Hollywood's Finest

After even a police chief called them unfit, these officers continue to patrol Hollywood's streets

Officer Dwayne Chung, who was hired despite admitting on a polygraph to poaching deer and stealing items from cars, is currently being sued for negligence and false arrest by Hollywood resident Donovan Gordon. On June 16, 2002, Chung, working an off-duty security detail at Ginger Bay Cafe at 1908 Hollywood Blvd., allegedly assaulted and arrested Gordon after an argument between him and the bartender over $10, the lawsuit charges. As a result of the incident, Gordon claims he "has fears of crowds and being in social gatherings."

Narcotics Detective James Callari -- whose mother worked for the Hollywood Police Department and who, though deemed psychologically fit for duty, was hired over more qualified applicants, according to Hansen -- was one of two officers who arrested Hallandale Beach resident Valarie Curry on a charge of trafficking in cocaine in 2000. Last year, Curry's conviction was overturned unanimously by the Fourth District Court of Appeal (see "Entrapped," February 3), which ruled that the cops' tactics "rose to the level of egregious." In December 2004, Curry notified the city of her intent to sue.

Among the reasons that Hollywood remains an unruly police agency is that the Broward Police Benevolent Association, led in part by Lt. Jeffrey Marano, has for more than a decade held a firm grasp on power. Marano was the defendant in a case that is likely to cost city taxpayers $225,000 for the wrongful strip-search and interrogation of 19-year-old Dwight Edman in 1996. Marano's influential police union was partially responsible for ousting Chief Witt and his successor, Rick Stone, after both tried to clean up the force. (Stone has sued the PBA for pushing him out. That case is pending.)

Officer Vinicio Perez has faced criminal charges three times.
Miami Herald
Officer Vinicio Perez has faced criminal charges three times.
Officer Brian Joynt tested positive  for drug use in 2000.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Officer Brian Joynt tested positive for drug use in 2000.

Although police and city officials have long maintained that the hiring scandal was a result of efforts to recruit minority officers (12 of the 30 officers who remain are not minorities), Witt and his attorney alleged to a jury earlier this year that most of the hires were brought in as union loyalists in an attempt to consolidate PBA power within the department. When the scandal hit the headlines ten years ago, the union fought to protect many of the tarnished officers' jobs.

Mayor Giulianti asserts that city staff never told her about the problems uncovered by New Times. "I would always prefer that individuals who are not performing their jobs at an appropriate level would leave our employ," Giulianti says. But she adds that the city needs "grounds to terminate an employee... that would hold up legally." She adds that she and other city officials aren't to blame. Rather, the fault lies with former Chief Witt: "It is because of his lack of oversight and control of the Hollywood Police Department that these things occurred. I have been told that no Hollywood police chief has ever catered to the union leadership as much as he did -- often giving up his authority to make decisions that needed to be his, as their leader. Perhaps we are still paying the price."

The New Times investigation of lawmen hired during the scandal identified three officers whose conduct on and off duty has contributed to that price. Meet three of Hollywood's finest:

CHRISTINA RODRIQUEZ

At 4:40 a.m. on August 14, 2004, Jackie Elder, a stout, 55-year-old man with thinning white hair, was driving his Publix tractor-trailer north in the center lane of Interstate 95. Just as he passed the Sheridan Street exit, a green 2003 Nissan Altima driven by Hollywood police Detective Christina Rodriguez moved rapidly to the left lane and began to pass.

But the 34-year-old Rodriguez pulled too far to the left. Her car slid onto a rough patch of road near the concrete barrier separating north and southbound traffic. She quickly turned the wheel to the right and overcorrected. The car spun out of control.

"I was just driving down the interstate, my hands up on the big wheel like this," Elder recalls, sitting shirtless on a couch at his modest home near U.S. 441 in Fort Lauderdale. "Then all of a sudden, I see this car smash right into my truck."

The Nissan hit the front of the truck's driver side, pulling the larger vehicle to the left and toward the median. Elder slammed on his brakes. The Nissan -- which had been rented by the city for undercover work -- dislodged, spinning to a halt in the left lane.

The enormous weight of the semi and its haul of groceries prevented Elder from stopping. His truck smashed through the interstate's concrete barrier, spraying debris into oncoming traffic and finally stopping only feet before colliding with southbound cars.

Dazed, the truck driver took off his seat belt and stumbled out of the cab. "I hadn't walked more than ten feet, and then boom!" Elder recalls. The tractor-trailer went up in a fireball.

The accident should have come as no surprise to police brass. Before being hired by the department in May 1994, Rodriguez had been charged with reckless driving after she flipped a school van in Davie filled with 13 children ages 6 to 10. She served one year of probation and performed 350 hours of community service for an incident that she did not disclose on her application to the department. Only during a polygraph examination administered as part of the recruitment process did Rodriguez mention the incident. The department, however, didn't investigate before offering Rodriguez a gun and a badge, according to Hansen. Rodriguez was one of 17 officers Hansen classified as having serious background problems on her application. New Times requested to interview Rodriguez for this article. The department refused. Rode declined to defend blemishes in Rodriguez's personnel record.

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