West Palm Heat

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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.

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Wyatt Olson
Contact: Wyatt Olson