Feud for Thought

Mike is a DUI attorney with a nose for legal loopholes. Alan is a crusading cop with a jones for drunk drivers. Vendetta, anyone?

One month after Davis's 1991 resignation from the DUI squad, a five-member police panel unanimously voted to reprimand the officer. Although the State Attorney's Office declined to prosecute Davis for petty theft or tampering with evidence, Dennis Bedard, the investigating assistant state attorney, sharply criticized the officer in his September 1991 report on the videotape incident. "He has a very simplistic sense of moral righteousness that he has allowed to interfere with his impartiality as a police officer," reads the report. Bedard, who also investigated Catalano's 1989 perjury complaint against Davis, still stands by his harsh comments. "My impression was that he was so personally involved in

DUI cases that it clouded his objectivity," Bedard said in an interview. "Davis had crossed the line to where he was no longer able to function as police officer."

Davis responds to such criticisms by citing the awards and praise he has received for his work against drunk driving. But perhaps his best defense comes in the letter he wrote when resigning from the task force. "I may have been labeled a radical by different officers, judges, and lawyers," reads the letter, "but the fact of the matter is I earned their respect as someone knowledgeable who does not put together a half-assed case. With a 95 percent plus conviction rate I think the numbers speak for themselves." (No record of conviction rates are kept for Gables officers, but such high rates certainly are possible for regular DUI officers, notes a spokesman for the state attorney's DUI division.) Without naming names, Davis also criticized DUI attorneys who use "criminal tactics" to win cases and engage in "harassment" of police officers.

Davis and Catalano, it seems, share another trait in common: They both consider themselves victims of the other.

In Michael Catalano's mind the events of May 12, 1992, still unfold like a bad dream. Standing in a Dade County courtroom before Judge Nancy Pollock, he is trying to concentrate on the defense of his client, a drunk driving suspect named Gaspar Contreras. But, as he tells it, he can sense a malicious presence behind him. Although Alan Davis was involved in Contreras's arrest on April 22, 1991, he has been supposedly excused from this trial. Catalano can not figure out why the officer is still here, in the gallery. As he speaks to the judge, he can hear sniggers. Finally, after Contreras is found guilty and sentenced, Catalano can stand it no more. He turns around to confirm that Davis is laughing. The officer keeps it up even as other defendants not represented by Catalano are sentenced.

The day after the incident, however, Catalano was the one thinking he'd have the last laugh, having filed yet another internal affairs complaint against Davis. "Officer Davis' name was removed from the witness list," Catalano wrote. "He had no reason to be in court but to continue his harassment of me and other people. I watched him openly laugh at defendants who were being sentenced for DUI. He acted rude and unprofessional."

Davis later called that accusation "a bunch of crap." The version he told a subsequent internal affairs investigator coincided with Catalano's on only one point A he had been excused from attending the trial by the then assistant chief DUI prosecutor, Edwin Saar. Saar refuses to comment, but both Davis and Catalano agree that the prosecutor, an acquaintance of Catalano, didn't want to risk the distraction of a Catalano vs. Davis confrontation in the courtroom. As the result of a clerical mix-up, however, a secretary in the court clerk's office mistakenly sent Davis a subpoena to appear. When Davis received the subpoena, he decided to attend the trial, assuming Saar had changed his mind.

In any case, Davis says he stayed in the courtroom after receiving permission from Judge Pollock. He adds that he never laughed at any defendant being sentenced. "I don't think DUI or people being sentenced is a laughing matter," he explained. Internal affairs investigators exonerated Davis, saying they could not find anyone, except Catalano, who saw Davis laugh.

Things looked fine for Michael Catalano when he woke up on Sunday, September 20, 1992. The sky was clear, the air was warm, and best of all, he had not seen Alan Davis in several months. Catalano, a skilled boater, had decided to spend that Sunday on his seventeen-foot Boston Whaler, traveling up and down the coast near his waterfront home in South Miami to view damage caused by Hurricane Andrew. Four people accompanied him -- two neighbors, both retired military officers, as well as Saar from the State Attorney's Office and Mike Hannau, a businessman. When the group entered the inlet leading to Matheson Hammock, they spotted a man whistling and waving to them from the shoreline. The man was a park ranger, who was trying to tell the group to leave the inlet, a restricted area. But since he was not wearing a uniform, Catalano and company ignored him at first. That was a mistake.

When they finally did make for the main channel, they realized they were being followed by a Coral Gables police boat. Only when the pursuing boat pulled alongside did Catalano feel that familiar tightening of his stomach, that unmistakable increase in heart rate, and those beads of sweat popping through the pores on his high forehead. Davis was on the boat!

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