Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

After resignation, former top cop may face sexual harassment lawsuit

Miami Gardens Police Chief Antonio Brooklen talks with members of the community, Antquon Harris, 20, and Pastor Wendell Baskin, 57, in July during a 'Coffee with a cop on the block,' event.
Miami Gardens Police Chief Antonio Brooklen talks with members of the community, Antquon Harris, 20, and Pastor Wendell Baskin, 57, in July during a 'Coffee with a cop on the block,' event.

When Miami Gardens Police Chief Antonio Brooklen stepped down from his position on Thursday, he said he needed to be close to his family and to care for his ailing mother. But days before that announcement, an attorney representing a former city police officer informed the city that he plans to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against Brooklen.

Lawyer Stephan Lopez, who filed a letter of intent to sue the city and Brooklen last week, said Monday he couldn’t disclose the name of the former officer but that he plans to file the lawsuit in federal court.

“Some of the claims against Antonio Brooklen are related to sexual harassment and discrimination because my client is openly gay,” Lopez said.

The city will have up to six months to deny the claims of the potential lawsuit.

Lopez said he will inform the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission this week.

Brooklen, 42, had been chief for a little more than a year, stepping in on an interim basis in February 2015, after the arrest of former chief Stephen Johnson in a Broward Sheriff’s prostitution sting. He was appointed to the permanent position in November 2015. His last day is Oct. 1, and assistant chief Cynthia Machanic will take over as interim police chief as the city searches for a replacement.

In a letter to City Manager Cameron Benson, Brooklen said he wanted to be closer to family and his sick mother.

“The last few months have been challenging because I have been dealing with my mother’s fragile health condition and I feel that my attention is needed elsewhere,” Brooklen wrote. “At this time, my family must come first. My mother, wife and children are my heart and I live for them.”

Reached on Monday, Brooklen said he stands by his letter and the reasons he gave for resigning.

He has been with the department since it started in 2007. Before coming to Miami Gardens, Brooklen spent about 13 years with the Miami-Dade Police Department where he became a lieutenant and oversaw the neighborhood resource unit.

Early in his tenure with Miami Gardens, he faced setbacks, including a demotion from major to captain in 2009 after an internal affairs investigation and allegations of sexual harassment.

He also received a 30-day unpaid suspension in 2009 after an internal affairs investigation determined he was in an “intimate personal relationship” with a former employee, according to his personnel file.

The investigation detailed that Brooklen met with the employee at police headquarters and in his vehicle, and that they had several conversations about her romantic life and her physical appearance. He invited her to a club on multiple occasions, including during a City Council meeting.

The report said that while many of the former employee’s allegations of sexual harassment weren’t fully proven, Brooklen’s actions “were clearly inappropriate and not within the guidelines of the department.”

Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators also found more than 60 “sexually explicit” pictures on Brooklen’s work computer. In his deposition, Brooklen said he was viewing a related website while looking at the pictures.

After those early issues, Brooklen’s evaluations eventually improved, and he rose to the role of assistant chief, then chief.

His interim replacement, Machanic, is also a law enforcement veteran with more than 30 years of experience. She came out of retirement to join the Miami Gardens police force and spent most of her career with Miami-Dade police, including stints in internal affairs and major fraud.

Machanic will be the fifth police chief, interim or full time, to take over the department since 2013. Before Brooklen and Johnson, the last full-time chief was Matthew Boyd who stepped down shortly after the owner of the 207 Quickstop convenience store alleged in a lawsuit that Miami Gardens police officers routinely harassed his employees and customers.

The Miami Herald reported the allegations in late 2013 and Lopez was the attorney representing one of the store’s employees, Earl Sampson.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3