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Plantation 9-1-1

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The Plantation Police Department thought Wesley Christopher was a neglectful dad. So they Tasered his 2-year-old daughter. That´s not a misprint or something from an episode of Reno 9-1-1. It actually happened.

In February of last year, a Broward County Child Protective Services investigator named Nicole Percival staked out Christopher´s home in response to an anonymous report that Christopher routinely left 2-year-old Natalie unsupervised on NW Eighth Court in Plantation.

In fact, on this occasion, he did, the cops say. Percival allegedly saw Christopher leave the house on his bicycle, returning 10 or 15 minutes later with his 6-year-old son, Brandon, whom he´d picked up from school.

By then, Percival had already called the Plantation Police, though responding officers took 40 minutes to get there. Christopher had long since returned; he was sweeping his garage as Percival, her CPS trainee, and three police officers walked up the driveway. Officer Brian Boos accused Christopher of abandoning his daughter. Christopher denied it. In his report, Boos wrote, ¨I explained to the defendant if he continued [to] lie about leaving the child he would be placed under arrest.¨

With Christopher continuing his denials, the officers tried to arrest him. Christopher escaped Boos´ grasp, and in the commotion, both Natalie and Brandon began to wail from inside the house. Christopher went in, with Boos in pursuit, and took Natalie in his arms.

Percival´s trainee asked to take Natalie, but Christopher refused, the police report says. He asked the cops and social workers to wait until his fiancée, the mother of the children, arrived.

They didn´t want to wait. Boos told Christopher he was under arrest. ¨The defendant ignored my talking and stated, The baby doesn´t know you all, you´re not taking her,´¨ Boos reported.

As Percival took the screaming 6-year-old upstairs (presumably to pack some clothes in preparation for placing him in a temporary shelter), police officers surrounded Christopher and tried to pull Natalie out of his arms. When that didn´t work, wrote Boos, ¨I drive-stunned the defendant in his upper back between his shoulder blades.¨

That´s 50,000 volts of electricity. As anyone who´s shuffled across a thick carpet in dry weather knows, human beings are conductors. The shock moved from Christopher (who was shirtless) to Natalie. Predictably, the shock caused Christopher to drop the baby, who bounced off the sofa edge and slammed into the floor.

When Christopher bent down and picked up Natalie, another officer stunned him and again he dropped Natalie on the floor.

Christopher was booked on felony charges of neglect and resisting arrest, but by the time his case finally came to trial, those charges were reduced to a single misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.

The jury needed about 75 minutes to issue its ruling last Friday: not guilty. Surprised?

Christopher couldn´t afford his own attorney in his criminal trial, but public defender Dale Miller delivered particularly when he asked Boos to unsheath his Taser X26 and conduct a demonstration for the jury. Enough crackling electricity came out of the thing to frighten jurors, Miller contends.

Tailpipe bets a six-pack of O´Doul´s against a glass of Everglades water that Christopher will find a private attorney who´s glad to accept his civil suit against the Plantation cops. $$$unPass

It used to be public servants who stole from the public coffers. But then, big government ¨deciders¨ notably Dubya and his younger Florida sibling went big-time into privatization and ¨outsourcing,¨ creating vast new opportunities for private-sector felons. Most recently, there was the case of an employee of a Florida Department of Transportation contractor who was charged in federal court in Fort Lauderdale with embezzling nearly a quarter of a million dollars from taxpayers. Of course, it took a public employee to notice the missing money though it took him two years. (That´s the problem with bureaucrats, Bush & Bush complain. They´re slow.)

Richard Arce, a project manager at FDOT´s Florida Turnpike SunPass Operations Center in Boca Raton, was reviewing accounting records and noticed that, dating back to November 2005, there had been some abnormally large refunds to one account.

A SunPass, as any Turnpike commuter will tell you, is an electronic transmitter that allows drivers to link a credit card to a state account so that they can pay tolls without having to rummage for change or wait in long lines. Occasionally, mistakes are made, people are overcharged, and refunds are made. Five or ten dollars here and there, sure. But $240,000? That´s greedy and, well, foolhardy.

It seems that Sharon M. Taffe, 38, a Jamaican national living in Broward County, had been working as an accounting specialist for the New York-based Faneuil Group for four years. According to court records, in 2003, Taffe was having some financial problems. She fell behind in her fees to her townhouse association, and a civil court ordered a foreclosure sale.

 

About the same time, Florida´s Turnpike Enterprise gave the Faneuil Group a fat contract for personnel services (more than $360 million over the past five years, according to the state agency). In 2005, Faneuil opened a ¨dedicated customer contact center¨ in Orlando, according to the company´s website, which prominently touts its relationship with Florida´s state government.

According to court records, Taffe admitted to U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Christopher Hersey last month that she´d wired $140,000 in toll revenues to her Bank of America account. She denied taking the other $100,000, but bank records show otherwise. Maybe Taffe was using that fuzzy Halliburton math you hear so much about nowadays. No word yet on her sentence. No Room at the Inn

The voice on the other end of the line was desperate. Dana Garcia had reached rock bottom, but she was trying to hold onto her last shred of dignity. ¨I just refuse to prostitute myself again to pay for rent,¨ she said. Garcia is trying to put her life back together. Abuse, depression, prostitution, and cocaine use over the years have sent her bouncing through the system from shelters to jails to mental wards. She´s ready for a clean start if only her penis weren´t in the way.

Garcia, 56, has dressed as a woman for more than three decades. With the help of hormones, she has A-cup breasts. She wears a wig of black flowing tresses and a full face of makeup. Shimmery orange polish accents her long fingernails.

For years, Garcia lived the life of a party girl, being taken care of by rich men. But then things started to fall apart.

Broke and homeless now, Garcia needs a place to live. There are shelters for the homeless, but here´s the rub: They´re segmented into male and female residences. There´s no room designated for anyone who´s a little of both.

When Tailpipe met Garcia last month, she was staying at the Henderson Mental Health Center´s Crisis Stabilization Unit, where she had been placed under observation because of suicidal thoughts. By then, counselors wanted to release her to a homeless shelter, where she´d have to dress as a man a big step that only added to Garcia´s anguish.

Tailpipe called to speak with her case manager, Athera Pascascio. But before Pascascio could talk, she said, she´d need written consent from Garcia. She assured the ´Pipe that Garcia would not be leaving that day. A few hours later, Pascascio had clocked out. And Garcia was gone.

The next day, Garcia called again, this time from a public phone. She was never presented with a waiver so that Pascascio could discuss the case with Tailpipe, she said. ¨They rushed me out of there,¨ Garcia recounts. ¨They gave me ten minutes to pack my shit.¨ Henderson officials wouldn´t comment.

Tiffany Arieagus, a prevention counselor at HIV/AIDS service organization Care Resource, says many share Garcia´s dilemma. Arieagus says there are probably about 5,000 transgender individuals living in Broward County. When families and communities reject their gender identities, it´s easy for those folks to end up on the street like the group of ¨girls¨ Arieagus once met who were living behind a Burger King on Oakland Park Boulevard.

¨We have no homeless shelters that do anything for transgender people,¨ Arieagus says. ¨Of all the spaces they provide, they should make a space so that people are free to be who they are. They make rooms and bathrooms for women, and they do it for men, so why not transgender? They´re people too.¨

Allan Dupuis, program director at Fort Lauderdale Hospital´s Pride Institute, which provides mental health and chemical-dependency treatment for the GLBT community, says the bigger problem is a general lack of funding for social services. Garcia was hoping to get one of the ten beds at Pride, where she anticipated gay-friendly services. But she ended up at heedless Henderson.

Dupuis suggests that Garcia ¨go undercover for a little bit¨ and take the offer of three hots and a cot at a homeless shelter. ¨At various points in our lives, we all have to conform to get what we need,¨ Dupuis says. ¨Until she gets the means, at least she´s got a roof over her head and food in her belly.¨

Stanley Stubbs, who manages the BEDS helpline for Broward´s Coalition to End Homelessness, is familiar with Garcia, whom he referred to as a man. ¨I wish we could help him, but he´s insisted that he will not modify his dress,¨ Stubbs says. ¨And you can imagine that would be a problem for his safety if he were placed in an open-bay shelter.¨

 

The last Tailpipe heard from Garcia, she was staying with some ¨acquaintances¨ who were using drugs.

¨I can´t stay here,¨ she whispered into the phone. ¨They´ll try to pimp me.¨


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