West Palm Heat
On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in late May, Ric Bradshaw was ready to show off the support he'd garnered for his campaign for the sheriff's office in Palm Beach County. About 50 supporters had gathered just outside the Palm Beach governmental center in downtown West Palm Beach. Some were West Palm cops, and a handful of others were county deputies; a few were children of both. Several dozen had donned white T-shirts carrying the blue-emblazoned name of the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association (PBA).
Bradshaw, the West Palm Beach chief of police until he retired earlier this year, lingered in front of the lectern, then turned and urged the group to shuffle closer together behind him.
"You're looking at a representation of the finest men and women in the county," Bradshaw declared to a reporter from the Sun Sentinel and a cameraman from WPBF-TV (Channel 25), the only media besides a New Times reporter that had shown up for this newsless news conference.
But Bradshaw's slightly jowly face didn't appear particularly happy or comfortable behind the microphone. Somber and reserved, in a print shirt and khaki pants over his slender build, he seemed eager to turn the mic over to leaders of the county PBA and Association of Police Chiefs.
Despite the air of vague gloom, though, things really seem to be going Bradshaw's way. With endorsements from the likes of Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, long-time Palm Beach State Attorney Barry Krischer, and current Sheriff Ed Bieluch, Bradshaw assumes the status of one of two frontrunners in the crowded race to become the most powerful elected official in the county. One of his chief rivals, former undersheriff Ken Eggleston, is even pitching in unintentionally by appearing to unravel over a misguided flier that suggested last week that Bradshaw is soft on anti-Semitism. (Not so, asserted Bradshaw's Jewish supporters.) In a poll conducted by Survey USA and WPTV-TV (Channel 5), Bradshaw was running neck and neck for the lead with former sheriff's Capt. Fred Mascaro, each with 28 percent of the potential vote. Eggleston trailed with 19 percent, and seven others were far behind.
But there was still the little matter of race. How was a high-profile cop with a history of run-ins with fellow officers who were African-Americans -- and, according to some critics, a renegade "Dirty Harry" complex -- going to convey the requisite image of even-handedness in a county with 156,000 black residents? Bradshaw had reportedly cajoled several black officers from the West Palm Beach Police Department to make an appearance at the news conference, but none was there.
Bradshaw's tenure as police chief was marked by numerous charges of departmental racism by black officers, and several lawsuits alleging discrimination are still pending. Critics also point to Bradshaw's leadership role in past departmental abuses concerning the K-9 unit and street crime unit in the 1980s. Race is a sensitive area this year, all the more relevant because Sheriff Bieluch dropped out of the running in May after a brouhaha involving racist comments by deputies.
But wait. As Bradshaw's media event wound down, the candidate spotted Gary Mason, a black officer from his former department. Bradshaw darted over and ardently shook his hand. "I really appreciate you being here," the former chief gushed.
Maybe the sticky race issue would just go away after all.
Until Bradshaw responded emotionally to Eggleston's crude flier -- which used an image of graffiti superimposed on a badge in seeking to link Bradshaw with instances of anti-Semitism and racism in both the sheriff's department and the West Palm Beach police -- his campaign had been largely a series of grin-and-greet events. Attempts by New Times to get him to talk about some of the controversies that have centered on him during his tenure with the West Palm police were repeatedly rebuffed over a period of a month.
But Bradshaw's critics -- and, after 33 years with the department, they are plentiful -- are not so reticent. They paint a picture of a flamboyant, often-vengeful cop who has not hesitated to cross the line into questionable police tactics but who, with the help of tolerant superiors, has led a Teflon-coated career.
Bradshaw is one of the hometown boys in the race. He grew up in West Palm Beach and Lake Worth and graduated from high school in 1966. He attended Florida Atlantic University, then spent two years in the U.S. Marines. When he returned to Florida in 1971, he became a cop with the West Palm Beach Police Department, moving quickly up the ranks, becoming a detective sergeant by 1975. He advanced to lieutenant in 1979, made captain the next year, and was promoted to assistant chief in 1983. He worked as the right-hand man to several chiefs, then assumed that top job himself in 1996.
One officer who knew him in his early years recalls him as a "glory-hog type" whose general reputation was a "supercop, cowboy type." He recalls, "While others of us were carrying regular guns -- he was influenced by, I assume, the Dirty Harry movies -- he had to get a .44 Magnum, with the long barrel."
While that swagger undoubtedly served him well in the unruly, high-crime areas of West Palm, it also contributed to excesses. In the mid-1970s, Bradshaw allegedly directed police officers to alter facts in a police report, according to a 1986 deposition by one of Bradshaw's fellow sergeants, James Gabbard. The incident began when Gabbard and other officers tracked down an armed-robbery suspect after he'd snatched a money bag from a furniture store. They captured him in an alley. Later, after several officers had completed their reports, they approached Gabbard with a problem: Bradshaw wanted them to change their reports to indicate that the money was found closer to the suspect.
"I confronted Bradshaw with that, and he went into a tirade and denied it and so forth," Gabbard testified. Believing the alteration was wrong, Gabbard went to his commanding officer. His protest made its way up the chain of command, but nothing was done. He complained to the State Attorney's Office in Palm Beach County, and then-Assistant State Attorney Krischer became involved. Still, nothing came of the complaint.
Former colleagues say Bradshaw relished the role of the tough cop, aggressively pursuing bad guys even when he had to play loose with defendants' civil liberties. At the same time, he cultivated relationships with the men above him to keep him from facing the consequences for that brashness.
In 1985, according to Gabbard, Bradshaw allegedly pilfered a gun from the police department's evidence room. Gabbard learned about it when a friend, the captain in charge of the administrative division, confided that Bradshaw had gone into the administrative records area and removed paperwork describing the gun, then had gone to the evidence room and removed duplicate papers. The evidence custodian had seen him do it and reported it to the captain. Gabbard urged his friend to report it to his superior. "I mean, it was obvious that a gun had been stolen, had been removed from the building and reports had been removed," Gabbard testified.
The captain did report the incident, and a few days later, then-Chief George Siegrist told Gabbard and others during a morning staff meeting, "I've caught Major Bradshaw with his hands in the cookie jar, and I am going to suspend him for five days, and the matter is closed." Gabbard bristled. "I told him Major Bradshaw was a thief and lied to him and he was, in fact, going to steal the gun." Then, Siegrist allegedly took Gabbard aside to say, "I know he was stealing the gun. I am going to save him. He's got a lot of time invested here, and I would hate to see him ruin his career over this, and I'm going to save him."
The State Attorney's Office decided in May 1987 that, even though the circumstances around the gun and paperwork were "suspicious" (Bradshaw claimed that the gun had actually been issued to him for his SWAT team duties), no criminal charges would be filed.
In that decade, Bradshaw was at the helm of two special units that came under fire for overzealous policing tactics. In 1985, attorney James Green filed suit in federal court on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union and five plaintiffs who were attacked by dogs used by the department's K-9 unit, which had been formed by Bradshaw. A dog had been set upon the lead plaintiff, Ewaine Kerr, a black 16-year-old, while he was in a park because police suspected he was a prowler. He was bitten on the face, neck, and legs. Charges against him were subsequently dropped.
Violent force by the West Palm K-9 unit was pervasive. From 1981 to 1985, three of the K-9 unit's dogs bit 150 people who were suspected only of misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. Sixty-five percent of those bite victims were black, even though blacks make up only 14 percent of West Palm's population. By comparison, the three-dog unit in Tallahassee, a city of the same size, had no dog bites during that period.
Bradshaw had handpicked the officers, and he was apparently proud of the job the man-dog teams were doing. According to court documents, Bradshaw maintained a "bite book," an album containing about 50 photos of bite victims. The book is disturbing evidence that Bradshaw knew how much harm the dogs were causing yet did nothing to rein it in.
Bradshaw brought the bite book to a staff meeting and showed everyone a photo of a black burglary suspect posing in a parking lot after an arrest. "And the guy was standing there with his pants down, and his testicles were ripped out," Gabbard said in a deposition. "His testicles were actually hanging out of a sac, and he was standing there, basically. Pretty gruesome, actually." Asked about Bradshaw's attitude, Gabbard responded, "I think, obviously, he wanted people to see what the dog had done. I don't know if he was proud of it or just he felt like he was sharing information with the staff."
At one point, according to Gabbard, Bradshaw showed the book to one of the department's inspectors, who told Bradshaw that he "better get rid of that thing or it was going to cause him some serious troubles one of these days." Gabbard said the bite book "failed to exist after a while."
Neither Bradshaw nor the men in charge above him took any steps to reduce the number of attacks. If anything, the practice was encouraged by allowing dog handlers to paint emblems on their squad cars for each bite/apprehension, in the same manner that pilots had placed "stars on the side of a World War II bomber," according to a deposition by one of the K-9 officers.
In April 1987, a jury found that the city had "encouraged an atmosphere of lawlessness" with its K-9 unit and that police had violated the civil rights of three of the plaintiffs.
Another unit under Bradshaw's command ran into similar problems. In 1986, Green, along with the Miami-based Florida Justice Institute, sued the police department for violating the civil rights of Haitians and other blacks. The suit focused on the activities of the department's Tactical Teams, specialized crime-busting squads whose members wore black T-shirts and black boots and drove unmarked cars. The lawsuit alleged that the teams conducted illegal stops, searches, strip searches, seizures, and beatings.
In one case, police (not including Bradshaw himself) entered a Haitian family's home without probable cause or a warrant and called them "dirty Haitian dogs" and told them to "go back to Haiti." A female officer ordered one woman into the bedroom and forced her to strip and spread her legs. The officer then shined a flashlight up the woman's vagina.
The city settled the lawsuit by agreeing, among other things, to curb police from entering homes without warrants and detaining people because of race or their lack of cooperation in a field investigation. Police were also required to write detailed reports on all incidents of strip-searching suspects and entering homes without warrants in cases of emergency or pursuing a fleeing felon. The city also paid $75,000 to the plaintiffs.
At the news conference in downtown West Palm Beach, a New Times writer sought to ask Bradshaw about some of the criticisms of his role as a West Palm Beach police officer. Asked if he would grant an interview, he responded with impatience.
"We will, we will," he said. "It's been a very busy time for us." He redirected the writer to Mike Edmondson, Krischer's chief spokesman, now on loan to Bradshaw. Edmondson had not responded to numerous phone messages from New Times in the previous two weeks.
He gave the New Times writer a glassy-eyed look of disapproval. "It's not in our best interests to talk to you," he declared with a shrug. "We won't get a fair shake."
Calvin Bryant lives in a modest home on a busy West Palm street not far off I-95. The living room is awash in soft, brown leather furniture, and his home is decorated better than you'd expect for a 59-year-old divorced ex-cop. His words are always measured, and he never rushes to the end of an anecdote. On this Saturday afternoon, Bryant, a professorial-looking, dark-skinned man with silver-rimmed glasses, sips water from a plastic cup to moisten his mouth as he talks.
Until he was fired by Bradshaw four years ago, Bryant was a lieutenant with the West Palm department. Today, he's probably the former chief's most vocal critic and unflagging antagonist. Along with four other black police officers, he's locked in a four-year-long legal battle against Bradshaw and the city over allegations of discrimination.
The irony of Bryant's life is his common beginnings with Bradshaw. They attended the police academy together and joined the West Palm Beach police at the same time. From that point on, however, their careers diverged dramatically. Bryant's career ended when he made noise about discrimination and favoritism; Bradshaw never broke stride through scandals such as the K-9 lawsuit. "He was like a duck," Bryant recalls. "Everything rolled right off his back, it seemed. He was so protected."
Bryant had few problems with Bradshaw in the early days, he says, but he sensed their relationship souring in the late 1980s, when Bryant became the department's staff inspector. The position was new, intended to help the WPBPD gain and keep national accreditation. Bradshaw was an assistant chief at the time and a commander of the criminal investigations bureau and undercover narcotics unit. Bryant reviewed the performance of those units from time to time.
In 1990, Bryant says, he discovered that a time sheet had been improperly altered for a captain in charge of the criminal investigations division, someone who was a favorite of Bradshaw's. "I made a formal complaint letter and suggested an internal affairs investigation be started," Bryant says. Instead of handling it through the IA unit, however, the chief of police at that time turned the investigation over to Bradshaw.
"In my opinion," Bryant contends, "Bradshaw completely covered up the whole thing."
Other cops complain of a good ol' boy clique in the department that has curried Bradshaw's favor -- and woe to those who cross the favored. "He may not talk mean," one former West Palm officer says, "but he'll direct his people to go cut your throat."
John Palladino learned that firsthand about a decade ago. The 47-year-old West Palm patrolman has close-cropped hair and a salt-and-pepper mustache. He and his family live in unincorporated Lake Worth in a neighborhood of groomed yards and twisting streets. He's a Harley-Davidson fanatic; his office at home is crowded with H-D models, pictures, and pillows, and a real one stands in his garage. Although he'd hoped to one day work in the department's motorcycle unit, he's been repeatedly passed over -- punishment, he says, for crossing the boss.
Palladino joined the WPBPD in 1982 and enjoyed some notable successes working in the undercover narcotics unit in the early 1990s. In one case, he was instrumental in seizing $1.2 million in drug money, the largest amount in the department's history.
"During that investigation," he says, "Chief Bradshaw said to me. 'Great job -- you can pretty much write your ticket to wherever you want to go in this department. I'm really proud to have you on the team. '"
But Palladino's career went sour in 1993. While on vacation that year, he received a call from a secretary with the West Palm city attorney's office about a recent case in which he'd seized about $126,000 in drug money from the city's Greyhound station using his drug-sniffing dog. She needed his signature on papers in order to process the money. Palladino told her he'd be working the following night on an off-duty detail downtown and asked her to forward the paperwork via departmental mail. He received approval for the procedure from his lieutenant, Bill McGinley, who was a friend of Bradshaw's. The documents, however, weren't on his desk.
A few days later, he says, he happened to have another phone conversation with the secretary, who mentioned that she'd processed the paperwork he'd signed. Palladino, however, had never signed them. A few minutes later, he received a call from a city attorney who said that he was looking at five notarized documents signed by Palladino but that the last signature bore no resemblance to the others.
With something obviously amiss, Palladino notified the head of the internal affairs division. Palladino was scheduled to return to work that evening, and when he arrived, he found in his mailbox a handwritten note signed by McGinley. It stated in part, "You may not remember this, that's why I'm writing you this note. I brought the paper out to your house [this morning] and had you sign it since you had just got off at [6:30 a.m.]. You were pretty groggy with sleep when I woke you to sign it, so I just thought I'd let you know it happened."
"That was a total lie," Palladino snarls of McGinley's alibi. The next day, he called internal affairs and said, "I think I know who forged my name to that document."
McGinley admitted he'd signed the check, but little was made of the fact that he tried to cover up the forgery with his note. McGinley received a five-day suspension in the end, and the secretary who notarized the paperwork lost her notary seal. When McGinley got back from his suspension, he continued to hold a supervisory position in the chain of command above Palladino. "For a whole year, I felt the knives were sticking in my back," Palladino says. McGinley retired at the end of the year.
Palladino says Bradshaw himself told him to forget about departmental promotions. "After this, I saw that, hey, I'm not going anywhere in this department," he says.
New Times e-mailed Bradshaw spokesman Edmondson asking for comment about specific assertions made by Bryant, Palladino, and others. He responded in an
e-mail: "I've read your questions which all arise from a document being handed out by an ex-WPB employee [Bryant] who was fired by Chief Bradshaw for refusing to answer questions in an internal affairs investigation. Commenting on baseless allegations by such terminated employees would simply give credence to them."
Bradshaw last week characterized critics like Bryant -- who had passed out anti-Bradshaw fliers at a Bradshaw rally -- as "disgruntled ex-employees," according to the Palm Beach Post.
Bradshaw's tenure as West Palm chief has been plagued with accusations of discrimination by black officers on the force. And not long after he retired as chief in January, it became clear he'd not escape the race issue in the sheriff's contest.
The topic ignited in April when Sheriff Bieluch failed to discipline a corporal for making racist remarks. An internal affairs investigation had found that Scott Langill, a white motorcycle instructor with the agency, had referred to a Jewish deputy as a "fat, disgusting Jew" and "dirty Jew." On one occasion, he assumed a German accent, clicked his heels and said to the deputy, "Your papers are not in order. To the oven!" He once asked a black deputy if he was eating "black man's pie," meaning watermelon. On several occasions, when entering a restaurant with a black deputy, Langill asked the waitress, "I have a black man here. Is it OK if he comes in?"
Langill claimed that it was all in good fun and that everyone understood he was joking. Regardless, investigators ruled that he'd made derogatory racist remarks, but Bieluch's top officers declined to punish him. Major Dan Smith noted that some comments were "meant to be positive and not derogatory in nature." Bieluch supported his top men.
Bieluch, already under fire by Palm Beach County Commissioner Addie Greene for failing to promote minority deputies, dropped his reelection bid in the wake of the controversy and endorsed Bradshaw.
Bradshaw, however, doesn't stand on the firmest of footing when it comes to dealing with discrimination complaints. He left his position with two discrimination lawsuits pending. Seven black West Palm police officers sued in April 2000, claiming that the department had discriminated against them by denying promotions, assignments, and overtime work.
"The reason we filed the lawsuit was that it was a Jim Crow system in West Palm," says William McCray, a 36-year-old former cop with the city. He was fired by Bradshaw in March 2001. "It's separate and unequal treatment. There were two classes of people in the department. It's like a royal family: You had the peasants, and you had kings and queens that could do no wrong. If you're not affiliated, you would be scrutinized much more if something went wrong. If you hung out with them, drank with them, and then got in trouble, don't worry, because this is my buddy." (Asked about McCray's firing last week, Bradshaw told the Post, "I did what was the right thing to do. In fact, with McCray's incident, the arbitrator said he had one of the worst disciplinary records he's ever seen.")
"He just isn't a fair person in any kind of fashion," says Phillip Williams, a plaintiff who is still on the force. "He won't do what's right for everybody; he'll do what's right for a certain few."
Bradshaw retaliated against the officers involved in the lawsuit, they contend. When one of the plaintiffs, Richard Pleasant, was transferred off the anti-drug D.A.R.E. team -- a highly desirable position -- he said in a deposition that two officers told him Bradshaw was angry about the litigation and intended to "teach [him] a lesson."
Bryant contends that Bradshaw initiated an internal affairs investigation against him as a result of the lawsuit. Bryant, who had been in charge of the evidence room, had allowed a subordinate to give away packs of cigarettes from the evidence room. The tobacco had been purchased during sting operations of stores selling to minors, but the cases were closed and the cigarettes no longer needed. The investigation intensified, with Bryant refusing to answer investigators' questions, all of which led to Bradshaw's decision to fire him.
The city made a written offer to drop all charges and allegations and take no action against him if he'd drop the lawsuit. Bryant, however, refused the deal. He was fired in July 2000.
Events heated up in early 2001. McCray was notified by the department in March that he was going to be fired for lying during an internal affairs investigation. McCray had allegedly sworn at a stopped motorist and his wife. McCray denied the allegation, but an investigation concluded he was lying.
"They made examples of us to keep other people from coming forward about the discrimination and racism in the department," McCray says of himself and Bryant.
At this point, many black officers believed that Bradshaw intended to eventually fire every litigant via relentless internal affairs investigations. In April, 21 current and retired black officers sent a petition to then-Mayor Joel Daves complaining about retaliation. The trial for the lawsuit begins this week in Circuit Court in West Palm Beach.
Bradshaw began to gear up for the sheriff's race early in 2003. The pending lawsuits, however, hung like moccasin snakes over the campaign ahead. Bradshaw supporters have tried to get as much mileage as possible from the fact that Bradshaw's successor, Delsa Bush, is a 42-year-old black woman who worked her way up the ranks to the top spot.
"Delsa Bush was mentored and pushed by Ric Bradshaw," says West Palm Mayor Frankel, who nominated her. "She's police chief today in large part because of Ric Bradshaw."
Bush, however, hasn't exactly been stumping for her old boss, nor has she endorsed him. That's possibly because she wasn't Bradshaw's first choice for chief. According to police brass, Bradshaw expressed a preference for Russell Bruce, who was, like Bush, an assistant chief. Frankel insists, however, that Bush is the only person Bradshaw recommended. "I considered other people," she says, "but she's the only one he recommended."
Skeptics like Bryant, however, wonder if Frankel, a shrewd politician, struck a bargain with Bradshaw. Appointing a police chief in West Palm can be a cantankerous affair, an ugly struggle between police union officials and the City Commission.
"If the lawsuit did not exist," Bryant contends, "she would not exist as chief. It's just that simple."
Three days before retiring, Bradshaw suspended Lt. Jack Yates for 20 days without pay after a two-year internal affairs investigation that generated 3,000 pages of documents. Investigators concluded on May 5, 2003, that Yates had tampered with a witness, had violated rules of supervision and conduct, and was insubordinate. Despite the forceful pleas of two high-ranking officers to fire Yates, Bradshaw doled out what seemed a relatively mild punishment.
In a nutshell, Yates had interfered with an ongoing drunken driving case by using his position to pressure the arresting officer to drop the charges against the defendant. According to documents, the DUI defendant's attorney was a friend of Yates'. The attorney had a courier service deliver the subpoena, intended for the arresting officer, to Yates personally, and the subpoena promptly disappeared.
Yates was already operating under a "last chance" agreement from July 2000 for previous misconduct that included lying to internal affairs, abusing his position, falsifying records, and being insubordinate. He was subject to termination during the next four years if he repeated any of the offenses.
Yates' superior officer, Assistant Chief Robert Van Reeth, blasted Yates in a September 2003 memo to Bradshaw that recommended firing him. "It is evident Lieutenant Yates is unable to master the basic tenets of self control, a necessity for a law enforcement professional, especially a supervisor," he wrote. "I submit this case is corruption. The case contains elements found in police corruption, the misuse of authority for the police employee's personal gain.
"He has eroded the trust and confidence the police department places in its supervisors, and shattered the high standard of conduct the public demands from law enforcement professionals. Lieutenant Yates' behavior brings discredit to himself and the department."
Black officers express disdain over Bradshaw's apparent slap on the wrist for Yates, who is white, in light of the terminations he doled out to Bryant and McCray.
"It was all a deal," McCray contends. "Bradshaw didn't fire Jack Yates, and then he gets a nod from the union that they're supporting him for sheriff."
Bradshaw was not available for comment.
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.