On the evening of February 16, 2004, gunshots rang out from a home in the 1800 block of Scott Street in Hollywood. Before long, the street erupted in police lights, including those from the squad car of Sgt. Frank Hogan. This was his call. He directed the other cars into a perimeter around the home, staffed a command post, then used his car's P.A. system to speak with the people in the house. Relying on his training as a hostage negotiator, he persuaded the shooter to leave the home unarmed. A search led to the discovery of the weapon and shells.
By-the-book execution, leading to a bloodless resolution the kind good cops prefer. And that must be the reason the incident was duly recorded in Hogan's personnel file, which is stuffed full of community awards, thank-you letters from citizens, and official commendations.
Sgt. Michael Springstun, Hogan's colleague in the Hollywood Police Department, has a personnel file bulging with similar accolades. He's been the department's Officer of the Month three times and has been recognized 29 times for community involvement. For the past 15 years, Springstun has played Santa Claus for children at Memorial Regional Hospital's Joe DiMaggio wing.
Hogan's admirers include Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Bob Graham, who along with Hollywood Police Chief James Scarberry praised Hogan for having flown to New York City after the 9/11 attack to volunteer his mental-health counseling expertise with victims and families, among other good deeds.
Every year, the department invites sergeants like Hogan and Springstun to compete for promotions to lieutenant. More pay, less stress; lieutenant is the reward bestowed upon good soldiers. But promotions involve complex decisions. A chief is expected to dig through a sergeant's personnel file, consult the sergeant's supervisor, and scrutinize psychological evaluations. To impose an objective measure, the department also tests the candidates on their knowledge of city codes and police procedure.
There is no age criterion. And when Hogan and Springstun began applying annually for promotions around the year 2000, they were both nearing 50.
As the two studied for tests, they both heard remarks like "don't bother" and "you're too old" from their department superiors. Chief Scarberry wanted relatively young lieutenants in his department, Hogan and Springstun were told. Fiftysomethings need not apply.
But Hogan and Springstun applied anyway and they aced the test. No matter how high they scored, however, both were passed over. Again and again, younger cops who were less qualified and scored lower on the department exam received promotions to lieutenant.
In September 2004, Hogan and Springstun filed age-discrimination lawsuits against the department. Now combined into one case, the lawsuit will finally go to trial next month. Documents filed with the court shed light on the inner workings of the department, revealing a police culture where cronyism seems to rule. Bad boys move up. Nice guys finish last.
When he was deposed in the case, Chief Scarberry defended his decision to pass over Hogan and Springstun, saying the two were "not the strongest leaders within the police department when you are looking to get the best out of the best."
(A Hollywood Police Department spokesman told New Times that because the lawsuit is pending, no officer would be commenting on it for this article.)
Court documents show that the department has guidelines to prevent cronyism. Applicants who score among the top three on a civil service test can be passed over for promotion only three times. Hogan ranked second on four tests. Springstun finished first on five tests. And yet Scarberry passed them over each time.
In his deposition, however, Scarberry appeared to believe that he, as chief, doesn't have to abide by the department's guidelines. And although he was aware that Hogan and Springstun had been told by supervisors that they were too old, he had never said so and claimed that he doesn't have to justify his reasons for passing over the two sergeants. "I'm the one that makes the final decision," Scarberry testified. "Everyone else can speculate on why something happened all they want. It's irrelevant."
It begs the question: If decorated, disciplined, experienced, and knowledgeable cops like Hogan and Springstun don't get promotions, then which officers do? Apparently, officers like Jeffrey Marano.
By the time Marano applied for his promotion to lieutenant in 2002, he had already attracted a reputation as a maverick cop (see "Stationhouse Capo," Wyatt Olson, February 12, 2004). Several years earlier, Marano had received a formal reprimand for signing probable-cause affidavits with facts that didn't exist which led to a lawsuit by one victim, Dwight Edman, who won a judgment against the city for $750,000.
Marano received an 80-hour suspension after a brothel operator testified to giving Marano discounts for bringing Hollywood cops with him on his visits.
Marano received a five-day suspension after he took away the camera and film from a citizen who was photographing his arrest of four black males, an act that Marano would later claim was meant to thwart allegations of police brutality. And at the very moment he applied for his promotion, Marano was under an active Internal Affairs investigation after a former police chief accused him of racketeering, defamation, and invasion of privacy. Later, another officer filed a complaint against Marano for creating a hostile work environment.
That's a lot of baggage to haul up the organizational ladder, but Marano's résumé contained at least one point in his favor: He was reigning secretary of the Broward County Police Benevolent Association, the powerful police union.
In 2002, there were nine openings for lieutenants in Hollywood, and nine officers applied. Scarberry stated in his deposition that he narrowed the field to seven to save the department money and because he wanted to give the candidates an incentive to study for the exam. Springstun finished with the third highest score, but he was passed over. Hogan finished fifth, and he was passed over.
Marano finished eighth, and despite a department rule forbidding the promotion of officers under active investigation, Scarberry gave Marano the promotion.
In her pretrial filings, attorney Colleen Brannelly, who represents Hogan and Springstun, highlights Marano's ascent through the police ranks as an example of how Scarberry plays favorites. (Brannelly's documents are revealing, but she declined to be interviewed.) She has also sought to show that both Hogan and Springstun suffered retaliation for continuing to apply for promotion and also for bringing suit against the department.
For example, Hogan became the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation in December 2003 just after he filed a complaint about being passed over for promotion with the Florida Commission on Human Relations. The matter involved the department's handling of a man threatening suicide. The investigation found fault with the first responding officers, who failed to enter the man's apartment or consult the building manager. Hogan was their patrol supervisor, but he wasn't at the scene, and he was not suspended over the incident.
Springstun kept his name out of Internal Affairs files from 1990 to 2001, but after he filed his own complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations in August 2003, Springstun rated "average" in his job evaluation for that period. This is the same period during which he received the Life Saving Award, one of the department's highest honors, for plucking a severely disabled woman out of a canal near Garfield Street. Springstun and his fellow officers even saved the woman's dog the reason she'd jumped into the canal in the first place.
According to Springstun's court testimony, the author of that lukewarm performance evaluation apologized and explained that he'd only been following the orders of his own superior, Capt. Allen Siegel, who, when Springstun confronted him, admitted it to be true.
Springstun filed his age-discrimination suit against the department in March 2004. In April 2004, he was the subject of two complaints that, in the judgment of his leadership, warranted Internal Affairs investigations. In May 2004, there was another. In June 2004, three more, according to Brannelly's filings.
Both Hogan and Springstun have testified that since filing suit, they've been passed over for job assignments that went instead to officers who were on probation or who had less experience. They also were not called in to work overtime, which had a dramatic impact on their incomes.
The case is set for trial October 3. It already fills five file boxes in the office of City Attorney Dan Abbott, whose lawyers must defend the department. No problem, Abbott says. The case has not been a drain on his office's resources.
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