work this out."

Part of Shepherd's reluctance to prosecute, though, was a practical matter. Holborow, always the crux of Love's complaints, had been suspended indefinitely in November 2004 while he was being investigated for sexual misconduct and theft. (The inquiry is still open.)

Duran directed his officers to leave Love alone, to not escalate the animosity between them.

To Love, though, the dismissal of all charges against him and the investigation of Holborow could mean only one thing: He was right about police corruption and abuse of power in Pahokee.

It was a conclusion declared vociferously by Love during commission meetings, and Love's targets were well-aware of his public assertions. The city had to step in, Love told the commission in ominous terms during a meeting on February 22 -- or else. "I'm telling you, there's going to be some killing and there's going to be some shooting, 'cause these polices, they are nothing but thugs, and you all know it," he told them. "And you all still sending them down there and messing with people's children."

Fed up with the turmoil, Sasser declared that something had to be done about the Police Department or "we'll be looking for another city manager."

Three days later, a rookie cop pulled Love over for driving without headlights.

On that fateful February night, Love jumped out of his truck and met face-to-face with Dominick Hachigian, a new hire who didn't recognize Love. By both men's accounts, it began as an almost friendly encounter. After handing him his license, according to Hachigian, who is white, Love said, "I give you this much credit: You have more respect than the rest of them. I don't know where we can go from that, but the problem is when people give you no respect."

Indeed, Hachigian was simply going to give him a citation for a suspended license, then let Love walk home or telephone his girlfriend to drive the truck home. The matter likely would have ended there, but the rookie cop had called for backup, which turned out to be James Levey -- an officer that Duran had specifically directed to lay off Love.

Levey, however, seemed to be spoiling for trouble; he told Love he was arresting him, despite what his fellow officer had said. From this point, Love and the cops' versions of what happened diverge.

Love describes an intentional, anger-driven beating, which began when Levey sucker-punched him with a whack to the shin with a collapsible baton, and he fell face forward. Hachigian then jumped on him and clamped down with a chokehold. Love struggled for breath through his windpipe, tugging at Hachigian's arms. As he tried to crawl under the squad car, Levey pounded him on the side of the face with the butt end of the baton.

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