Strong Arm of the Law
Vincent Del'Ostia, a tattooed, five-foot-nine, 160-pound 31-year-old with a history of drug abuse and psychological problems, paced outside the office door of the Entrada Motel on Federal Highway in Hollywood. High on cocaine, he wasn't there to rent a room. He wrapped his hand around the doorknob and banged on the windows. The behavior worried employees. "He was trying to speak, but there was nothing coming out," recalled Joan Perez, a 47-year-old maid.
Del'Ostia had damaged his throat in a motorcycle accident at age 16. Talking could sometimes be difficult for him, especially when he was having a psychotic episode that his Prozac couldn't prevent. "He was not mad. He was acting weird," said Veronica Vitieollo, a 41-year-old who observed the incident. "He was grinding his teeth. He was making movements. You would be afraid because of the way he was acting."
It was January 27, 2002. Hollywood police arrived at 2:45 p.m. Officers Pete Salvo and Jeffrey Murray confronted Del'Ostia. According to Salvo, the crazed man was half-dressed, perspiring heavily, and grunting.
Salvo -- a fast-talking 43-year-old with a compact, well-built frame and a thin beard that stretches down his cheeks close to the jaw line -- told Del'Ostia to lie on the ground. No response. He asked if he needed medical assistance. No response. "Can you speak?" Salvo queried.
No response again. Salvo then saw the man's pupils: narrowed to small pinpoints. His breathing was short and rapid.
"If you understand me, nod your head," Salvo said in his deep, confident voice.
Del'Ostia stared at Salvo, then stretched his arm back, flexing, ready to strike. Murray approached, and Del'Ostia kicked at him. In response, Murray pulled out his Taser gun and fired. It proved ineffective.
A Taser launches two wires at a target. Those wires then attach and transmit an electrical current. Del'Ostia somehow knocked off one of the wires, neutralizing the effect of the nonlethal device. He became erratic. He flailed his arms and kicked his feet.
Salvo, Murray, and two other officers who arrived then jumped on Del'Ostia, pinning him facedown. Murray handcuffed and shackled him. Del'Ostia struggled.
Although one observer later told Internal Affairs (IA) investigators that Del'Ostia was "hog-tied" -- which would have violated official procedure -- police legal adviser Joel Cantor denies that allegation. The technique is prohibited because it restricts breathing.
Once Del'Ostia was subdued, Salvo sauntered toward Federal Highway to direct traffic away from the scene. Paramedics soon arrived and inspected the captive. They first noticed his skin tone; it was off.
Minutes later, Salvo went over to inspect the body. He summed up his findings in the police report, which was chillingly professional: "While walking back toward the scene, this officer heard the rescue lieutenant advise the subject was not breathing."
Del'Ostia was dead. He wasn't the only one to die after tangling with Salvo.
Twenty months later, on September 17, 2003, Hollywood Police Chief Jim Scarberry walked to the lectern to address the City Commission. A handsome man with wavy white hair, Scarberry was there to recognize Salvo as one of two July 2003 Officers of the Month. The other was Detective Robert Wolfkill.
"During the month of June, Detective Salvo and Detective Wolfkill began a self-initiated investigation involving a large marijuana-growing and -distribution organization," Scarberry explained. "These detectives worked as many as 16 hours a day gathering intelligence and surveillance and target locations."
As a result, Salvo and Wolfkill located five houses that had been converted into hydroponic growing facilities and stash houses. "In just four weeks, these detectives gathered intelligence equivalent to the size of a typical phonebook," Scarberry continued. Nine search warrants resulted in the seizure of 700 cannabis plants and $6.2 million in cash. The drug operation had generated an estimated $14 million in annual revenue.
Scarberry placed his hands on the lectern and looked over at his officers. "Detective Salvo and Detective Wolfkill are to be commended for their relentless efforts to conduct a thorough investigation and their commitment to the Vice, Intelligence, and Narcotics Unit," he said. "Congratulations, Pete and Robert."
Salvo took a position behind the lectern. "I would do this job for nothing," he said. "I get to go out and arrest drug dealers. It's a fantastic job. I want to thank you guys. I want to thank the command staff, the chief, the supervisors, and the fantastic, talented people I work with, and my partner here. Sometimes I feel I'm married to him. He cleans up my toothbrush, does all my work for me, and I really appreciate it. I know I'm talking long, and I see the three-minute thing going here. Sorry."
The crowd laughed.
"For what you did, it's OK," Mayor Mara Giulianti interjected.
"That was easy," Salvo replied jokingly. "Getting in this suit was harder."
Later that year, the wisecracking Salvo would receive one of the Hollywood Police Department's highest honors: Officer of the Year. He would also receive a lawsuit from the family of Vincent Del'Ostia, alleging that he was partially responsible for the man's death.
The Officer of the Year accolade and the wrongful-death lawsuit are equally representative of Salvo's tenure at the Hollywood Police Department, the third-largest law enforcement agency in Broward County. During his 20-year career in the city, Salvo has been both praised as a determined, resourceful cop and accused of sexual battery, manslaughter, and brutality. In just the past eight years, he has been the subject of nine IA investigations for everything from excessive use of force to use of abusive language to improper search and seizure. In 1999, he was named in a lawsuit that Hollywood settled for $42,500.
All but one of the complaints were dismissed by IA. The other traced to an incident in March 2003 in which Salvo violated internal rules when he distributed a flier inside police headquarters that criticized a supervisor. For that, he received a written reprimand.
"This guy sounds like a freight train ready to derail," says Diop Kamau, president of the Police Complaint Center, a nonprofit organization based in Tallahassee that provides assistance to victims of law enforcement abuse. "The officers who are the most lauded and supported by their peers are those who often have had the most complaints about their behavior. Thirty years ago, the guy who broke heads, the knuckle breaker, was considered the hero of the department. Some still have that attitude."
Hollywood, a predominantly white city of 139,357 people nestled along the Atlantic Ocean between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, is one of the area's most troubled cities, Kamau contends. Salvo is only a small part of the problem. Since 1996, the city has been threatened with 21 lawsuits for excessive use of force, injury, or battery on a citizen. One of those cases resulted in a $750,000 jury verdict. And unlike Fort Lauderdale and Miami, there's no official citizen oversight of police in Hollywood.
"Hollywood is at the top of my list," Kamau alleges. "They have the most complaints within a 50-mile radius. I've gotten four calls about excessive use of force in the last year. There are departments much larger than Hollywood that don't have any complaints."
Not much information is available on Pete Salvo. There's no record that he owns property, has a business license, or even applied for a marriage license in Broward County. He declined to comment for this article, and few officers or city officials offer any more than predictable phrases or collegial support.
His personnel record indicates that he's a model police officer. Accolades and letters about Salvo describe a hard-working, attentive, personable lawman. He started with the department in November 1984 at age 23, earning $17,802 per year as a road-patrol officer, and has since spent time in bicycle and K-9 units. Salvo in 1987 helped infiltrate an outlaw biker gang as part of a multi-agency organized crime investigation. Divorced in 1988, he remarried a few years ago.
His most stunning year with the force came in 1997, when he led the department in arrests with 82 captures for felony, 115 for misdemeanor, and 213 for municipal ordinance violations. He received an Officer of the Month nod that year for developing street intelligence that led to discovery of the first methamphetamine lab in Broward County.
The next year, after the Greater Hollywood Chamber of Commerce named him Beach Officer of the Year, then-Police Chief Rick Stone nominated Salvo for the Ron Cochran Community Policing Officer of the Year Award.
"Officer Salvo lives and works in the city of Hollywood," Stone wrote in the nominating letter. "He exhibits a genuine commitment to the community and work ethic for others to emulate. Even during off-duty hours, in his travels throughout the city, Officer Salvo has made arrests and community contacts without submitting for overtime...
"Officer Salvo is an informal leader in the department," Stone continued. "His commitment to the community policing philosophy has set an example for others to follow and made them less resistant to change. He is a valuable asset not only to the department but the entire community." Salvo did not receive the award.
In evaluation after evaluation, Salvo has received commendable marks. In 2001, while working as a K-9 officer, Salvo confiscated more than 26 pounds of marijuana, nearly 11 pounds of cocaine, three pounds of crack cocaine, and 449 tablets of ecstasy. The U.S. Navy has even recognized Salvo for assisting during Fleet Week year after year.
Salvo has volunteered his time to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital. He has also represented the Police Department as a guest speaker in local classrooms.
Among those who have written the chief about Salvo's performance is former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh. The director commended Salvo for coming to the aid of 14-year-old Jasmine Rice, the daughter of an FBI employee, during a waterskiing accident. Others credit Salvo for helping to clean up crime in the recently revitalized downtown. Linda Strutz, director of the Arts Academy of Hollywood, said Salvo responded quickly to concerns about homeless people loitering in the alley behind her establishment. "It is very comforting for me to know he is in the area when I close the school every evening," Strutz wrote in a letter to the Police Department. Now a narcotics detective earning about $66,000 per year, Salvo has become a star veteran in the Hollywood Police Department. But there are blemishes on his career that the department seems to tacitly condone.
As a patrol officer just shy of four years on the job, Salvo faced an IA investigation and a state grand jury inquiry into an allegation that could have ruined his career. Joni Marie Schapler, an attractive, 36-year-old brunet from Fort Lauderdale, told authorities that Salvo and Officer Greg Saladino sexually assaulted her during a traffic stop near the Chili's restaurant on Sheridan Street.
About 3 a.m. on Friday, May 20, 1988, Schapler headed south on Interstate 95 and exited on Sheridan Street, heading west in a red Chevrolet Camaro. At the time, Salvo and Saladino had their cruisers parked along Sheridan. They were chatting. Salvo remembered seeing a red streak in the humid night air. "There goes a speeding car," Salvo told Saladino.
The young officer gave chase. The Camaro's brake lights flashed unexpectedly, signaling to Salvo that the driver had seen the cruiser in the rear-view mirror. He turned on his lights and stopped the vehicle near a Builder's Square.
Schapler wore a short jeans skirt and a green blouse. The music blared in her vehicle. "What do you want?" Salvo recalled her asking, propping up a leg and exposing her pubic hair.
"I need your driver's license, your vehicle registration, and proof of insurance, ma'am," Salvo said.
The woman thumbed through documents. "When she was fumbling with the papers," Salvo recalled in a statement, "the skirt was going up higher and she had her leg, like, on the console, to where she was exposing, really exposing, herself to myself."
Salvo walked back to his cruiser with Schapler's license and registration. Just then, Saladino's cruiser pulled in behind. The handsome, six-foot-two, 230-pound officer walked up beside Salvo.
"Did you find your insurance, ma'am?" Salvo asked Schapler.
"Oh, I'm looking, I'm looking," she said. "Who's the big guy?"
"He's a partner of mine," Salvo answered. "Don't worry about it."
Schapler's pager sounded. "It's the office," she explained. "They're trying to locate me because I'm supposed to be somewhere."
"At 3:30 a.m.?" the officers questioned.
"I'm a financial consultant," Schapler answered. But that was a lie. She later acknowledged during an investigation that she was a high-priced prostitute servicing wealthy businessmen. That night, she was on her way to see a client. "If I would have said that I was an escort, I think that that in men conjures up a lot of things unless you can sit them down and tell them what caliber of people you're dealing with," she would later explain in a statement.
Salvo and Saladino ordered her to move the Camaro to a dark section of the parking lot, the woman recalled. "I'd just as soon finish it here," Schapler said she replied.
"If you don't [move the car], I'm gonna take you in," Salvo allegedly said.
The officers both acknowledged that they ordered Schapler to a different part of the parking lot. But that is as far as their stories agree with Schapler's.
According to Schapler's account, Salvo and Saladino again approached her car in the dark portion of the lot. Salvo approached her first, she said. "He grabbed my hand and had me fondle him through his clothes because he was commenting that he had such a hard-on," Schapler alleged in her statement.
Schapler claimed that Saladino ordered her to stand against the car, her hands on the top and feet spread. "He undid his pants and pulled up my skirt and had intercourse with me," Schapler said. Salvo masturbated as she was raped, Schapler alleged.
She wasn't on birth control, the woman told the officer. She was concerned about sexually transmitted diseases. She always used condoms.
"Don't worry about it," Schapler remembered Saladino telling her. "I won't get a drop on you." The officer then pulled out early and massaged himself, releasing on the ground, Schapler recalled.
"She was in shock when she came home," remembered her roommate, Ellen Panzarella. "She was a mess, actually. She was just talking in circles, and her mind was just... she was gone, you know? She was crying and very, very upset."
But Salvo and Saladino remembered the incident much differently. They claimed that, upon moving her vehicle, Schapler began to flirt with Saladino. "Why don't I give you my number and we'll get together and go out sometime," Saladino remembered Schapler saying. Then she purportedly stared at Salvo, hiked up her skirt above the waist, grabbed Salvo's hand, and placed it on her leg. "I've got nice legs," Salvo recalled her saying before he pulled back.
Then, Saladino said, he ordered her to leave, and she drove away.
Next, the officers report, Salvo walked behind a Builder's Square to relieve himself. Saladino followed. Schapler suddenly returned, exited the Camaro, removed her skirt, and began to dance. "I've got a 36-year-old ass, and it looks pretty good," she allegedly said.
The two officers drove off. "Geez, what a wacko," Salvo told Saladino.
The next day, the "wacko" filed charges. An IA investigation followed. Then came a grand jury inquiry. All the while, Schapler stuck to her story: She'd been sexually assaulted by two of Hollywood's finest.
The officers' claims that she danced naked were ridiculous, she said in a statement. "By them stopping me and detaining me as long as they did, I lost between $250 and $500," she said, "and there would be no reason for me to do that. I have three men that I go out with in my personal life. I'm not lacking sex. So absolutely, that's absurd."
The case came down to Schapler's account versus that of the two officers. The grand jury declined to press charges, and IA didn't cite them. Though there's no indication as to their reasoning in the public record, juries generally give more credibility to cops than to prostitutes.
Yet the behavior of Salvo and Saladino following the incident appeared to lend some credibility to the allegations of Schapler, who had no criminal record and died two years ago, according to records. During the traffic stop, Salvo never informed the dispatcher of the driver's name or automobile registration information. Upon meeting with his superior that night, Saladino said nothing about a crazy broad dancing naked. What's more, though the statements of Salvo and Saladino were similar, they differed on one important fact: Salvo said Schapler began to dance when they were behind Builder's Square, while Saladino said she danced at the initial traffic stop in the front parking lot.
Still, a grand jury wasn't convinced that the state had a winnable case against the officers. It declined to pursue sexual battery charges.
David Dehass and Larry Dean Smith were having fun during a late night on April 12, 1993. The two men had recently met through Dehass' brother, and that evening they decided to go out for a few drinks. "We were just riding around," the 33-year-old Dehass said in a statement. They were both drunk.
At 2:18 a.m., Smith's cream-colored 1982 Nissan Stanza passed the 5700 block of Wiley Street. Parked on the corner were two Hollywood police cruisers driven by Officers Pete Salvo and Todd Bradford.
"While we were sitting there talking, we saw a car come by, traveling pretty fast in a northbound direction on 57th Avenue," Bradford remembered. The Stanza's rear taillight was out. The two officers took off in pursuit. The Stanza turned east on Plunkett Street, accelerating. "It appeared that he was trying to get away from us," Bradford recalled. Salvo reacted immediately, gunning the engine of his cruiser. He pulled up close to the Stanza's rear and ignited the bright, pulsating red and blue.
Smith stopped at the corner of Plunkett Street and 56th Avenue, in an industrial area of Hollywood. Salvo approached the driver as Bradford moved toward the passenger side. Both officers drew their weapons.
Salvo arrived first. He began to question Smith. Then Salvo said he noticed something between the passenger seat and the center console. "There's a holster there," Salvo said. "Do you have a gun in the car?"
Bradford pointed his gun at the passenger and ordered him out. Dehass opened the door.
"Where is the gun?" Salvo questioned.
"There is no gun," Smith replied, according to Salvo's report.
And that's when the officer allegedly saw it.
"As [the passenger Dehass] moved, this officer observed a handle of a firearm under his left thigh," Salvo would write. "The firearm was positioned in a way which made it accessible for both the passenger and the driver."
"Keep your hands up," Salvo ordered. Smith began to look around, allegedly dropping his right hand slowly toward the firearm. "Keep your hands up," Salvo ordered again. The driver looked at the officer, continuing to lower his hand.
A shot sounded.
Bradford heard the gunshot, dragged Dehass out of the car, ordered him to the ground, and retreated behind the cruisers. "10-33," he radioed, requesting backup.
Salvo joined him. "I asked Pete what happened," Bradford recalled. "He said the guy went for a gun that was in the seat."
While standing a few feet away, Salvo had fired a bullet that hit the top of the Stanza's driver's-side door, tearing a hole in the metal and plastic before fragmenting into several pieces that pierced Smith's abdomen and chest.
"I don't think Officer Salvo knew if it was a fatal shot," Bradford explained. "I still thought [Smith] was alive 'cause he was moving in the seat and stuff, so my concern was for other units to get there until we could make sure that there wasn't another incident, another shooting."
There wasn't. Smith died soon after arriving at Hollywood Memorial Hospital. An officer collected Salvo's .38-caliber Smith & Wesson as evidence.
The IA investigation led to a state grand jury inquiry. The Broward State Attorney's Office tried to make a case for manslaughter, relying on Dehass' account of the incident. He claimed that he never heard the officers say anything about a gun. Dehass also maintained that his pistol, a nickel-colored, H+R .22-caliber purchased at a pawnshop for $107.50, was secured in its holster and placed at his feet. It was, Dehass said, inaccessible to the driver. Smith was killed in retaliation for being a drunken wise ass, Dehass alleged. "He didn't do what the fuck they said," he explained.
Yet the uniform seemed to protect Salvo once again. The grand jury found on July 7, 1993, that the facts did not support a criminal indictment. In their statement, the jurors said they chose to believe Salvo's story. While noting that Dehass claimed the gun was holstered and inaccessible to the driver, they added that Smith lowered his hand toward the revolver, which justified lethal force.
"There's a certain sympathy extended to the police officer because he is involved in dynamic, unfolding, and often dangerous circumstances," explains Mary Cheh, a law professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. "You don't want to impose hindsight. You want to give the benefit of the doubt to the officer."
The argument was the product of a language barrier. On the afternoon of April 20, 1998, Gary Turpin, a lanky, 40-year-old Georgia native standing six-foot-five and weighing 150 pounds, waited outside his girlfriend's apartment at 2200 S. Ocean Dr. in Hollywood. He was seated in his 1978 Ford Econoline van when he heard a horn blaring, then the rapid-fire cadence of an angry man speaking Spanish.
It was 42-year-old Renzo Villanueva. He'd come home for lunch and found his parking spot occupied. Again. This time, he was pissed. Turpin, known for a quick temper throughout his troubled youth, thought he was the target of Villanueva's angry words. He confronted the man.
"I don't think you want to do this to me," Turpin said.
"Hey, nothing is with you," Villanueva remembered saying, trying to communicate with his limited English. "Somebody is parking in my space."
Turpin didn't seem to understand. He was still angry. He jumped back in his van, started the engine, then backed it into Villanueva's car, making a small dent. The man ran to the manager's apartment. Turpin followed.
Minutes later, Hollywood police pulled into the parking lot. First on the scene was Officer Marc Amendola. Turpin sat behind the wheel of his van, an angry look on his face. "He started making statements about how he was going to fuck me up and kick my fucking ass," Amendola remembered.
Backup arrived. Amendola saw Turpin rummaging through the center console of his van. He suspected the Georgian was drunk or on drugs. "For my protection, I had taken my gun out and pointed it at him and ordered him several more times to get out of the van," Amendola recalled.
Turpin finally exited, continuing to threaten the officers. Two other cops positioned themselves behind the gangly subject. "[Turpin] stepped directly toward me, while my gun was still out, and told me that I could go ahead and shoot him, that he didn't care, that I could go ahead and kill him," Amendola recalled.
The other two officers jumped on Turpin, pinning him to the ground. He cried in pain. "I've got a broken arm, you sons of bitches," an onlooker remembered Turpin saying. "I'll kick your asses one by one."
Amendola escorted Turpin to the police station, where Officer Pete Salvo waited to process a detainee, James Ledford, who was involved in a separate incident. Amendola sat Turpin down on a bench next to Ledford. Both arrestees were handcuffed.
"The guy was screaming and yelling, making threats at people in the area," Salvo said in a statement, referring to Turpin. Then Turpin turned his aggression toward Ledford.
"There was no provocation," Salvo remembered. "He didn't provoke [Turpin] whatsoever at all. He was just sitting there, minding his own business, answering questions that I was asking him."
Amendola and Salvo escorted Turpin to a holding cell. According to their statements following the incident, both officers claimed to have been struck by a sense of altruism. "I was going to take his handcuffs off of him so he would be more comfortable," Amendola said.
But as Amendola released Turpin, the tall man allegedly threw a punch at Salvo, landing a glancing blow. Both officers said they responded with necessary force. "I punched him, and we were fighting with him on the ground in the cell," Amendola explained.
"I fell to the ground with him and injured my elbow," Salvo later claimed.
Turpin suffered a broken forearm and abrasions to his face. He was later exonerated at trial. A jury found him not guilty of all charges, including two for battery on a law enforcement officer.
On August 18, 1998, Turpin filed a complaint with IA, alleging that Hollywood police officers used unnecessary force to detain him and that he was beaten while in police custody. After filing the complaint, Turpin later alleged in court, an unarmed police officer threatened him in the police station parking lot and told him he had a "big mouth and better learn to keep it shut."
He didn't. Instead, he asked the court to award damages. The City of Hollywood settled out of court for $42,500. "They brought my client to a cell and took off his handcuffs simply as an excuse to give him a beating," says Turpin's attorney, Sanford Topkin.
None of the officers involved received a reprimand for the incident. "The fact that they did not place any of these officers on suspension or do anything to them for the action that they took," Turpin said, "would seem to me that they were condoning [police violence]."
Lawsuits and complaints about excessive use of force have never affected Salvo's career. Office politics, however, is another matter.
Salvo's activity in the Police Benevolent Association and the Hollywood Police Pension Fund often put him at odds with Lt. Jeffrey Marano, a gray-haired, muscular, wide-bellied 48-year-old who controls so-called details, off-duty security work that can amount to significant extra income for officers. Salvo long resented his superior for that control.
"[Marano] wanted every detail," Salvo said in a statement last year. "He wanted every single detail there was." Marano used the details to consolidate power in the Police Department, Salvo alleged. "[Marano] would always take action or do something, you know, to try to get you to be on his side or to eliminate you from being a threat against his opinion," Salvo said.
Marano has maintained that Salvo's showboat mentality and trouble with authority have caused the problems. He simply has an "axe to grind," Marano said in a statement to IA. Once, while holding office as a PBA representative, Salvo escorted his narcotics dog through the Hollywood police station's men's locker room. He claimed the dog smelled drugs in a police officer's locker. A second K-9 unit failed to detect illegal substances. A search was never conducted. "I felt that was inappropriate behavior for a PBA rep," Marano commented.
Last year, the conflict between the two officers boiled over when pension board seats came up for reelection. Salvo was on the ballot. In the days preceding the election, he distributed a flier on a day Marano was off. It read: "Re-elect Pete Salvo. He is good for our pension and represents everyone's interest. NOT JUST MARANO'S."
Salvo received a written reprimand, the only time in the last decade that he has been disciplined.
"You have any interest in going narcotics?" Salvo remembered the chief asking him. The reasoning was simple: Salvo would no longer work under Marano.
Strange, then, that when New Times called, the lieutenant defended his colleague. "I can't say a bad word about Pete Salvo," Marano says, sitting at a desk on the fourth floor of police headquarters. "He's a good guy and a good cop."
If Salvo has been accused of excessive use of force, Marano says, it's not because he's a thug. It's because he's doing his job. "Look at my record," Marano says. "I've had complaints against me for excessive use of force. It goes with the territory."
In the mid-'90s, Marano led Hollywood's infamous Street Crimes Unit, formerly known as the Raiders. The black-shirted, tough-on-crime unit drew a string of complaints and lawsuits that alleged brutality, wrongful arrests, and civil rights violations. In 1998, a federal jury awarded 21-year-old Dwight Edman $750,000 after Marano admitted that police had no probable cause to arrest him on drug charges. The city is currently appealing the award.
"A good, aggressive cop is going to get complaints, most unwarranted," Marano says. "A lug isn't going to get any complaints. Pete Salvo is a good, aggressive cop."
Allegations of police misconduct have dogged the Hollywood Police Department for more than a decade. Throughout the '90s, as Marano's Raiders were accused of abusing citizens and trampling on civil rights, the city earned a reputation for scandal.
In 1997, Hollywood fired Police Chief Richard Witt after he attempted to blow the whistle on hiring practices that allowed applicants with criminal records and histories of prisoner abuse to join the force. That same year, six Hollywood SWAT team officers were removed from a North Florida military base -- where they were training -- when they vandalized facilities in a drunken stupor. Around the same time, federal juries awarded two female officers six-figure judgments after finding that they had been sexually harassed throughout their careers.
The department's problems with brutality, battery, and false arrests are even more troubling. Police legal adviser Cantor downplays the significance. "I think my numbers, the number of lawsuits I've received to this office, have gone down in recent years," Cantor says.
But that isn't entirely true. In 2001, seven people filed notice to sue the city for excessive use of force, battery, or false arrest. Six more did so in 2002, followed by another six in 2003. So far this year, five people have notified the city of their upcoming legal actions for excessive use of force or false arrest. "Most people think that when police brutality happens, it's some crazy, rogue cop out there by himself," says Kamau, of the Police Complaint Center. "That's not the case. It's generally some rogue cop who has the help of other officers to cover up his conduct."
In Miami and Fort Lauderdale, citizen review boards were created after allegations of police brutality reached fever pitch. Both have had some success in overseeing local law enforcement. Last week, for instance, Miami-Dade's Independent Review Panel faulted police for using excessive force in the recent Free Trade of the Americas riots.
Hollywood has never created such a panel and doesn't track brutality claims. "I'd like to see a citizen review board in Hollywood," says Henry Graham, a community activist in Hollywood's Liberia neighborhood. "Residents have to be involved if we're going to look seriously into claims that the police are heavy-handed."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.