Badge-ered

A gay Hollywood cop says he was abused by South Florida's most battered police department

Verdugo recalled that another member of the strike force took Augustus aside to tell him to be careful because Breeden is gay. Augustus then allegedly summoned Verdugo, who recalled Augustus telling him, "I just put my fucking foot in my mouth back there. Why didn't you tell me?"

Breeden told investigators that when he came to the strike force, he heard from both Verdugo and David Rosen, a North Miami officer on the strike force who is also gay, that Augustus was "hostile." Both Verdugo and Breeden testified that Augustus teased Rosen, calling him "sweetness." Asked by investigators if this was true, Rosen said, "maybe, probably."

Shortly after Augustus learned of Breeden's sexual orientation, Breeden received word that in a meeting where he wasn't present, Augustus joked that Verdugo would seduce Breeden. Breeden told investigators that he warned Augustus about making an issue out of sexual orientation, and in particular to be careful in his dealings with Verdugo.

But as Breeden tells it, these admonitions only made matters worse. In January 2007, while off duty, Breeden got a call from Augustus. The sergeant was fuming over Verdugo's refusal to use a vehicle wired for undercover work in an operation in which he was to pick up drug money. To Augustus, it was an instance of Verdugo compromising his own safety simply to save himself some inconvenience. Then Augustus accused Breeden of protecting Verdugo, Breeden said.

Augustus told investigators that Verdugo had become lazy since Breeden's arrival. "He can be a very good worker," he said, "when he comes to work."

Augustus came to see the young detective as manipulative. "Michael Verdugo takes advantage of people's friendships," he told investigators.

Breeden sought to broker peace between the two. He called Augustus a "bull in a china shop" and said Verdugo could be "a little bit arrogant, a little bit cocky." But both were great at their jobs, he said. "I tried — maybe to a fault — to maneuver and keep them separated so that both of them could stay there and be comfortable."

It couldn't be done. When Augustus wrote up Verdugo in February for being absent without leave, Verdugo filed a discrimination complaint with the department's Internal Affairs Division.

Augustus stayed in his role as a deputy commander while Verdugo was taken off undercover duty to work in a less glamorous role, conducting surveillance of small-time drug trafficking.

Judging by their remarks, both cops seem to have become jaded. Augustus accused internal affairs investigators of casting him as the fall guy. Verdugo's next supervisor, Sergeant Robert Wolfkill, complained of Verdugo's failure to cultivate informants and said Verdugo alienated his co-workers. When Wolfkill demoted Verdugo to police patrol, Verdugo said it was retaliation for his complaint against Augustus.

In July, internal affairs ruled that Verdugo's complaint was not sustained. The only disciplinary action was a reminder that "Sergeant Augustus needs to be more sensitive and professional to his colleagues and subordinates." The city's human resources department did its own appraisal of the internal affairs investigation and came to the same conclusion.

Now, however, the American Civil Liberties Union has taken Verdugo's case to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is considering filing a discrimination complaint against the Hollywood Police Department.

Since his complaint against Augustus, Verdugo has become active with a small company he co-founded, Elite Home Staging, which decorates unoccupied homes to boost their sales. He declined to answer questions about his Hollywood police career, but he released a statement through his attorney:

"I love my job, and I think there is a place for me here at the Hollywood Police Department. I think it's important for me to stand up to anti-gay discrimination so that other gay and lesbian officers know that they can come out at work without fear of reprisal. I'm hoping the system works for me so that no one has to go through this again."

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