Its 36,000 residents straddle fault lines of race and class. Jim Crow hung on here for a long time, and much of the town feels like it's frozen in 1971 — the year a riot broke out over integration at Suncoast High School and voters elected the first black-majority City Council. The population on the mainland of Riviera Beach is largely black and poor; just 50 years ago, the narrow streets were unpaved ruts of sand and dirt without electricity. But across the Intracoastal Waterway is another piece of the city: lily-white Singer Island, home to multimillion-dollar mansions and most of Riviera Beach's tax base.

Some people call Riviera Beach "the raw" or the "Wild West." And the 120-officer Police Department reflects that sense of chaos.

"It's almost unbelievable in law enforcement," says one former Riviera Beach cop who has moved on to a different job in the field. "It's crazy there."

Sgt. Michael Dodson and Det. Lee Ann Schneider have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.
Riviera Beach Police Department
Sgt. Michael Dodson and Det. Lee Ann Schneider have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

The city's first black police chief went to prison in the '80s for taking bribes from an informant. Since then, the FBI, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), and the local State Attorney's Office have launched several corruption investigations of the department. Over and over again, their inquiries have focused on one high-ranking officer, Assistant Chief David Harris. But somehow, the allegations against him never stick.

With 31 years on the squad, Harris is said to be the king of the Riviera Beach police fiefdom. Known as "Curly Top" for his mop of brown hair, this burly, unpolished cop has outlasted a revolving door of chiefs above him. As an administrator, he could easily stay behind a desk, but he responds to every hot call, working 15- to 18-hour days to make sure he knows about every important case, the ex-cop says.

Those who are close to Harris get shielded from punishment, while those who are not consider him a bully. Complaining about Harris is not a good career move, insiders say.

"Nobody can ever really come forward, because they're in fear of retaliation," says the ex-cop, who did not want his name printed.

In the mid-1990s, the FBI looked into several corruption allegations in Riviera Beach, including accusations that a sergeant was involved in drug trafficking and that Harris, then a lieutenant, was aware of the crime. Harris emerged from the inquiry unscathed. But two Riviera officers who helped the FBI later testified in federal court that they faced retaliation for ratting out Harris.

"The corruption is still there," Lt. Kathy Donatto, a Harris critic, told reporters at the time. "The same people are allowed to do the same thing."

By 2000, Harris had been promoted to assistant chief when the FDLE launched a new, wide-ranging investigation focused on him. When the owner of a local auto repair shop was arrested for fraud, he accused Harris and other officers of targeting him so they could seize his business. As the FDLE started digging, the shop owner and others produced a litany of allegations against the Police Department, nearly all involving Harris. This time, the accusations resembled an episode of The Sopranos. Accusers said that Harris shot and killed a man, stabbed another man to death, put a contract on the shop owner's life, raped a woman, and shook down drug dealers, taking payoffs in exchange for not arresting them.

The FDLE spent two years investigating these claims and interviewing witnesses, police officers, and the alleged victims. Barry Krischer, the Palm Beach County state attorney, was friendly with Harris. To avoid the appearance of bias by the local office, Gov. Jeb Bush assigned the Broward State Attorney's Office to the case.

But by the fall of 2002, investigators were unable to verify any of the claims against Harris. Meanwhile, a scandal — the lead FDLE agent on the case had an affair with the repair-shop owner's daughter — further compromised the case. The investigation was closed, with no charges filed against Harris.

That year, Riviera Beach got a new police chief, Clarence Williams. He told the media he was happy the FDLE had given his top brass a "clean bill of health."

Seven years passed, and the scandals quieted down. Then Michael McAuliffe was elected to replace Krischer as state attorney, and he was ready to go hunting in Riviera Beach.


One of Assistant Chief Harris' favorite cops was Sgt. Pat Galligan. Beefy, with a brown mustache and a generous paunch, 56-year-old Galligan had joined the force in 1986 and eventually became head of the detective bureau. His job philosophy predated political correctness, and he teased people relentlessly, with the best digs reserved for the people Galligan liked most. He nicknamed an officer with a bowler's gut "Table for Five." Detective Lee Ann Schneider, who often brought snacks to keep in her file cabinet, was "Out to Lunch."

Sometimes, the cavalier attitude backfired. In 1996, Galligan was caught on video posting newspaper articles that were critical of a lieutenant in the lineup room. He was reprimanded and put on paid leave for seven months. Later, he won a lawsuit alleging that the videotapes used to catch him were illegally recorded.

The reprimand never hurt Galligan. Instead, he became one of the most popular men on the force. He served many years as public information officer. In the late '90s, he won a statewide award from the Florida branch of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children for his work investigating crimes against kids. In 2003, his department bestowed on him the equivalent of a lifetime achievement award, a Commendation Certificate for Outstanding Achievements and Performance. Married with two kids, Galligan seemed destined to spend his last years on the squad comfortably.

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5 comments
pissedoff
pissedoff

Remember... It's our money paying for these dirtbags, that do nothing for justice. Not government money, not yada yada.... OUR money pay for these lazy dirtbags that do nothing. Don't tell me they don't know who set that dog on fire... Actually, they probably don't, because they obviously didn't even check it out. They are too interested in their 'flag day', 'president's day' off.

pissedoff
pissedoff

This area is why people call Florida... FloriDUH. You interview a woman that says she hears a "whoosh" (how theatrical of you) when a dog is set on fire.... but you find nothing, and she saw nothing. BS! Whoever did that is on their way to killing people. Not that that would be less of a crime. You want to post the sensationalism...but do nothing to find the guilt. The entire area is nothing but government sucking on taxpayers hard earned money. Fix it. Solve it. Do what you're paid to do.

Guest
Guest

"Despite Decades of Corruption Allegations, Is the Riviera Beach Police Department Clean?"

Does New Times have monkeys writing the headlines these days?

Longtimecop
Longtimecop

Been there and done that, I've seen this movie play out before in little fiefdoms in other cities. You have mayors and city commissioners who are ill educated and quite frankly, Joe Shit-The Ragman, now they they get elected by even more of uneducated bunch of retards, that now have a "hook" in city hall. Now these Joe Shit the Ragmen and women believe they are great politicians, great contributors to the republic, even though they are appliance salesmen! Now, they get chummy with a few cops, mostly those that can't or don't have the education, skill or intelligence to do the job, but they have charisma, the ability to make these politicos "believe " they have special powers, These cops become the politico's eyes and ears of an agency, reporting on all goings on, down to minutia, the most powerful cop in a police department, ain't the chief, it is some road cop, not even a supervisor who pisses in every one's ear and tells 'em it's raining. The ONLY way that this city can be cleaned up is via a contract with PBSO. What will happen is the core group of dirtbags will be banished out of the city, a commander, educated and a professional law enforcement officer, who is loyal to PBSO will take over and do the right things, the crap will be weeded out and those who have sat on their ass' for years will now be held accountable. I know, I have lived it and observed it first hand. It works and it takes control of the police department out of the hands of the nitwit politicians and places it in the hands of the sheriff.

Guest2
Guest2

Apparently they have monkeys reading and commenting.

 
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