Deputy Do-Wrong

Lewis Perry slipped through BSO's porous screening process. For the Gomez family, the results were tragic.

Later that year, the department investigated Perry for barging into an ex-girlfriend's house at 2 in the morning. The investigation concluded that "the lack of discretion Officer Perry displayed brought discredit to himself and this agency."

Police Chief James Cameron cajoled the city's Board of Police Commissioners to fire Perry, writing that Perry "continues to make decisions involving both his on- and off-duty conduct that continually bring this department and the town of Madison into disrepute." And the costs of investigating this one officer was mushrooming, he added.

Cameron lost that battle, but in 1997, he pleaded with the board once again to fire Perry over two incidents involving poor conduct with the public. With the noose slowly tightening around his neck, Perry resigned from the Madison force late that year.

Germán Gomez usually combs his thick hair over the scar left by a bullet from the gun of Deputy Lewis Perry.
Colby Katz
Germán Gomez usually combs his thick hair over the scar left by a bullet from the gun of Deputy Lewis Perry.

Like a badge-toting Eveready bunny, Perry kept going. After a brief stint as a patrolman in the City of New Fairfield, he began working as a field investigator for an insurance company and as a part-time patrolman for the Town of Washington, a tiny burg of 4,000 people in the state's rural northwest.

By the fall of 2000, however, the head constable had placed Perry on temporary leave for allegedly harassing another former live-in girlfriend. The alleged harassment victim also claimed that Perry had sneaked into her home to take some jewelry. In a memo to the town's top elected official, Alan Chapin, who was the de facto police chief, the department's head constable wrote that Perry "demonstrates a lack of maturity on his part that presents questions as to whether or not he can be trusted to carry out the functions of a police officer." He anticipated meeting with an assistant state attorney to discuss possible criminal charges. Three weeks later, on August 30, 2000, Chapin formally asked Perry for his resignation. He fired Perry two weeks later after getting no response.

Far to the south, Perry was applying for a job with BSO.

Perry's law enforcement transgressions in Connecticut should have made him unemployable as a cop. After all, what better to judge a job candidate by than his track record?

BSO has a lengthy application process that involves medical and psychological examinations, drug screening, and a background investigation that includes employment, personal, and neighborhood references. For the past eight years, many of those background investigations have been contracted out to Five Star Investigations, owned by Richard Barrett, a former BSO deputy captain who retired in 1997. Under Barrett's original contract, BSO paid him $60 per applicant and $8.50 per employment verification he made. In August 2000, those terms were changed to $100 per applicant, which would include two employer verifications, and $10.75 for each additional verification.

BSO's system of backgrounding candidates for sworn officer positions, however, isn't rigorous enough to weed out cops like Perry who are not fully truthful on their applications. In the case of applicants who aren't local, virtually all verifications are done over the phone; forms are not sent to previous employers requesting an evaluation or copies of records. In Perry's case, neither Barrett nor anyone else in the agency's human resources division ever requested personnel documents from the Connecticut police departments — not even a summary of closed internal affairs investigations.

Worse yet, in Perry's case, Barrett didn't even conduct a complete phone background check with the Madison PD, where Perry had spent most of his police career. Barrett was told that only the police chief, who was on vacation that week, could answer questions about Perry's performance. Barrett didn't bother to call back, nor did he mention this information gap in his summary report.

And Perry's case is not an isolated one.

In August 1998, Barrett completed a background summary report for Michael Doane, a strong-chinned 24-year-old with dark hair who lived in the Tampa area. Doane had worked for the Polk County Sheriff's Office for two and a half years and left in mid-1997. On his application for a job at BSO, he gave his reason for leaving the deputy's job as "injury and political."

Despite this tantalizing disclosure, Barrett and BSO's human resources didn't seriously dig into Doane's past, and he was hired in late 1998.

In reality, Doane had been repeatedly disciplined during his short tenure with the Polk County Sheriff's Office and ultimately fired. His disciplinary records were readily available from that agency but were never requested. Many of the incidents revealed a young man with a lack of good judgment, but others were serious, a foreshadowing of what was to come in Broward County.

Among the Polk County incidents, Doane was reprimanded for "careless actions" in driving his squad car to the scene of a burglary, an incident that left another deputy injured. On another occasion, he kicked in the door of a home without proper cause.

By July 1997, the agency decided to terminate him for excessive use of force, a case in which he punched a handcuffed suspect four times in the back of the head. The memo informing Doane he was fired noted that he showed "a disregard for authority." Doane refused to sign the memo and submitted his resignation instead.

If BSO had difficulty in discovering what "political" problems caused Doane to leave the Polk County Sheriff's Office, Gary Kollin had no problem at all. A Plantation attorney with a striking resemblance to a young Burl Ives, Kollin looked into BSO's hiring practices a few years ago as part of a lawsuit he filed on behalf of a Jamaican-American man who alleged that Doane had falsely arrested him in a Broward County park. Kollin noticed Doane's 14-month hiatus from law enforcement after leaving Polk County and, suspicions raised, simply requested documents.

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