By Chuck Strouse
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Indeed, the reprimand is the only punishment of any kind meted out to Davis as a result of Catalano's accusations. Catalano's formal complaints, which cite five incidents in the past four years, form only part of his effort to have Davis removed from the force. The attorney's voluminous correspondence with both the Coral Gables Police Department and the Dade State Attorney's Office is peppered with negative comments about the "dangerous" officer and threats of legal retribution for failure to stop his "harassment" and "bad-mouthing." In an interview, Catalano now insists that Davis began his campaign against him in order to retaliate for that one reprimand. "He never got over it," Catalano says.
Perhaps. But as he traveled south through Coral Gables on South Dixie Highway on August 27, 1990, it was clear that Catalano still had not gotten over Davis. The police officer, maintains the attorney, had continued to toss negative comments about him around the courthouse within hearing of other cops and lawyers. But Catalano says he had left that and other cares at the office as he drove home from work that August evening. And he certainly had no idea that he was driving into what, for him, became a black night of unspeakable torment.
As Catalano tells it, he was driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the right lane of South Dixie Highway. Glancing over to the left lane, he noticed a Coral Gables police car and its driver, Alan Davis. "I said to myself, 'Oh my God! It's him!'" Catalano recalls. The petrified Catalano drove on, never exceeding 35 mph, he says, and never switching lanes until past the boundary separating Coral Gables from the City of South Miami to the southwest. But he kept an eye on Davis, who Catalano says was weaving in and out of traffic as if he were in a hurry. Finally, just past Red Road, Catalano saw lights flashing behind him.
The lawyer put his hand out to signal that he was planning to pull over. "I didn't want him to claim I was fleeing," he says, adding that he was searching for a safe, well-lit area crowded with potential witnesses. He eventually pulled over just off South Dixie Highway on 62nd Avenue near a Metrorail stop. Miraculously overcoming his fear for a moment, Catalano leapt from his car and marched back to Davis, who met him halfway. "I asked him what in the world he thought he was doing," the lawyer says. "But I did not raise my voice. He touched his gun several times and that frightened me. It was horrible."
So horrible in fact that the lawyer called 911 on his cellular phone and asked to speak to Captain Alan Headly, then head of the internal affairs unit at the Coral Gables Police Department. Headly was out, and the department responded to Catalano's panicked call by sending another police sergeant. Two South Miami officers, one off-duty, showed up as well.
"It looked like they were arresting Pablo Escobar," Catalano says. "In addition to being frightened, I was embarrassed. It was real obvious to everyone driving by that the schmuck in the Mercedes was in big trouble." To top it all off, he says, Davis initially gave him not two but three tickets -- the third for driving without proof of insurance. When he saw the ticket, Catalano admits he became angry. "I told the other police officers that I had given Davis the insurance card and I demanded that they search him." They refused, but the officers decided to void the third ticket when Catalano produced a duplicate card.
Davis's account of the incident, based on his testimony at Catalano's December 1990 trial before Magistrate Jose M. Rodriguez in the Dade County Court's Traffic Division and a recent interview, differs substantially from Catalano's. There was, he insists, no vendetta. He said at the trial that he didn't know who was driving the four-door Mercedes when he spotted it on South Dixie Highway, but he knew that whoever it was had thrown caution to the wind. Catalano, he said, was speeding and failing to use his turn signal as he cut from inside to outside lanes, causing other cars to brake.
Davis finally caught up with Catalano at the corner of South Dixie and SW 62nd Avenue after clocking him, he said, at 64 mph, well over the 45 mph limit. He also denies destroying Catalano's insurance card. Davis explains that when he first asked Catalano for the card, the lawyer could not find it, but when he produced it, Davis canceled the third ticket.
On December 5, 1990, Michael Catalano stood trial for the traffic incident that happened four months earlier. At the hearing, Magistrate Rodriguez told Catalano and his attorney, Terri-Ann Miller, that he was not going to permit questions about other complaints against Davis, but the two lawyers managed to fire a few questions at Catalano's adversary about past disputes between the two men. The judge tried to stop this line of questioning, but an obviously excited Catalano interrupted, "You need to know the history of this, Judge. This goes back a long way."