Authorities are still trying to piece together exactly what happened at an alleged local drug hangout in November 2002. What began as a late-night drug bust, with a scrum of Fort Lauderdale police officers poised to follow a battering ram into a marijuana den, suddenly became a frenzy of machine gun and pistol fire, ending with one very dead dog and one officer shot through the keister. Thing is, the bad guys never got off a shot.
Adding to the cops' embarrassment, members of the Citizen Review Board have now found that follow-up reporting by the officers involved -- one of whom cavalierly dismissed the hailstorm of lead and the wounding of one of his officers as "business as usual" -- seemed less concerned with getting to the bottom of a cop's punctured posterior than about protecting the police supervisors' own asses. Up to a week after the event, the shooting of the cop was still being listed as a "dog bite," and strict procedures about immediately reporting any police gunshot injury had apparently been violated.
After a yearlong investigation, the review board has recommended two-week suspensions for a pair of Fort Lauderdale's finest in connection with the raid. It's now up to Acting City Manager Alan Silva to mete out the actual punishment to the errant cops.
Based on testimony from a stack of depositions taken for the case, here's how the key cops say the "Shootout at Canine Corral" (which resulted in one arrest) went down two days before Thanksgiving 2002:
Members of the Raiders, the elite drug-enforcement division of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, descended around 11 that night on 1649 Lauderdale Manor Dr., a charmless shell of a house whose front door leads to a spectacular view of northbound I-95. An informant had told the Raiders that a marijuana dealer lived there. So did an aggressive pit bull, the informant added.
But the Raiders came prepared. Equipped with a snare pole, Sgt. Tom Reed, the department's K-9 unit trainer, who had assisted the Raiders with dangerous dogs in the past, warily approached the yard gate and kicked it a few times to get the dog's attention. No dog. He and two armed officers scurried to the corner of the house, assuming that the dog was in the backyard.
At the same time, the entry unit, dressed in full battle gear, scuttled over the fence to the front door with a pneumatic battering ram at the ready. As with every bust-in raid, the cops were edgy and pumped. But this time, they had the added element of a mad dog to worry about. According to the officers' reports, they were keeping eyes peeled on the right side of the house, because that's where they expected the animal to appear.
A half dozen Raiders assembled by the front door in stack formation, a tight, single-file column that is supposed to rush in after others smash the door down. The stack veered a bit to the left, partially to avoid a sucker punch from the dog. Fourth in line was Detective Luis Alvarez, who held a long flashlight in one hand, his Smith & Wesson handgun in the other. In front of him was Detective Pat Hart, armed with an MP5, a short submachine gun favored by SWAT teams. Hart held the MP5 to his shoulder in firing stance, partially resting its stock on Detective Derek Joseph in front of him.
Joseph heard a dog growl. The whir of an air conditioner hanging on the wall near them cloaked the sound, however, and Joseph observed that it sounded as if the dog was inside. The cops tensed, expecting an angry canine to lunge at them when the door caved in. Seconds later, though, a snarling, teeth-gnashing pit bull bounded from amid some garbage cans in the yard of the target house and "latched on to Pat's posterior," one detective recalls. Hart yelled, the dog let go, and then it took a chomp on Alvarez's left knee. Alvarez shook the pit bull off his leg. The formation broke apart in the chaos as several curious neighbors rushed to the outside of the fence to witness the scene.
According to their carefully crafted accounts, Hart then turned to his right, Alvarez to his left, so that the two men were almost facing each other.
"So that's when I drew the weapon down, and I shot three times immediately," Alvarez says. The muzzle blast flickered in the dusk, and the onlookers scattered. One of those bullets, it turned out, ripped through Hart's upper right buttock and exited the lower left one.
"That's when I looked at Pat's face, and it looked like he was in pain," Alvarez says.