South Florida

Citing ‘possible criminal’ meddling, Opa-locka police chief tells commissioner to butt out

Opa-locka Police Chief James Dobson says he wants Commissioner John Riley to stop interfering in police business.
Opa-locka Police Chief James Dobson says he wants Commissioner John Riley to stop interfering in police business.

Opa-locka’s police chief has accused City Commissioner John Riley of meddling so much in the affairs of law enforcement that he “may have crossed into possible criminal conduct.”

Police Chief James Dobson wrote a scathing five-page memo, accusing Riley of threatening officers, interfering in red-light camera hearings and failing to cooperate in a hit-and-run accident,. He claimed that Riley has exceeded his authority as a commissioner, created a “hostile work environment” and violated the city’s charter.

Dobson, who wrote the memo to City Manager Yvette Harrell last week, called Riley’s actions “illegal” and said he would be notifying “outside agencies” to investigate the commissioner to avoid “claims of conflicts of interest.” Among the independent investigators notified by Dobson: the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust.

The commission, which investigates government ethics violations, also has the authority to make referrals to the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. A spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the commission is investigating Dobson’s allegations in the memo. The Miami Herald obtained a copy of his memo after City Attorney Vincent Brown refused to provide it through a public records request.

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Opa-locka Commissioner John Riley says he wants to schedule a hearing into the chief’s complaints that the commissioner is interfering in police business, with himself presiding over the inquiry.

Riley, 72, a former Opa-locka mayor who was appointed to a commission seat last year before winning it outright in a special election in November, did not return messages seeking comment. But at last week’s City Commission meeting, Riley brought up Dobson’s memo without delving into details and said he wants to hold a judicial-type hearing on the allegations with himself presiding over the inquiry.

Under Opa-locka’s charter, the five-member commission hires the city manager, who is responsible for all other municipal employees, including the police chief.

Chief Dobson said Commissioner Riley ‘threatens the very fabric of an agency, which we are diligently working to rehabilitate.’

Harrell, who plans to leave her post as city manager after less than a year on the job, did not respond to a request for comment. Dobson noted in his memo that he “previously reported these matters” to her, but now wanted to “memorialize these events in written fashion to foreclose any ambiguities or attempts to conceal what occurred.”

Dobson, who joined the Opa-locka force as a major in 2014 and was promoted to chief last year, had been fired from the Doral Police Department in 2011 based on allegations of excessive absences, failing to show up for duty, sleeping on duty, falsifying time sheets and sexual harassment, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records.

In his memo, Dobson acknowledged that he has struggled to rebuild a police department notorious for rogue cops and a revolving door of leaders. He wrote that Riley’s meddling has been damaging to morale, especially at a time when the FBI has been investigating public corruption at City Hall — a four-year-old investigation that has led to the bribery convictions of three officials, including a city manager and a commissioner.

Dobson said Riley “threatens the very fabric of an agency, which we are diligently working to rehabilitate.”

In his memo, Dobson accused Riley of showing up at red-light camera hearings and acting as if he were the attorney for violators, inciting a “potential riot.”

The chief also said the commissioner left the scene of a hit-and-run-accident in which he was at fault and failed to cooperate with police investigators.

At a meeting, Riley brought up Dobson’s memo without delving into details and said he wants to hold a judicial-type hearing on the allegations with himself presiding over the inquiry.

Dobson also criticized Riley for confronting a police officer who made inquiries about a tenant who was “illegally” evicted from an apartment complex owned by a real estate investor who employs the commissioner at his federally subsidized rental properties. Riley raised his voice and told the police officer that he had no right to intervene because it was a “civil matter,” according to Dobson.

On his financial disclosure form filed last year, Riley said he draws his income from the Veterans Administration, Social Security Administration and the Gardens Apartments, owned by Palm Beach County investor Yash Pal Kakkar.

In another police matter not cited in Dobson’s memo, Riley’s family was entangled in an Opa-locka criminal investigation when the commissioner’s 17-year-old grandson became the suspect in a Jan. 26 shooting of a man who was seeing the grandson’s sister.

Yakeem J. Perpall allegedly shot the sister’s boyfriend once in the stomach in her apartment while she witnessed it, according to an Opa-locka police affidavit. Perpall was charged six weeks after the nonfatal shooting with attempted first-degree murder with a deadly weapon.

After the victim of the shooting was interviewed by an Opa-locka detective, Perpall was arrested by Miami-Dade police on March 10 at Miami Central High School, where he was a junior.

After the arrest, Riley told the Miami Times that he is Perpall’s guardian and has raised him since he was a child. The commissioner also said he did not know any details of the shooting or the investigation. Perpall was denied bail and is awaiting trial.

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