Dante's Inferno

When Metro cop Dante Starks was found to have groped several female colleagues, his bosses knew just what to do: Transfer him.

Caceres subsequently burst into tears. She informed her supervisor, who reported the December 1989 incident to Starks's superior, Lt. Michael Alexander. But Caceres refused to file a formal complaint after the 1989 incident, fearing that she might get into trouble for striking a superior officer. Instead she was assigned a different field training officer. There is no indication in his personnel file that Starks was ever disciplined.

* In 1993, a month after receiving his promotion from detective to sergeant and a month before his encounter with Ables, Starks allegedly sexually harassed another colleague. Ofcr. Hawanda Gilbert told Cox that Starks fondled her buttocks while they were entering the Team Police building.

Cox upheld each and every allegation, and a trio of high-ranking officers was assigned to evaluate her exhaustive inquiry. In a memo dated August 15, 1994, the panel rebuked Starks for his "hostile and offensive behavior."

They wrote: "Collectively, these incidents indisputably support the finding that [Starks's] actions were at times criminal, as supported by the State Attorney's Office findings, and always irreproachable [sic] as a member of the department. The liability in Sergeant Starks's behavior is too great to assume, for himself, the department, and those female employees with whom he may interact in the future."

The matter was turned over to Lt. William Brink, Starks's supervisor. Last September Brink sent a memo to department director Fred Taylor, recommending that Starks be demoted to officer. After the demotion, Starks was reassigned to a unit that patrols the Miami International Airport.

But this was not the only memo Brink authored, according to two sources familiar with the proceedings. They say Brink originally recommended that Starks be evaluated by the department's psychological services and that termination be considered, pending the outcome of the evaluation. Brink, they say, modified the recommendation at the behest of Maj. Aaron Campbell, the commander of the Northside district whom Ables had identified as Starks's friend.

According to Sgt. Ralph Fernandez of Metro-Dade's media relations department, Brink refuses to discuss the matter. Fernandez said Campbell was out of town last week and unavailable for comment.

If Brink's original memo ever existed, it is nowhere to be found in police records. But other documents from Starks's personnel file do indicate that Brink and Campbell clashed over his fate.

This past September Brink wrote Starks's annual evaluation. While praising Starks for his leadership, the lieutenant rated him "unsatisfactory" overall. "He has made advances towards a female officer that would be considered an assault. He has made statements that could be interpreted as offers of favor for a sexual return from the officer. These actions have placed him in a position that make any contact with female officers a potential problem for him as well as the Department," Brink noted.

"Out of a sense of fairness, as the Northside District Commander, I felt compelled to express my opinion," Campbell responded in an addendum to Brink's evaluation. "After conferring with the Department Director [Fred Taylor], we both agreed that the rating should be changed. However, the rater refused to do so."

Campbell insisted that a "satisfactory" rating -- which ostensibly would have allowed Starks to remain a sergeant -- was deserved.

"Although not frequent, raters sometimes commit what I would call an error of overweighting," his addendum went on. "This occurs when there is a tendency of the rater and reviewer to be unduly influenced by a negative event involving the rater near the end of the rating period. The error can also occur when an employee is rated low solely due to a single, yet sensational, negative act that subjectively overshadows the otherwise satisfactory or above satisfactory overall performance of an employee.

"Based on the narrative portion of the evaluation," Campbell concluded, "there are tremendous grounds for an appeal. With the exception of the single issue, it is commonly known that Sgt. Dante Starks's performance as a supervisor bordered around being Outstanding."

Starks's history of disciplinary problems, however, is not limited to a single issue. Though his personnel file brims with more than 30 commendations A including designation as Officer of the Month in November 1989 and March 1990 A he also has been the subject of twelve internal affairs probes in the past five years. Most involve allegations that he was physically or verbally abusive to members of the public. Internal affairs cleared him of wrongdoing in each instance, with a few notable exceptions.

In 1992, for example, an arrestee named Sheila Jones accused Starks of slapping her and calling her a "bitch" and a "whore." The latter allegation was sustained, after an eyewitness testified he had heard Starks verbally abuse Jones. Starks received a written reprimand.

That same year he was reprimanded again, after IA sustained a complaint stemming from an altercation with several Florida Highway Patrol officers. According to numerous state troopers, Starks called Sgt. John Fruchey a "fucking redneck asshole with a redneck attitude that he should take back to North Florida." When other troopers attempted to calm Starks, he called them "assholes." A fight nearly ensued.

Last July, as the sexual harassment investigation was winding down, another inquiry was beginning. Theophilus Martin accused Starks of snatching his cellular phone during the course of Martin's arrest, and of using the phone to make calls. In a sworn statement, Starks denied using the phone, but Martin provided IA with a copy of his phone bill, which indicated that two calls were placed to Starks's mother, and one to a friend of the officer, at the very time he was arresting Martin. The State Attorney's Office sought to file perjury charges, but Martin refused to cooperate. Rather, the matter was referred back to Metro-Dade. According to police records specialist Alma Espinosa, the complaint is still pending.

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