Hollywood police have sent letters to hundreds of residents arrested for domestic violence, threatening to target them for enhanced “scrutiny and/or penalties” and “unannounced police checks on your residence.”
One domestic violence arrestee apparently exempt from the warning: a police lieutenant who spent the night in jail after allegedly hitting and kicking his wife three days after Christmas. The state opted not to prosecute.
The letter, signed by Sgt. Rhett Cady of Hollywood’s Domestic Violence Unit, explains that the city is “taking a new focused approach in preventing future acts of domestic violence” by adding names to a watch list for so-called “C list” offenders.
Your status as a ‘C’ list offender brings you closer to a possible prison sentence.
Letter to those arrested for domestic violence
“Your status as a ‘C’ list offender brings you closer to a possible prison sentence,” Cady wrote. A copy of the watch list obtained by Florida Bulldog contains 574 names.
The letters, dated the day of a suspect’s arrest, began going out last year after Hollywood implemented its “Offender Focused Domestic Violence Initiative [OFDVI].” The city’s website says it is the first program of its kind in the state and is intended “to stop the repeat cycle of violence. … This style of policing is often referred to as ‘Focused Deterrence.’ ”
Today, however, the program is drawing fire from the Broward Public Defender’s Office, which says the police department’s letter to domestic violence arrestees is “an abuse of police power.”
“There is no legal authority for the letter, thus it is nothing more than an unlawful threat of retaliation directed at individuals who were merely accused of a crime and who are entitled to a presumption of innocence in a court of law,” says an April 6 letter by Public Defender Howard Finkelstein to Hollywood Police Chief Tomas Sanchez.
“The letter smacks of police intimidation and threatens the illegal and unconstitutional entry of the arrestee’s home. This overreaching is offensive to civil liberty and completely ignores the law with respect to law enforcement’s authority to enter a person’s home.”
A Sanchez spokeswoman said Monday evening that the chief was formulating a response to Finkelstein. The response was not ready when this story was published.
(On Wednesday, April 12, Sanchez’s office released the chief’s response letter to Finkelstein dated April 10: “As for your concerns about the presumption of innocence of offenders, I am certain your office will protect that presumption in court. As for your concerns about offenders’ civil liberties, this department safeguards all citizens’ civil liberties. This initiative does not allow for illegal or unconstitutional searches for police action in any way.”)
Public Defender Finkelstein’s letter notes that “it is very telling” that a Hollywood police officer arrested for domestic violence in December “was not placed on the watch list and not sent the target letter. This is either evidence of favoritism and a double standard, or it is a tacit acknowledgment that the letter threatens illegal police action that would be easily recognized by a trained law enforcement officer.”
Lt. Michael McKinney, six-foot-four and 280 pounds, was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of domestic battery on Dec. 28 after his wife told police he hit her twice on the head and kicked her in the rib after an argument turned physical. Officers observed swelling on the wife’s upper forehead and temple as well as redness and swelling on her upper right rib area.
Sgt. Cady arrested McKinney, a 23-year veteran, who spent a night in jail. A police report says McKinney’s wife did not “wish to pursue criminal charges.” Assistant State Attorney Stephanie Newman filed paperwork declining to prosecute on Jan. 24.
Hollywood began its “domestic violence initiative” in May 2015.
“The Hollywood Police Department has recognized a large amount of calls for police service have involved domestic related incidents,” says the city’s website. The department’s anti-domestic violence program “works to focus on repeat offenders” by “identifying the most repetitive and violent offenders and hold[ing] them accountable, while continuing to pursue justice through all of the investigative stages, including bond court, trial, sentencing and probation.”
The program classifies “domestic incident offenders” based on their “predisposition for violence. The initial domestic-related incident, along with the totality of the offender’s criminal history, sets the classification in which offenders are ranked” on a list from A to D. There are 92 active offenders on the “A” list of those deemed the most violent, the website says.
“A provision of the OFDVI program is to take action BEFORE the offender re-offends by providing services and resources to offenders who receive the Hollywood Police Department’s OFDVI deterrence message,” the website says. Those resources include anger management classes, job placement, life coaching and treatment programs “available through a multitude of organizations.”
“The OFDVI deterrence message sets clear standards of expectation for City of Hollywood residents who have engaged in acts of domestic violence and is delivered by uniformed officers daily.” When those messages are violated, “the offender progresses into a higher category of the program gaining additional attention from officers and detectives,” the website says.
The letter smacks of police intimidation and threatens the illegal and unconstitutional entry of the arrestee’s home. This overreaching is offensive to civil liberty and completely ignores the law with respect to law enforcement’s authority to enter a person’s home.
Howard Finkelstein, Broward public defender
The city claims that since the program began police have seen a “26 percent [on average]” reduction in domestic-related incidents each month. Police attribute that reduction “to our police officers’ motivation in following up with offenders not initially arrested at the domestic incident — preventing further victimization of individuals, stripping the offenders of their anonymity and by making offenders accountable.”
Public Defender Finkelstein was skeptical of Hollywood’s claims, noting that crime is down across the board.
“When they say the reduction is in part because of their efforts, well maybe in part but I doubt it is statistically significant,” he said. “Checking in on victims is a good idea. Showing care and concern. But using threats, intimidation and physical force and or presence directed toward the presumed innocent arrestee is wrong and illegal. … The road to constitutional hell is always paved with good intentions.”
Florida Bulldog is a not-for-profit news organization created to provide investigative reporting in the public interest. Contributions are tax-deductible. www.floridabulldog.org