Law enforcement

When Florida cops are fired, they often don’t stay fired

 

cveiga@MiamiHerald.com

The police officers have been accused of beating up gay men, looking at porn while on duty — even hiding drugs and stealing from those they arrested.

Each one was fired. And each one eventually got his job back.

The latest: A Miami Beach police officer, fired after he was accused of beating up a handcuffed man and yelling anti-gay epithets while arresting a witness to the altercation, just won his job back. His work partner in that incident also fought his termination and won.

In South Florida, it can be hard for cops to stay fired. Those who swear to protect and serve are supported by powerful unions with enough cash to pay for talented lawyers. Police contracts often require cities to adhere to the findings of an arbitrator when an officer contests a termination.

Cops have another tool at their disposal: an officers’ bill of rights, written into state law, which mandates certain protections for police officers accused of wrongdoing.

“It’s part of their security, and checks and balances that are necessary, because it’s so easy to falsely accuse a police officer,” said attorney Richard Sharpstein, who has represented many police officers.

“They face administrative problems in their departments; they face criminal problems from people they’ve arrested who have grudges or reasons to lie or outright hate a police officer. So yeah, they have those rights, because otherwise any jerk on the street could have them terminated based on some personal vendetta.”

Sharpstein is currently representing former Opa-locka Sgt. German Bosque, who has been arrested at least three times and fired six.

The former sergeant is believed to have been investigated more times than any other officer in Florida. He’s still fighting his latest termination, which came on the heels of his arrest on charges of kidnapping, battery and tampering with a witness who had tried to file a complaint against him.

The state is also considering yanking his police certification.

Sharpstein said the latest charges against his client stem from “personality conflicts” in the department and called the case “ridiculous.”

In other cases around South Florida:

• In Miami Beach, officers Frankly Forte and Eliut Hazzi were fired after a gay tourist accused them of gay bashing. The American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of the tourist and Miami Beach settled the case for $75,000.

In December 2012, an arbitrator decided Hazzi should have his job back. The decision to return Forte to the force was reached on Aug. 31. In his case, the arbitrator decided that the officers didn’t target the subjects because of their sexuality, that the arrests were justified and that the officers didn’t use excessive force.

• In Miami Beach, a sergeant who was fired after an infamous ATV incident — in which a drunk cop ran over two people on the sand while giving a bachelorette a ride on the back of the vehicle — won his job back after the city fired him for ignoring his police radio and leaving his shift early. The arbitrator decided the sergeant wasn’t negligent but simply “overwhelmed by circumstances” beyond his control.

• In Broward County, Lt. James Murray won his job back at the Broward Sheriff’s Office after he was fired for harassing employees and looking at porn while on duty, according to the department.

In each of these cases, the officers and their unions argued they were stripped of their badges because of political retaliation. In Miami Beach’s case, the union argued that cops were offered up to “appease” the community after a series of embarrassing incidents. In Broward, Murray told the media he was targeted because he refused to conduct surveillance of a union representative.

The American Civil Liberties Union, however, sees things differently.

“Ultimately, the most basic job of police officers is to keep the communities they serve safe. When they are failing to do that, when policies and practices actually put people at risk of either false prosecution or physical danger, the trust that people have in law enforcement breaks down. Especially when no one is held responsible. That makes all of us less safe,” spokesman Baylor Johnson wrote in an email.

Follow @Cveiga on Twitter.

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