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Hollywood's Finest

Officer Nick Singley was hired despite lacking "maturity and self-control," according to a psychological report.
Miami Herald

A decade ago, Hollywood Police Chief Richard Witt blew the whistle on corrupt hiring practices at his agency. From 1990 to 1995, qualified candidates had consistently been passed over in favor of unsuitable ones, he said. Many of those given jobs were friends or relatives of high-ranking city cops.

An independent investigation found the situation even worse than Witt suggested. During the five-year period, Hollywood hired officers with psychological problems, criminal records, and troubled pasts that should have excluded them from police work. Some cops had been rejected by as many as nine law enforcement agencies before they were allowed to patrol the city's streets. Of 59 offered employment by Hollywood at the time, 42 were found to have psychological or background problems that the city did not address, according to a probe by former Fort Myers Police Chief Donna Hansen.

"People that need to be dismissed will be dismissed," Mayor Mara Giulianti told the Sun-Sentinel at the time.

It never happened.

Instead, Witt was fired after going public with his claims, and public attention melted away. Then, six months ago, the former Hollywood police chief won a $201,100 verdict against the city. A Broward County jury believed his allegation that he was fired for his attempt to stop nepotism and cronyism in hiring.

Hollywood's decision to fire Witt -- instead of the problem officers -- has resulted in claims of abuse, drunkenness on the job, and irresponsibility. Indeed, the Washington, D.C.-based Police Complaint Center classifies the city's force as among the nation's 25 most troubled agencies.

During a three-month investigation, New Times reviewed dozens of personnel records, Internal Affairs (IA) files, and lawsuits, as well as psychological reports that were entered into evidence as part of the Witt lawsuit. Among this newspaper's findings:

Of the 42 officers whom Hansen found to have background problems, 30 are still on the force. Of the 17 deemed the most serious, ten are still employed by the city.

Among those on the force are officers whose backgrounds include charges for driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, theft, and resisting a police officer. Other background problems of those 30 cops include driving on suspended driver's licenses, using drugs, drinking while underage, having credit problems, fighting with fellow officers or superiors in the military, going AWOL from the armed services, and having poor work histories.

Some members of this class of officers have as many as 15 IA complaints against them. At least ten of the officers have been accused multiple times of excessive use of force or police misconduct.

The City of Hollywood has been sued 11 times related to alleged misconduct by these officers. So far, the city has been forced to pay more than $230,000 in judgments or settlements and outside legal fees. Two cases are still pending.

That figure doesn't include the $201,100 jury verdict awarded to Witt, plus the $531,600 his lawyer, former Hollywood Assistant City Attorney Pamela Terranova, has billed the city.

Capt. Tony Rode, now a spokesman for the agency who was among those responsible for hiring the 42 questionable officers, downplays the findings. "If you look at all these officers, can you pick out one or two that have some difficulties in his or her career? Absolutely," Rode says. "But you can find other examples. Out of those 30 officers, many are now detectives, lieutenants, sergeants. The hiring scandal -- was it as bad as projected to be? In my opinion, no. Were all the applicants underachievers or poor applicants? Absolutely not."

The Hollywood Police Department is the city's most costly expense. Of the $233 million annual budget, $57.3 million, or about 24.5 percent, goes to the men and women in blue. Although only a small percentage of Hollywood's 337 sworn officers has problematic backgrounds or has cost the city money for court costs and settlements, the minority bad cops have helped to solidify the department's reputation as a brutal, corrupt law enforcement agency. "In my experience, if someone calls with a police problem in South Florida, it's a good bet they're calling about Hollywood," says Diop Kamau, a former police officer who now runs the Police Complaint Center.

Some of the complaints associated with officers hired during the scandal include:

On May 10, 1998, Mother's Day, Hollywood police stormed into the backyard at 1847 Buchanan St. According to a lawsuit filed by 35-year-old Denise Rose, Officer Nick Singley indiscriminately pepper-sprayed the crowd and ordered Officer William Price to throw Rose to the ground. Singley and Price then repeatedly kicked Rose while she was on the ground, the lawsuit claimed. "Jew bitch!" one of the officers allegedly yelled. Rose suffered broken ribs, torn ligaments, and bruises. The city later settled her lawsuit for $35,000, plus $55,752 in legal fees. Singley, who was a neighbor of Rode's, was hired despite a juvenile charge for shoplifting and six traffic citations, according to Hansen's report. Additionally, a psychologist who interviewed him wrote: "Applicant appeared to be immature and lacked insight into his own behavior... It is likely the applicant would be a problematic employee if hired." Singley's lie-detector test revealed "pronounced physiological reactions indicative of deception" regarding a question related to illegal drugs.

 

According to another lawsuit settled by the city for $35,000 in May 2002, Officer Blaine T. Howard Jr. beat and falsely arrested a 67-year-old Jamaican-American man, Alfred Mullings, based on a false report of a black man with a gun. After acknowledging to other officers that the man did not have a weapon, the lawsuit claimed, Howard told fellow officers that he at least "got a battery charge" from the incident. Howard is the son of a former Hollywood police officer and was hired despite a psychological report that described him as "on the low end of the suitability scale" and "somewhat immature."

Officer Dwayne Chung, who was hired despite admitting on a polygraph to poaching deer and stealing items from cars, is currently being sued for negligence and false arrest by Hollywood resident Donovan Gordon. On June 16, 2002, Chung, working an off-duty security detail at Ginger Bay Cafe at 1908 Hollywood Blvd., allegedly assaulted and arrested Gordon after an argument between him and the bartender over $10, the lawsuit charges. As a result of the incident, Gordon claims he "has fears of crowds and being in social gatherings."

Narcotics Detective James Callari -- whose mother worked for the Hollywood Police Department and who, though deemed psychologically fit for duty, was hired over more qualified applicants, according to Hansen -- was one of two officers who arrested Hallandale Beach resident Valarie Curry on a charge of trafficking in cocaine in 2000. Last year, Curry's conviction was overturned unanimously by the Fourth District Court of Appeal (see "Entrapped," February 3), which ruled that the cops' tactics "rose to the level of egregious." In December 2004, Curry notified the city of her intent to sue.

Among the reasons that Hollywood remains an unruly police agency is that the Broward Police Benevolent Association, led in part by Lt. Jeffrey Marano, has for more than a decade held a firm grasp on power. Marano was the defendant in a case that is likely to cost city taxpayers $225,000 for the wrongful strip-search and interrogation of 19-year-old Dwight Edman in 1996. Marano's influential police union was partially responsible for ousting Chief Witt and his successor, Rick Stone, after both tried to clean up the force. (Stone has sued the PBA for pushing him out. That case is pending.)

Although police and city officials have long maintained that the hiring scandal was a result of efforts to recruit minority officers (12 of the 30 officers who remain are not minorities), Witt and his attorney alleged to a jury earlier this year that most of the hires were brought in as union loyalists in an attempt to consolidate PBA power within the department. When the scandal hit the headlines ten years ago, the union fought to protect many of the tarnished officers' jobs.

Mayor Giulianti asserts that city staff never told her about the problems uncovered by New Times. "I would always prefer that individuals who are not performing their jobs at an appropriate level would leave our employ," Giulianti says. But she adds that the city needs "grounds to terminate an employee... that would hold up legally." She adds that she and other city officials aren't to blame. Rather, the fault lies with former Chief Witt: "It is because of his lack of oversight and control of the Hollywood Police Department that these things occurred. I have been told that no Hollywood police chief has ever catered to the union leadership as much as he did -- often giving up his authority to make decisions that needed to be his, as their leader. Perhaps we are still paying the price."

The New Times investigation of lawmen hired during the scandal identified three officers whose conduct on and off duty has contributed to that price. Meet three of Hollywood's finest:

CHRISTINA RODRIQUEZ

At 4:40 a.m. on August 14, 2004, Jackie Elder, a stout, 55-year-old man with thinning white hair, was driving his Publix tractor-trailer north in the center lane of Interstate 95. Just as he passed the Sheridan Street exit, a green 2003 Nissan Altima driven by Hollywood police Detective Christina Rodriguez moved rapidly to the left lane and began to pass.

But the 34-year-old Rodriguez pulled too far to the left. Her car slid onto a rough patch of road near the concrete barrier separating north and southbound traffic. She quickly turned the wheel to the right and overcorrected. The car spun out of control.

 

"I was just driving down the interstate, my hands up on the big wheel like this," Elder recalls, sitting shirtless on a couch at his modest home near U.S. 441 in Fort Lauderdale. "Then all of a sudden, I see this car smash right into my truck."

The Nissan hit the front of the truck's driver side, pulling the larger vehicle to the left and toward the median. Elder slammed on his brakes. The Nissan -- which had been rented by the city for undercover work -- dislodged, spinning to a halt in the left lane.

The enormous weight of the semi and its haul of groceries prevented Elder from stopping. His truck smashed through the interstate's concrete barrier, spraying debris into oncoming traffic and finally stopping only feet before colliding with southbound cars.

Dazed, the truck driver took off his seat belt and stumbled out of the cab. "I hadn't walked more than ten feet, and then boom!" Elder recalls. The tractor-trailer went up in a fireball.

The accident should have come as no surprise to police brass. Before being hired by the department in May 1994, Rodriguez had been charged with reckless driving after she flipped a school van in Davie filled with 13 children ages 6 to 10. She served one year of probation and performed 350 hours of community service for an incident that she did not disclose on her application to the department. Only during a polygraph examination administered as part of the recruitment process did Rodriguez mention the incident. The department, however, didn't investigate before offering Rodriguez a gun and a badge, according to Hansen. Rodriguez was one of 17 officers Hansen classified as having serious background problems on her application. New Times requested to interview Rodriguez for this article. The department refused. Rode declined to defend blemishes in Rodriguez's personnel record.

Three years after hiring Rodriguez, police officials discovered that driving wasn't her only problem. Judgment was another.

On the evening of May 19, 1997, the officer was drinking at Shuckums Restaurant in downtown Hollywood with a friend, Fred Dominguez. While wearing a Chicago Cubs T-shirt, Dominguez started arguing with a large, unidentified man about sports team loyalty. Later, the man allegedly assaulted Dominguez in the bathroom, poking him in the eye and spilling beer on him.

According to a statement officer Rodriguez gave IA investigators, Dominguez later tried to make peace. "Let me buy you a beer," Rodriguez recalled hearing Dominguez say.

Suddenly, the two men went at each other. Dominguez picked up a barstool and smacked the other man across the head, two witnesses later told IA officers. A mob, which included Rodriguez, pulled the two apart.

The large man continued to taunt Dominguez. Sitting at the bar, a bottle of Icehouse in front of her, Rodriguez abruptly stood up and grabbed the bottle. "I saw everything," recalled Erin Kiley, a waitress at Shuckums.

"Asshole!" Rodriguez allegedly yelled at the man, then threw the bottle, which smashed into a keg handle and shattered into hundreds of pieces. Two tiny shards hit 25-year-old bartender Kimberly Dulaney, cutting her face and causing a small laceration at the bottom of her eye. "A bottle came flying at me," Dulaney said, "and then I went rushing to the bathroom because I had glass in my eye."

Rodriguez denied to IA that she threw the bottle, claiming that instead she was gesturing with the bottle and accidentally broke it on the bar. "I've been the most valuable athlete through all my years in high school," Rodriguez explained. "I can surely pick up a bottle and throw it less than 25 feet and hit the guy in his face if I wanted to."

But Rodriguez was hardly in a state to remember the evening's events accurately, Dulaney told IA investigators. "She was toast, she was intoxicated, she was gone," Dulaney said.

On June 10, 1998, IA ruled against Rodriguez, suspending her without pay for one week for officer misconduct.

It wouldn't be the last time that questions arose about whether alcohol had clouded Rodriguez's judgment. On August 14, 2004, the night her Nissan crashed into the Publix semi on I-95, paramedics raised the question again.

Indeed, Rodriguez's actions following the collision with Elder's truck suggest that she might have had something to hide. In her Nissan that night was a police radio. Immediately following the accident, Rodriguez could have dispatched the Hollywood Fire Department to respond with paramedics. Curiously, she didn't. Instead, she called Barbara Duffy, lawyer for the PBA.

Asked on November 15, 2004, by IA investigators why she didn't call paramedics, Rodriguez responded: "I have no idea what I did. I was told I was crying."

 

But that's not how paramedic Lt. Alexander Poli of the Hollywood Fire Department remembered it not long after the collision. Poli's unit, Rescue 5, was called to the scene on reports of a burning semi. Poli's unit was the first to respond. His assessment of Rodriguez was positive: She did not appear disoriented. "Every question I asked her, she answered appropriately," Poli told IA investigators.

Following procedure, paramedics took Rodriguez to Hollywood Memorial Hospital. And that's when things became strange, the paramedic said. After only a few minutes at the hospital, Rodriguez signed herself out. Poli and his rookie partner, Marcy Hofle, watched as someone escorted Rodriguez from the hospital.

"We thought it was strange that she had left," Hofle said. So did Florida Highway Patrol officers, who -- Elder contends -- expressed frustration that they never tested Rodriguez's blood-alcohol level. "There was suspicion -- don't recall how it came up -- that she was under the influence of alcohol," Hofle told an IA investigator.

FHP couldn't locate Rodriguez for more than ten hours after the accident, according to Capt. John Roberts, an FHP spokesman. What the patrolmen didn't know at the time was that Rodriguez was at PBA lawyer Duffy's home -- a fact she later admitted to IA. "The only thing I remember is, I was involved in an accident and I woke up at 12 noon on August 14," Rodriguez claimed to internal investigators while Duffy sat next to her as legal counsel. Duffy did not return calls for comment.

Elder, who required surgery to repair injuries to his shoulder, was out of work for four months after the accident. Even now, he can't drive a big rig. He's assigned indefinitely to light duty at one of the grocery chain's warehouses. "I don't know for sure if she was drunk," Elder says. "But it's pretty suspicious that she disappeared for ten hours."

Even now, FHP is having difficulty investigating the crash and has not filed charges in the case. "Believe it or not, the investigation is still ongoing," Capt. Roberts says. "Some of the witnesses have been reluctant to come forward. We're issuing subpoenas." Roberts would neither confirm nor deny that Hollywood police officers are the ones who haven't given statements.

For her part, Rodriguez has received merely token punishment. An IA investigation could prove only that she was using a police vehicle after hours, resulting in a 30-hour suspension for a policy violation. To avoid losing pay, Rodriguez used 30 hours of vacation time during her unpaid suspension.

"All they gave her was a slap on the wrist," Elder says disgustedly.

VINICIO PEREZ

Vinicio Perez is another problem at the Hollywood Police Department -- a man whose temper seems to be so out of control that he's been accused of assaulting people while both on- and off-duty.

Perez was hired in July 1993. Records show that his application was accepted even though his driver's license had been suspended from 1987 to 1991. Hansen's inquiry listed Perez as one of 17 officers with moderate to serious problems on his application. Indeed, Hollywood took him on after he was rejected by nine other police agencies. Since then, he's received 15 IA complaints, only one of them sustained.

New Times asked to interview Perez for this article. The department refused. Asked about the multiple complaints regarding Perez, Capt. Rode would say only: "The facts speak for themselves."

Perez's problems began on April 26, 1996, when he arrested Robert A. Fiengo, a 31-year-old who had been given three years' probation in 1994 for sexual battery on a minor. That night, Perez arrested Fiengo on North State Road 7 after he allegedly tried to steal a 16-foot boat trailer from a shop. Perez stated that after a brief dispute, he handcuffed Fiengo and took him to the Hollywood Police Department to be processed.

Perez claimed in his report that after Fiengo heard the officer's name, he tried to intimidate him, saying: "Vinnie, Vinnie Perez. You better say goodbye to your family." What the officer didn't mention was an event that occurred later. Earlier, police command staff had installed cameras in an elevator in the rear of police headquarters and in the detention area in response to repeated complaints of excessive use of force. One of those cameras caught Perez.

In a fuzzy, soundless videotape, Perez and Fiengo can be seen riding together in the elevator. Fiengo is handcuffed, with Perez thumbing through papers. Suddenly, the officer moves the papers from his right to his left hand, screams at Fiengo, clenches his right fist, and throws a punch that knocks the defenseless prisoner to the floor.

 

On July 17, 1996, a Broward grand jury indicted Perez for simple battery. "It is something that happened that should have never happened," Perez said during a hearing. But the officer lucked out. Not long before the case was scheduled for trial, Fiengo electrocuted himself while remodeling his Davie home. (There was no evidence of foul play.) The Broward State Attorney's Office's case fell apart. Prosecutors dropped the charge.

A group of senior officers persuaded Rick Stone, then chief of police, not to fire Perez. Instead, the officer received a 160-hour suspension without pay.

Three years later, Perez faced termination and possible criminal charges once again when, on August 4, 1999, an accident victim complained to Sgt. Andrew Diaz that Perez had been rude and abusive. According to internal police reports, Diaz called Perez into his office to discuss the incident. Not long after closing the door and beginning their discussion, Diaz realized that Perez had a voice-activated tape recorder hidden in his vest pocket.

Diaz ended the conversation and reported it. Police brass forwarded the information to the State Attorney's Office. Although prosecutors declined to file charges, Assistant State Attorney Bernie Hollar confirmed that Perez's actions were criminal. Florida law prohibits individuals from secretly tape-recording private conversations if there's an expectation of privacy.

According to personnel reports, Perez admitted to his superiors that, after the Fiengo incident, he began tape-recording everything while on duty to disprove potential false claims.

That incident in August 1999, coupled with Perez's videotaped assault of Fiengo, disturbed Chief James H. Scarberry. What's more, Perez no longer had defenders at the department. That year, his superiors "unanimously" told Scarberry that Perez wasn't "salvageable." They did not believe that anything Scarberry did "short of termination is going to make [Perez] a better employee for the Hollywood Police Department," according to a personnel file.

On January 3, 2000, Scarberry terminated Perez, who appealed the termination. On September 25, 2000, arbitrator Jason Herkman ruled against the department, finding that Perez had not committed a crime. He was reinstated.

Over the next few years, Perez's problems continued. He received six more IA complaints, including four for officer misconduct. None of them was sustained.

Perhaps even more troubling was Perez's behavior at home. In 2000, Perez's wife, Marioly Perez, asked a Broward judge to protect her from her husband, whom she alleged had beaten her. Marioly submitted a sworn statement of abuse in which she alleged that he had beaten her while her daughter watched and she cradled their 3-month-old son. "I was carrying [the baby] when he smashed me against the refrigerator," she wrote in the sworn statement.

In another instance, Marioly claimed, Perez left her a message while she was at work saying that she needed to move out of their house "before he lost it and killed someone," according to the sworn statement. On January 2, 2001, Marioly filed for divorce, which was granted July 10 of that year. A judge awarded the two parents joint custody.

Although Marioly reported the alleged abuse in court records, the Broward State Attorney's Office never learned of it. Then came December 19, 2004. At about 8 p.m. that Sunday, Miramar police responded to a domestic-disturbance call at the home of Perez's parents. Inside were Vinicio, Marioly, and their two children. According to the Miramar police report, Vinicio and his by-then ex-wife had argued about their son, who had tracked dog excrement into the Florida room. They started yelling. Marioly punched him in the chest. Vinicio allegedly grabbed his ex-wife by the arm and forcefully took the phone.

When Miramar police arrived, Perez was unapologetic. "Vinicio said to me that Marioly needed to be taught a lesson, and he would not let her take the kids," Officer Michael R. Riggs wrote.

Miramar police filed misdemeanor battery charges against the Hollywood officer. But for a third time, the Broward State Attorney's Office spared Perez. "We didn't feel, given the evidence presented, that we could go to trial and get a guilty verdict," SAO spokesman Ron Ishoy claims.

"We've counseled Perez about his problems," Scarberry says. "The charge in Miramar was dropped. As far as we're concerned, the case is closed."

BRIAN JOYNT

At 5 a.m. on January 29, 2000, following up on a burglary report, Fort Lauderdale Police Sgt. John Eaves drove his cruiser down SW Second Street near the New River Inn. He spotted four women rushing down a fire escape. Eaves flashed on his lights and detained the women. One of them was carrying ecstasy and marijuana.

Just then, a van pulled up next to Eaves' cruiser. The driver, who was disheveled and had two black eyes, introduced himself as off-duty Hollywood Police Officer Brian Joynt.

 

At first, Eaves thought Joynt was just trying to help. "He saw the police cars just a block away and drove down to see what was going on," Eaves later testified. But the Fort Lauderdale lawman quickly became suspicious of Joynt. At the time, that area of downtown Fort Lauderdale was a haven for drug sales. What's more, Eaves and other Fort Lauderdale officers thought they had spotted Joynt's van trawling the area in prior weeks, according to a statement Eaves would later give to IA.

Eaves also discovered that one of the four detained women was Joynt's wife, Charlotte, who was not carrying drugs.

Eaves didn't have probable cause to arrest Joynt or his wife, but he found the circumstances so peculiar that he called Hollywood Police Deputy Chief Melvin Standley (now chief of police in Miramar). The next morning, Standley informed Chief Scarberry, who launched a review of Joynt's performance. That review discovered a steady decline in performance, according to a personnel report.

Given Joynt's background, the concern should have come as no surprise. He was hired in January 1991 despite a driving record so poor -- 12 traffic violations and a suspended license -- that it had caused him to be rejected from other law enforcement agencies. The number of agencies is not specified in reports because it was never investigated. However, a psychologist who found Joynt fit for duty noted that "a poor driving record has caused the candidate to be rejected by other police departments." Hansen's report classified Joynt as one of ten officers with moderate problems on his application.

Joynt had friends in the department. He listed James Gibbons, a detective at the time, as a personal reference, and Lt. Richard Hynds of IA wrote a memo recommending that Joynt be hired.

The 2000 review of Joynt's performance discovered:

An unnamed community activist alleged that, while on duty patrolling Hollywood Beach, Joynt would often leave his unattended police jeep on the sand in front of a bar every night for three to four hours.

Though Joynt was notified one month in advance to wear a crisp street uniform, he showed up at a City Commission meeting in his beach uniform. "His shorts were dirty, he wasn't shaven, his socks were torn up, and he had a pair of older sneakers that were also torn up," Lt. Frank McGarry told investigators.

For a three-month period, Joynt's paperwork was "totally inaccurate," McGarry said.

An anonymous tipster reported that Joynt's wife was driving his city vehicle.

From December 1999 to January 2000, Joynt took an "abnormal period of time" for sick leave. Neither he nor a member of his family had an illness that would explain the need for time, a personnel report states.

"I believe that Brian's work product was going downhill," said his supervisor, Richard Nardello, who now works in the department's IA unit.

The report states that Joynt did not deny many of the allegations but does not discuss specifics. New Times asked to interview Joynt for this article. The department refused.

Based on the report's findings, Deputy Chief Standley testified that he did not have "faith" in Joynt's ability "to carry a gun on the street." He put the officer behind a desk.

Chief Scarberry ordered Joynt to take a drug test. "I think a sworn police officer is held to a higher standard than a record clerk or a civilian employee...," Scarberry testified. "To be involved in that sort of activity is just unacceptable and intolerable."

The results of the drug test were negative. But Scarberry discovered that the test did not scan for ecstasy. Hollywood police sent a sample of Joynt's hair to another testing facility, which reported a positive for "chronic use" of ecstasy.

Joynt told IA investigators that the result was a false positive. The problem, he suggested, was that he was taking an over-the-counter nasal medication and a prescription medication for recent dental work. Or perhaps, Joynt said, someone had slipped something into his drink at a club.

Scarberry didn't buy the excuses. "The message has got to be that if you use drugs, illegal drugs, felony drugs, and you're a police officer with the City of Hollywood, you're going to be terminated," Scarberry testified.

On March 23, 2000, Scarberry fired Joynt. But the officer appealed the termination, alleging that the drug test should be invalidated because the officer who took his hair sample did not wear rubber gloves. The case went to arbitration.

"The chronic use was recognized in the largest quantity of the hair, not in any sort of residue that might have been introduced into the sample," Scarberry testified.

 

On April 11, 2001, arbitrator James E. Carnicella ruled against the department. The arbitrator ordered that Joynt be suspended for 90 days without pay and subjected to three random drug tests within six months.

Scarberry admits that, after having assigned Joynt to a desk job for the past five years, he recently agreed to put him back on patrol. "Brian Joynt's commanding officers came to me and explained that they believe he is ready again for the responsibility," Scarberry says.

Florida law prohibits law enforcement agencies from hiring an officer who has used illegal drugs within the three years preceding employment.

"Brian Joynt has taken responsibility," Capt. Rode says. "He made mistakes and owned up to them. Now he wants a second chance. I think he deserves that much."

THE FUTURE

Hollywood Police Officers Christina Rodriguez, Vinicio Perez, and Brian Joynt illustrate a major problem in law enforcement, not just in Hollywood but across the United States. Applicants who are hired despite bad or questionable backgrounds often turn into bad cops. It's a lesson that South Florida should have learned in the late 1980s, when about 100 cops were arrested, fired, or suspended in Miami-Dade County in what became known as the Miami River cops scandal. Those officers were hired in a hurry after the Mariel boatlift despite involvement by some in street gangs. After joining the force, several were convicted of cocaine theft and murder.

The former assistant chief of the Miami Beach Police Department, Scarberry knows what kind of havoc applicants with questionable backgrounds can cause when given guns and badges. For that reason -- among others -- Scarberry says he will not offer employment in Hollywood to anyone with troubling psychological exams or significant background problems. In fact, 33 law enforcement positions remain unfilled in the city, he says, because "I haven't had applicants who can pass the psychological exam."

The chief believes that background and psychological reports can predict behavior. "They will fit the officer to a T," he says.

Yet Scarberry has no intention of terminating any of the officers hired a decade ago during Hollywood's hiring scandal. "A decision was made before me not to fire those officers," Scarberry says dismissively. "The city didn't do it then. It's not my place to do it now."

The hiring scandal's cost to taxpayers and public safety can be quantified: 11 lawsuits, as much as $1 million in settlements and legal fees, dozens of allegedly brutalized citizens and visitors, and 30 officers on the street who a hired expert said had background or psychological problems.

"It's shocking," says Andre Brown, a 46-year-old Hollywood resident and community activist. "Should these guys still be on the force? No. They are a threat to our community. We trust in police officers, and this shows that we can't trust them in Hollywood. A federal investigation into the Police Department is overdue."

"I don't think the commission has ever been presented with this information -- that so many of these officers have remained on the force," City Commissioner Sal Oliveri says of the New Times investigation. "Certainly this sounds like something that needs to be addressed."

Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of articles about the Hollywood Police Department. You can read others at www.newtimesbpb.com/special_reports/hollywood.


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