Broward News

Mike Verdugo: Firing by Hollywood PD Was Retaliation for Harrassment Complaint

There's some confusion about Mike Verdugo's newsmaking clash with his former employer, the Hollywood Police Department. Verdugo is not claiming that he was fired for being gay, as this article in the Miami Herald implies. Rather, he's claiming that he was fired from his job as a police officer because he complained about being harassed by fellow officers on the basis of sexual orientation.

You can read all about that campaign of harassment in this October 2007 New Times article I wrote about Verdugo's experience in that scandal-ridden department.

It's a fine point, but it's an important one to understanding the culture of the department, and it will be important in Verdugo's civil suit to come. Remarks from Verdugo, after the jump.

Verdugo was fired from Hollywood Police in January 2009. But the department knew of his sexual orientation since at least 2004, when officers were called to his home based on a domestic dispute he was having with his then-partner, who was also a Hollywood cop.

That marked the beginning of his alleged harassment by fellow officers. Verdugo didn't suffer any formal consequences until well after he'd filed his discrimination complaint in February 2007. He was demoted.

Verdugo didn't quit, though. Not even after he got a gig on a cable TV reality show called Design Star in 2008. That flirtation with fame ended after bloggers found video of Verdugo's brief appearance in a gay bondage film. He was kicked off that show's reunion program, and shortly thereafter, Hollywood kicked him off the force.

Police officials claimed it was because Verdugo had not disclosed on his application that he'd acted in a gay adult film.

It led to some strange moments during the arbitration hearings. Verdugo's attorney asked Hollywood Police Chief Chad Wagner whether Verdugo would have been fired if he'd performed in Hamlet rather than a gay-themed film. Wagner said, "No." So it was just the porn aspect of it -- and technically, Verdugo's work was "erotica" in that he appeared nude in the film but didn't have sex.

Even stranger, the Police Department maintained that Verdugo should have disclosed his screen name, Jeremy Wess, as an alias on his police application. Verdugo didn't even know what the filmmakers would call him when he shot the scene when he was 22 years old. (He's now 35.)

"If you walk down the street and someone calls you a horse's ass, do you have to put that on your application?" asked Verdugo's attorney in the arbitration hearings. Department officials said "Yes."

This afternoon, I emailed the City of Hollywood spokeswoman Raelinn Storey with the same question that I asked Hollywood Police months ago: "Where exactly on the application to become a Hollywood Police officer is an applicant required to list adult film roles in his past?" I've yet to hear back -- and Verdugo himself wasn't able to answer that question.

Based on what came out during arbitration, however, the department asserted that Verdugo was obligated to list that role in the category of past employment. He says he forgot to do so, just as he forgot to mention his having worked for three months at a gym. Again, the omission of that time in the gym wasn't a fireable offense, according to police officials, while the omission of a porn role was.

While Verdugo may not have been fired strictly because he was gay, it was his orientation that started the mess that led to his termination, and so he still feels himself part of a civil rights cause.

"I'm fighting for rights not just for myself but for millions of Americans who have to fight against discrimination," he says.

Verdugo is interested in joining another police department in South Florida. Before he can do so, he's waiting to hear the Florida Department of Law Enforcement rule on the status of his officer's certification.

In the meantime, Verdugo is keeping himself busy with an eponymous interior design company and a home staging company.

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Thomas Francis