Life's a Beach, Then You Get Harassed

He sits on Hollywood Beach all day, and on the really slow days, there's no one there to guard. So he just watches the green seawater roll up and smack the beach, over and over again. Ankle-slappers, he calls the waves, and they slap on while he sits in the creaking wooden lifeguard shack.

"We got some inshore wind-flow today," the lifeguard says as he peers out into the sea, his fit, relaxed body a perfect golden brown.

Neither he nor the sea, however, is at perfect ease. Out farther into the surf, the water goes dark under thick gray clouds. Might storm soon. A note of desperation creeps into the lifeguard's voice as he talks about the city's investigation into the Beach Patrol.

"Nothing's going to change," he says. "The Beach Patrol will get a black eye, and things the city already knows about will come out, and nothing will change. It'll be like it never happened. And guess who's still going to be sitting here? Me. Do you think I'm going to jeopardize my livelihood to talk about this stuff? No way. I've got a family."

The lifeguard sits behind a veil of anonymity for good reason. You could hang ten on the paranoia at the beach these days. Amid chattering seagulls there's talk of vendettas and revenge and vandalism and violence.

The Beach Patrol seems to be out of control, like a cross between Baywatch and the French Revolution. Lifeguards are wondering whose head might roll. It seems melodramatic, but the anonymous lifeguard brings up a key point: People's livelihoods are getting screwed with, and that has gotten some laid-back beach folk very upset.

The focal point of the consternation is Jim Shoemaker, the chief of the patrol, who has worked on Hollywood Beach for 22 years. Rumors are swirling about the man everyone calls "Shoe," and city officials have confirmed that a human resources department investigation into his conduct is continuing. Beach Patrol employees have alleged that Shoemaker is greedy for power and will stoop to breaking city rules and suppressing city records to get his way. He plays favorites with employees, and he's wrecked lives in the process.

Shoemaker counters that he is the victim of some bad employees who are out to destroy his career. He says he's been terrorized off and on for more than a year now. All four tires on his 1994 Lexus have been slashed -- twice. One morning he woke up and found the paint on the car's hood melting away. Someone had poured paint remover on it during the night. He says he regularly gets threatening phone calls. Anonymous letters about him have been sent to the city. City officials have investigated these incidents and say it isn't known who is responsible.

"Somebody is trying to carve my heart out," Shoemaker says.

One thing on which everyone agrees is that all the internal strife is ripping the Beach Patrol apart and that that can't be good for the public, who depends on those lifeguards to protect beachgoers.

Jim Carnicella, the director of the city's human resources department, says the investigation should be concluded soon. The investigation has involved much of the department, which includes Shoemaker, an assistant chief, 4 lieutenants, about 25 full-time marine-safety officers (who are basically senior lifeguards), and roughly 40 lifeguards, many of them parttime.

The investigation was indirectly sparked by a dispute between two marine-safety officers, William Fox and Rick Fiorillo, over a girlfriend. Fox, who has worked on the patrol for more than 20 years, says that Fiorillo accused him of calling Fiorillo's girlfriend and then chased him with an iron weight at Beach Patrol headquarters.

After the incident, Fox, who wasn't hurt, immediately filed a violence-in-the-workplace report with the city. After Fox filed his report, Fiorillo also filed a violence report in his own defense. But it was only Fox who ended up getting fully investigated, and he suspects that Shoemaker was behind it. Why? Because Fiorillo is an excellent lifeguard, a rising star at Beach Patrol, and one of Shoemaker's favorites, says Fox, adding that he holds no grudge against Fiorillo.

At the end of the investigation into Fox, which was conducted by the city's equal-opportunity manager, Denise Edsel, it was determined that Fox, rather than being violent in any way, was "overfriendly" with his coworkers. The problem with the investigation, Fox says, is that Edsel was never supplied with the violence report he filed. Instead she was armed only with Fiorillo's report. Fox says that when Edsel found out about his report, she began investigating what happened to it. City officials confirm that the more lifeguards Edsel talked to, the more allegations were volunteered against Shoemaker. Soon the investigation was firmly focused on the chief.

"There were a lot of accusations," Carnicella says. "It snowballed."

Carnicella won't say exactly what has been alleged against Shoemaker, but Wayne Snellgrove, another lifeguard, says he's one of the complainants. "Jim Shoemaker has made it his job to make my life miserable," Snellgrove says. "And he's done a pretty good job of it."

Snellgrove says his relationship with Shoemaker went bad last year when Shoemaker pressured him to move into his house while Shoemaker was divorcing his wife. Once Snellgrove moved in, Shoemaker incrementally raised the rent from $350 to more than $700 over a 12-month period. Finally Snellgrove moved out, much to Shoemaker's chagrin. Later, Snellgrove claims, Shoemaker got his revenge by tearing up Snellgrove's glowing job evaluation and writing a new one that disparaged him. Snellgrove says Shoemaker's evaluation cut what was supposed to be a 5 percent raise for Snellgrove in half.

Shoemaker concedes that Snellgrove moved into his house but says that the evaluation was justified. Snellgrove claims that Shoemaker broke city conflict of interest rules by renting out the residence to him. Carnicella refused to comment on that specific allegation but said that a landlord-tenant relationship between a city supervisor and his direct underling might be against rules forbidding conflicting economic relationships between city employees.

Snellgrove also says he witnessed Shoemaker make sexual remarks to a female lifeguard, but that allegation hasn't been substantiated, and Shoemaker vehemently denies it. Carnicella would neither confirm nor deny that allegations of sexual harassment had been made against Shoemaker.

In another employee-related matter, Shoemaker was deposed last week in a lawsuit filed by former lifeguard John Binns, who claims that Shoemaker had him fired in 1994 after Binns told coworkers that he smelled alcohol on Shoemaker's breath at headquarters. The civil suit Binns filed against the city is still in litigation.

So far many of the allegations are just rumors, and one of those rumors shows just how wrong they might be. One story going around is that Shoemaker made a lifeguard drive all the way to New Jersey on a city-sponsored trip while Shoemaker got drunk. An anonymous letter was sent to the city making that allegation. In response, the story goes, Shoemaker forced the lifeguard, Ian Clifton, to write a false letter stating that Shoemaker didn't drink on the trip. The problem with that rumor, however, is that Clifton says it's bunk. He says Shoemaker didn't drink a drop on the drive. "I think it's a vendetta," Clifton says of the allegations against Shoemaker. "And it's brutal."

That's exactly what Shoemaker says. He swears he's done nothing wrong and lives in fear because of the vandalism and threats against him.

"I have a spotless work record," he says. "I don't know why this is happening. Maybe somebody is jealous of my job or is jealous of me."

Shoemaker says that three years ago there was a similar investigation into his actions by the city, alleging "affairs with female lifeguards, a slush fund, and that I used city funds to go to California," Shoemaker says. He says he was cleared of all wrongdoing.

The city will soon determine whether or not Shoemaker has done wrong this time.

"What's happening to me is not normal," Shoemaker complains. "It doesn't happen anywhere else. I can't explain it."

Contact Bob Norman at his e-mail address:

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman