Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw Faces Accusations of Sexism
Shortly before noon on May 5, as they did every Thursday, deputies Kathleen Mottl, Dawn Amoroso, and Michelle Bonan collected dozens of items from three of the courthouse's so-called "amnesty" boxes.
The boxes are prominently placed near the courthouse's airport-style security checkpoints. They allow defendants, jurors, lawyers, and court watchers to drop off anonymously things that could be considered weapons before walking through metal detectors. You can never get your item back, but you won't get in trouble for walking into a courtroom with something that might be illegal.
The deputies picked up the usual arsenal of cutters, small knives, pepper sprays, and shanks and carried it to a first-floor room known as "the containment room."
"We placed all the items on the table," Amoroso, 45, wrote in her report. "As we were separating the items to conduct a logged inventory, Deputy Bonan picked up an unknown beige plastic box which had yellow buttons and unknown black writing and said: 'I don't know what this is, but I've never seen this before.' "
Amoroso took the item from 42-year-old Bonan and set it down. When she did, she heard a pop. Immediately, a brown substance left the box and hit the wall. Instantly, the deputies' eyes watered, throats swelled, and lungs burned.
May 5 was just four days after Navy SEALs executed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. The federal government had warned that terrorists might strike in retaliation. And it wasn't unreasonable that it would happen in Palm Beach County, considering that anthrax had shown up in the Boca Raton offices after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
With the federal warnings fresh on their minds, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office deputies called in their supervisors. The brass ordered the area around the containment room sealed. They shut down elevators and evacuated the first two floors of the building while ordering people on the upper floors to stay put.
As the pungent, acrid stench made the deputies sneeze, wheeze, and cough, a hazmat team from West Palm Beach Fire Rescue scrambled to the courthouse.
Within minutes, a command center was set up on the shutdown Quadrille Boulevard, a busy street in the back of the building fronted by North Dixie Highway. A half dozen space-suit-clad fire-rescue personnel were soon ready for action.
Investigators learned that the strange device was far from a terrorist weapon. It was a damaged Kimber LifeAct Guardian Angel, a high-performance pepper spray outfitted with two small CO2 cartridges allowing for a pair of blasts up to 13 feet away.
Still, rescuers decided to decontaminate the three deputies, whose uniforms and bodies were stained by the brown liquid.
That's where Amoroso's report ends.
What wasn't in the report, according to three witnesses: How the women were treated when they were walked to the decontamination area and told to get naked and scrubbed down with a Tide solution. From inside a silver space suit, a firefighter hummed Randy Newman's strip-club classic "You Can Leave Your Hat On."
"You guys get ready for deputies gone wild!" said another rescuer.
Then the icing, or lack therefore, on this cake of humiliation: Amoroso, Bonan, and Mottl were ordered to disrobe in a makeshift decontamination area with no roof. It stood smack-dab in the middle of downtown West Palm Beach at the foot of the ten-floor courthouse. Folks who gathered at the upper-floor windows to watch the always-spectacular, fancy-equipment-driven hazmat effort had a clear view of the disrobing deputies.
The women asked to be shielded from view. They were told: "No can do, ladies! We don't have a cover." Or a blanket. Or anything enough to hide them from view.
That day, Assistant Chief Kevin Green said West Palm Fire Rescue's personnel failed to bring the decontamination tent to the scene. So they improvised. Three fire trucks were parked in a tight near-square formation, with a tarp covering the fourth side.
"In hindsight, we should have had the tent," Green says now. "But we did the best we could with what we had to work with. The deputies were treated with the utmost respect."
Mottl, 35, especially pleaded with their by-the-book PBSO supervisors for them to get involved and protect their privacy. The women were told to follow instructions. By the book. Roof or no roof.
So they did.
"I never felt more humiliated," one of the three deputies said, asking that she not be quoted by name for fear of retaliation from the agency. "First, we had to listen to these jerks say offensive things to us. But here we were, standing in downtown West Palm Beach with all these eyes looking at us from the upper floors of the courthouse. There were people at the parking garage. It was like being violated."
Two of the three deputies declined to talk about the incident. And none of the three complained officially at PBSO, although Mottl is shopping for a labor attorney for possible legal action.
"I worked earlier hazmat responses in the past," says the deputy who asked that her name not be used. "When they decontaminate men, they have a roof over the tent."
Bonan, Amoroso, and Mottl were treated at St. Mary's Medical Center after their scrub down and released in good health.
The incident, however, crystallized what some call a malaise at PBSO when it comes to the treatment of women in uniform. And the lack of support from the deputies' supervisors illustrated that, despite talk by the agency's top brass that the playing field is leveled for both genders, PBSO remains a good-old-boys club under the leadership of two-term Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.
In late 2008, PBSO officials bragged that their homicide unit has seven women while sheriff's offices in Broward and Miami-Dade counties have only five between them. The department could also boast that about a quarter of its 2,126 uniformed employees were women — twice the national average.
But the agencywide picture is much different. The higher you venture into PBSO's organizational chart, the lower the percentages.
Of the seven majors who supervise the patrol divisions, all are men. Out of 32 captains at the agency, only three are women. There are eight women at the rank of lieutenant, compared to 74 men. And there are 36 women sergeants, compared to 211 men.
Currently, PBSO's highest-ranking woman is a major, Tammy Waldrop, who went up the ranks under Bradshaw's predecessor, Ed Bieluch, before Bradshaw promoted her to major. Waldrop, who's working on a doctorate in administration, supervises the less-desirable corrections side of PBSO. But she is one of only two women on the sheriff's 16-member executive staff. Andrea Lueghausen, the civilian head of 911 operators, is the other.
The sheriff declined to make himself available for an interview for this article. But an unlikely ally, Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association President John Kazanjian, defended Bradshaw's record. The numbers, he says, don't show necessarily a lack of respect for the women in uniform. "With the budget cuts, no one is making rank," says Kazanjian, a former PBSO sergeant. "It's not about men versus women. It's just that no one has been promoted in months."
Besides, Kazanjian added, of all the sheriffs he has known, Bradshaw has been the most proactive at narrowing the gender gap. "It's only after this sheriff was elected that light alternative duty for pregnant women was enacted," Kazanjian says. "Back when I was a supervisor, I was on the streets with women deputies who were seven or eight months pregnant."
Says PBSO's number two, Chief Deputy Sheriff Mike Gauger: "We're working on it. There's more women deputies than ever before, but they must go through the system before they're promoted in higher numbers. They're moving through the ranks, but there's still a lack of experience. There are quite a few women who'll make captain and above over the next few years. We're looking for smart, experienced individuals, no matter what gender they are."
Not so, says Alan Aronson, a West Palm Beach labor lawyer who represents law enforcement employees. It's while working on his cases, he says, that he's reminded that PBSO is still a man's world.
"There's disparate treatment between men and women at PBSO, there's no doubt in my mind," Aronson says. "Those in management are out of the 1970s. It might not even be conscious."
A dead ringer for Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Aronson was the Palm Beach County PBA's lead counsel for seven years before he moved on to the private practice of Rosenthal, Levy & Simon. As an attorney who supervised the handling of thousands of complaints and conflicts within PBSO, Aronson says women get the short end more often than not — just because they're women.
"One place where you can see it clearly is in the way PBSO disciplines deputies," Aronson says. "The big picture is simple: Men don't get slammed like women."
"Getting slammed" — being punished harshly for violations of rules and regulations — is at the heart of a federal lawsuit Aronson filed late last year on behalf of 45-year-old Ann Marie Burke, a woman who became PBSO's first female patrol captain in 2007. The lawsuit names Bradshaw because he is intimately involved in the disciplining of employees found guilty of violations by Internal Affairs.
Burke came on board May 1, 1989, according to her personnel file. Partly because of her deep knowledge of PBSO policies and politics, partly because she believed the rules did apply to her, and partly because of her master's degree in administration, Burke went up the ranks steadily, making captain in just 14 years.
Burke was promoted by Bieluch, the previous sheriff, after a tour of duty as commander of the Internal Affairs squad. She had been handpicked for the thankless job after the now-deceased Bieluch was elected in 2000. Burke brought a certain zeal to the rat squad's daily routine. She ruffled feathers in the agency's establishment. "She ruined quite a few people's lives," union boss Kazanjian says, "a lot of lives that didn't need to be ruined."
He cites, for example, that Burke was a driving force behind the 2001 firings of two deputies and another's resignation after they posted videos on a porn website of themselves in group sex — in uniform, on the hood of a marked PBSO car, and using PBSO-issued nightsticks.
By 2007, Burke was named commander of the West Boca district. The area's sprawling gated communities form one of the sheriff's richest, and therefore most important, districts. At the time, Burke was also PBSO's second-highest-ranking female. That's when, reaching for the rarefied air of the rank of major, Burke applied for admission to a prestigious, ultracompetitive three-month training program at the Federal Bureau of Investigation's academy in Quantico, Virginia.
By any standards, what happened next defied logic and Burke's personal history. She was accused of attempting to smuggle her service gun into her dorm room; being uncooperative and downright rude to her federal instructors; and even getting into a fight with a roommate during which Burke was accused of pulling out a knife. Burke's behavior had her roommates so worried that they barricaded themselves in their dorm rooms at night.
At the time, Burke, who declined to be interviewed for this article, told the Palm Beach Post that she was going through a long-distance breakup as well as a nasty bout of asthma. She also claimed she was being harassed because she declined to go on nightly drinking romps with fellow students. As for the knife, she says, it was just a butter knife.
Still, FBI officials made some calls — and the PBSO brass ordered Burke back to West Palm Beach a month shy of graduation. She was immediately suspended pending an investigation by the same I.A. squad she once headed. She was found to have violated standards of conduct, courtesy rules, and official procedures, according to the Internal Affairs file of the investigation.
An embarrassed Bradshaw, in the midst of a campaign for a second term that he handily won in 2008, quickly double-demoted Burke to road sergeant. In addition to a loss of prestige, Burke was hit in the pocketbook. By one stroke of Bradshaw's pen, she went from earning a maximum $150,000 a year, including a 10 percent bonus, to a maximum of $95,000.
"This agency won't tolerate improper conduct from command staff officers," an unusually candid Bradshaw told the Post between flesh-pressing campaign appearances. "She was dealing with some issues, and she made bad choices."
The bad choice, Aronson says, was Bradshaw's. He singled out Burke for harsh punishment while remaining lenient with so many others, especially men. Burke believes the double demotion was ordered illegally because it showed "disparate treatment" that the lawsuit pins on gender. "Ann Burke was handed an industrial capital punishment," Aronson says. "It was unnecessary. Had she been a male, they would have given her a chance. Maybe put her on probation or something."
Burke's lawsuit, meanwhile, draws an interesting list of male PBSO officials who remained virtually discipline-free or were the targets of relatively light punishment in incidents that included "drunk driving... unapproved overtime and theft of services, unauthorized sexual relations between supervisors and subordinates, and (others) who were allowed to continue to work despite felony and misdemeanor convictions for crimes against women."
Burke was deposed July 28. But it's easy to figure out some of the star witnesses who may pop up if the lawsuit makes it to trial. Michael Kletzky's name will no doubt be brought up. Kletzky was a detective sergeant in 2005 when he and two of his men attended a law enforcement convention on youth gangs in St. Petersburg. According to news reports, Kletzky and the deputies met women during a night of drinking and took them on a high-speed, lights-and-siren ride through downtown in Kletzky's unmarked service car.
When the smoke cleared, and after the fuzz in Tampa Bay stopped Kletzky not just once but twice, then let him go, he was accused of pushing one of the women out of his moving car. She withdrew her complaint the following morning, saying she too was drunk. Pinellas County authorities complained to PBSO bosses about the shenanigans. In time, Kletzky received a five-day suspension.
Another macho PBSO character whose record is likely to be brought up is David Carhart, former captain of the agency's violent crimes bureau. Carhart's vodka-fueled descent into professional suicide in 2005 included incidents in which he broke into the empty apartment of a former lover, then called her from there while she was on a date with someone else. He also violated court orders mandating him to say away from yet another ex-girlfriend.
The criminal system punished Carhart in 2006 with a year in the county stockade. He pleaded guilty to a felony charge of aggravated stalking. The punishment doled out by Bradshaw? Carhart was bumped down one rank to lieutenant before he walked out the door in a mass layoff with a lieutenant's severance package that included a $120,000 payoff. He also lost his law enforcement license.
Then there's former K-9 squad supervisor J.J. Morrissey, a lieutenant. In 2009, Morrissey was found to have approved the falsification of pay stubs so that a subordinate would receive overtime he didn't earn. Bradshaw handed Morrissey a 34-day suspension and no demotion.
In April 2006, according to PBSO records, Major Alfred Musco was working an off-duty detail for an Ozzy Osbourne concert at Cruzan Amphitheatre in suburban West Palm. He heard that a sergeant made fun of him publicly at the preconcert briefing he didn't attend. So Musco confronted Sgt. Mark Jolly in a style more suited to Full Metal Jacket, telling him as Ozzy fans filed by: "Sgt. Jolly, listen to me and listen to me good... If you have another laugh at my expense, your fucking career will come to a fucking screeching halt so fast that it'll make your head fucking spin."
Jolly eventually filed a complaint with I.A. During the probe, Musco confronted a lieutenant who had witnessed the scene at Cruzan, telling him, "I hope you didn't say anything to hurt me." Three days later, that lieutenant was transferred to a less desirable post.
Musco, two ranks removed from the sheriff, was found guilty of threatening and harassing subordinates as well as tampering with an open I.A. probe. His sentence: a ten-day suspension without pay — right on time for Christmas 2006. And no demotion.
Says labor lawyer Aronson: "While it's pretty clear that PBSO will protect its own — at least when they're guys — they didn't they protect Ann Burke."
The lawsuit also names Bradshaw, and Aronson is expected to pounce on the sheriff's documented treatment of minorities when it comes to discipline. Just last year, the City of West Palm Beach was found to have discriminated against former city cop William McCray, who's black, while Bradshaw was the city's police chief in the late 1990s. McCray was fired in 2001 and is now a sheriff's deputy.
West Palm Beach spent an estimated $1 million on legal bills in the ten-year battle. Among the claims that McCray set forth were that he was more harshly punished than white officers when Internal Affairs found him guilty of violations. A judge awarded him $230,000 before the award was tossed out. Another jury is supposed to come up with another amount over the next few months.
PBSO's second in command, Chief Deputy Gauger, says there's no disparity in the disciplining of PBSO employees.
"I can promise you that gender, or race, for that matter, do not matter to me or the sheriff when we look at inappropriate actions of deputies," says Gauger.
And, he adds, it's inappropriate to bring up Burke's case alongside Musco's, Morrissey's, Carhart's, and Kletzky's. "There's no disparity, even if [Burke's] lawsuit claims that there is. At one point, the sheriff was going to fire Ann Burke outright, but we decided to keep her. There's a whole lot more about her story that'll come out in court."
A whole lot already has come out about PBSO Detective Kim Bradley, with much more to come since she too is in a legal battle with the agency. By most accounts, Bradley is one of the good guys. She'd never been disciplined in her 21 years on the job — until her transfer to the Belle Glade district.
Bradley, 43, requested in early 2009 to leave the sheriff's Gun Club Road headquarters in West Palm Beach and move to the Belle Glade detective squad because it's closer to her home in Clewiston.
By April of that year, she was working in her new post on an otherwise-all-male squad under the leadership of Det. Sgt. Trevor Cayson, according to records. A diminutive woman who handled well the paramilitary world of PBSO, Bradley had earned her stripes in murder and robbery investigations by lending a sympathetic ear to crime victims. As a detective, a former supervisor would later testify, Bradley often spent whatever time necessary "to talk to victims... about investigations that concern them."
Cayson's welcome to Bradley, according to court papers, wasn't so warm. "Hey, Dorothy, you're not in Kansas anymore" became a favorite line when he talked to Bradley.
Bradley, meanwhile, began questioning some of the squad's procedures, claiming that her fellow cops were regularly violating the civil rights of suspects. She says she saw one slapping handcuffs on a young would-be burglar, then "unarresting" him after he agreed to give up a codefendant. Bradley called it coercion. Her new colleagues called it routine.
She also questioned how the squad kept statistics, accusing Cayson of "stacking." That's a practice in which cops charge a defendant with several counts when just one would suffice. With stacking, statistics make it look like more arrests were made than in reality.
Cayson, who has supervised only two women in his career, deemed Bradley's work to be of inferior quality and seemed to distrust her, according to Bradley's personnel file. He once noted that, when he met her to discuss work in what should have been one-on-one sessions, he requested another sergeant be present. Why? "She's a female," Cayson would later explain during testimony. He added that Bradley cried in one of those sessions.
Within five months of her transfer, Bradley received two letters of reprimand: one for neglect of duty and the other for disrespect of a superior. Three days later, she was demoted to road patrol, at a loss of $4,000 a year, and transferred 35 miles away to the Royal Palm Beach district.
In October 2009, Bradley and the PBA triggered a contract-approved arbitration process, claiming that PBSO piled on against Bradley with the Royal Palm transfer and de facto demotion. The minitrial included evidence presented by both the PBA and Peter Sampo, PBSO's outside counsel. It didn't go PBSO's way.
Arbitrator Jeanne Charles Wood, who presided over the proceedings, concluded last year that Bradley's transfer was inappropriate and violated the labor contract. The detective, Wood concluded, was given no opportunity to correct her conduct and her transfer indeed was part of a disciplinary action.
Wood ordered PBSO to reinstate Bradley. PBSO appealed her decision and presented the case before a Palm Beach County circuit judge. He concurred with Wood. PBSO appealed yet again, and the case is now before the Fourth District Court of Appeal. PBA boss Kazanjian says it could be at least another year before Bradley is reinstated and sent back to Belle Glade.
"It's very hard to overturn arbitration, which is why it's very rare for a case like this one to go on this long," Kazanjian says. "This case is going to set a precedent because I don't remember the sheriff ever appealing something like this."
For career cop Bradshaw, Gauger says, it's about asserting management's right to reassign anyone it wants anywhere it wants. For the PBA, it's about preventing the use of transfers as punishment. For Bradley, it's also about her gender.
"When I joined PBSO at 22," she says, "I didn't even know what a good-old-boys' club was. It wasn't even in my world. Now I know what it's like."
At 58, retired homicide Sgt. Cynthia Robinson can be found on her property in the hills of North Carolina. A crow croaks loudly in the sky above her porch as she reminisces about her 27 years at PBSO.
As a woman asked in her entrance interview whether she signed up to be a deputy in order to find a husband, Robinson says she feels for Kim Bradley, her former detective. She did nothing to justify her demotion, Robinson says, except question the good old boys.
Robinson says she feels she could have made at least lieutenant had she been a man. After all, she says, she handled the chores of a lieutenant for years. "There were subtle little things that would make me take notice of the disparity," says Robinson, a handwriting comparison expert. "Like, the emails the men would send would be cc'd to 'Mike, Jim, Bob, and Joe' and to 'Sgt. Robinson.' It's like they wanted to put distance between them and me. If you're not one of the boys, it's hard to get promoted."
Still, Robinson says, she's not sure PBSO's administration actively, consciously discriminates against women. The men who lead the department just don't know better.
"I don't think they are conscious there's anything wrong," she says. "They honestly believe they're doing the right thing. It's just that they never stood in women's shoes."
In small ways, the May 5 hazmat response already has had an effect.
WPB Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Green says he discussed changing procedures for hazmat incidents at the courthouse, where deputies Amoroso, Bonan, and Mottl still work. For one thing, command centers no longer will be erected in the middle of Quadrille but in a more secluded area near the building's loading dock. And he's made it clear that hazmat crews must bring their official decontamination tent.
"We didn't think that the deputies were female until we saw them come out for decontamination," Green says. "That was never communicated to us by PBSO."
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