Crime

Chief's photo with bikini-clad cops broke no rules. He got reprimanded, anyway

Police Chief Ed Hudak is fighting an anonymous accusation that he acted inappropriately during a pool party for female officers that he was invited to in July. None of the women have told investigators the chief did anything wrong.
Police Chief Ed Hudak is fighting an anonymous accusation that he acted inappropriately during a pool party for female officers that he was invited to in July. None of the women have told investigators the chief did anything wrong. Screen grab

Almost a year ago, the Coral Gables police chief was invited to stop by a pool party, where he agreed to take a picture with a bunch of smiling bikini-clad cops. After receiving an anonymous letter claiming the female officers had been harassed, the city launched an investigation.

The results are finally in: An independent investigator hired by the city found no formal violations by Chief Ed Hudak and refuted anonymous allegations that sex toys had been on display during the party. There was, the 93-page report found, one bottle opener with a wooden handle shaped like a penis that may have been lying along the edge of the pool. And one object held by one officer in the photo proved innocent.

"The referenced object is a blue plastic water gun,'' the report found. "Upon close examination of the entire photograph, there is no discernible 'dildo' or other sex toy depicted."

After speaking with all the women who attended the pool party and reviewing more than 30 documents, the investigator — retired Pennsylvania police Maj. Charles Skurkis, who runs an independent consulting firm — concluded that he "failed to identify any conduct at the pool party expressly prohibited by CGPD [Coral Gables Police Department] rules and regulations."

The report did, however, raise questions about Hudak's judgment in showing up at a pool party. The main concern: That the chief's decision to attend and allow a picture to be taken could have left the department in a bad light.

"An individual while serving in the capacity of Police Chief must remain cognizant, at all times, that his or her conduct may be closely scrutinized by subordinates, the media, and the citizens they serve, regardless of acting in an official capacity or otherwise," Skurkis wrote.

Gables City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark, who has feuded with Hudak for several years, clearly didn't see the review as an exoneration. She issued a scathing letter of reprimand, saying she has significant concerns in Hudak's ability "to honorably and objectively lead the police department."

Swanson-Rivenbark blasted Hudak — a 28-year veteran who has been chief since 2014 — for failing to realize that his actions could hurt the police department's reputation and for not reprimanding a subordinate who drove her city-issued vehicle to the pool party.

"Failure to take the necessary corrective actions laid out for you in the reprimand and failure to consistently practice more professional and mature judgment moving forward will result in further disciplinary action, including termination," the city manager wrote in the reprimand two weeks ago.

On Wednesday, Hudak's attorney Michael Cornely called Swanson-Rivenbark's reprimand "pure politics" and the investigation into Hudak "a witch hunt." Cornely said Hudak, whose career previously has been scandal-free, has no intention of stepping down and that they were gathering letters of support that will be presented to city commissioners at a future meeting.

"Instead of going to the heart of the matter to see if it's sexual harassment, they're looking at what's left over. We think that kind of thing is motivated by the city manager being out to get him," Cornely said.

The city manager and the police chief have had a rocky relationship since she arrived from Hollywood in 2014. At that time, she tried unsuccessfully to create co-police chiefs who would report to Assistant City Manager Frank Fernandez, the city's head of public safety and a former police chief in Hollywood who she brought with her when she was hired.

The relationship further soured in 2016 when Hudak recommended firing police Maj. Theresa Molina after she ordered a resident to stop texting a commissioner during a meeting. The city manager instead pushed for a settlement agreement. The major eventually resigned.

Then last July 19, Hudak showed up at the pool party at the Homestead home of his public information officer Kelly Denham. The chief said he decided to attend after receiving a call from someone at the party asking if he would drop by. During the 20 minutes he was there, Hudak said he was asked to take a picture and only did so after clearing it with his female officers.

The photo of Hudak — in full uniform — seated behind a dozen female officers in bathing suits made its way to Instagram, posted by someone using the moniker dmannow256. The post claimed the women didn't know Hudak was going to show up and that sex toys were being passed around. Two weeks later, the city received an anonymous letter accusing Hudak of misconduct.

The complaints moved some of the women, who said they were being ridiculed on social media sites, to demand that the city find the source of the social media post.

Swanson-Rivenbark launched an investigation of the incident. The probe has not yet identified who posted the photo on Instagram.

Skurkis said in his report that none of the women he interviewed said they had a problem with the chief's presence.

"None expressed any level of discomfort with Chief Hudak's attendance at the pool party or his actions," Skurkis wrote. "He was an invited guest and, based upon individual statements and available photographic imagery, he appeared welcome by all attendees."

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