By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Frank Crimi wheels himself through the buffet line at the Tropic Café, a tiki-themed cafeteria on the third floor of the Broward County Courthouse. He serves himself two fried chicken legs, some lasagna, mixed vegetables, and garlic bread, then grabs a bag of potato chips, two cans of V8 juice, and a Coke. Oh, and a Baby Ruth. That's for later.
"They just came out with a fresh tray of lasagna," says Crimi, who weighs more than 300 pounds. "My eyes popped out of my head."
He's smiling as he parks his wheelchair at one of the circular glass tables where his ex-wife and a reporter sit. Crimi, dressed in black slacks, a festive lime-green button-down, and a London Fog fedora, has loaded up with a sample of everything this Thursday morning. Once again, he's got something to celebrate, and his first thought is food.
About seven years ago, Fort Lauderdale Police Det. Paul Allen showed up at Crimi's Riverland Road home to investigate a code violation. Crimi had a history of run-ins with the code enforcement team. After fisticuffs broke out, there was a mad struggle for the officer's gun, apparently fueled by Crimi's paranoia but driven by both men's desperate, lunging instinct for self-preservation. Allen left the property on a stretcher, flesh torn from his forearms and a gushing bullet wound through his left hand.
When a citizen fights with a Florida law enforcement officer, seriously injuring him, he goes to jail, right? For a long time.
But this case is remarkable for Crimi's ability, in a steadfastly law-and-order state, to avoid imprisonment year after year after year.
After a mere thirty days in county lockup, Crimi was bailed out by his sister. This gabby, obstructive scalawag of a man who talks uninhibitedly about the most intimate aspects of his life has been free ever since.
Is he, as a panel of psychologists has repeatedly declared, a misguided simpleton who's "incompetent to stand trial"? Or is he, as prosecutors and cops contend, a genius at playing the criminal justice system?
Last Thursday, a judge once again declared Crimi incompetent to stand trial.
Crimi's account of the altercation with Allen disputed on every key point by the detective has the sound of a carefully concocted alibi, complete with the requisite aggressively angry black assailant. It goes like this:
He was running 40 minutes late for his paralegal class on August 2, 1999. Around 9:30 a.m., he hustled out of his cottage and around the side of his father's house in Fort Lauderdale only to find a large black man a six-foot-five, 250-pounder looking at his yard. The big man Det. Allen asked his name.
"My name is Frank. I'm in a hurry. I go to college, and I don't have time to talk."
Crimi slid into his blue Caddy and sped off. But he had to turn around; he had forgotten his jacket. When Crimi came back, he says, he found that the black man had ventured into his yard. He was looking at the cars, penning something on a notepad. Crimi's pet peeve is trespassing, he says, and he had the signage to prove it: one "Beware of Dog," although there is no dog, and one plain and simple "No Trespassing." Crimi says he figured the guy was there to steal. Crimi claims the officer never identified himself.
"There is no fucking trespassing," Crimi says he announced. "Can't you read the sign? Get the hell out of my yard."
The man threw down his notebook. "You white motherfucker, you think you're something," he said, according to Crimi. Then he came after Crimi, grabbed him, and started to pummel him. Crimi tried to flee to the back of the house, to get back to his cottage, with the man in pursuit, he says. He got Crimi in a double chokehold and threw him to the ground. Crimi who, of course, never touched the guy was just trying to run away, he says.
His face was in the dirt, Crimi says, but when he looked up, he noticed a shiny silver revolver about a foot from his head. Crimi's assailant went to grab the gun, and Crimi realized he was in a fight for his life.
Crimi got his hands over the man's hands on the gun. In a flash, the gun went off. No doubt about it the other guy pulled the trigger, Crimi insists. Crimi thought his hand was blown off. He was deafened and blinded by the shot.
It wasn't Crimi's hand that was shot but the other man's. There was blood everywhere. The next thing Crimi knew, he says, somebody was kicking him in the face.
That's the story that Crimi told Fort Lauderdale Police Det. John Curcio at Broward General Medical Center, where he and Paul Allen were treated for their injuries.
Allen, on the other hand, testified that he was sent to Crimi's property as a last resort on behalf of the Fort Lauderdale Code Team. Crimi's yard cluttered with mannequins in hard hats, a canoe, a boat, a Tweety Bird sign, construction cones, a plastic swimming pool, and other heaps of junk was beginning to resemble a dump. Neighbors had complained, and those complaints had traveled up a chain of command that culminated with Allen's police investigation and a possible misdemeanor charge.