By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Antonio Prieto, who had joined the department in 1971 and quickly ascended the ranks, was made commander of Juvenile Investigations in 1991. As personalities, he and Simmons posed a stark contrast.
Simmons was calm, nearly unflappable, and exuded a confidence that was often taken as arrogance, a sensibility that rubbed off on his squad. "We considered ourselves to be an elite unit, no doubt," observes one detective. "That came straight from Simmons." Meticulously organized and articulate, Simmons was often asked to speak at public events.
Prieto, on the other hand, was "more like one of the old guard," according to a former subordinate. "A tough guy. When he gave an order, he'd say, 'Hey, you don't like it -- fourteen days.' Meaning you did it or got your fourteen days' notice on the transfer. It got to be a joke around the bureau. If someone gave you shit, you'd say, 'Hey, you don't like it -- fourteen days!'"
Despite temperamental differences, Simmons continued to thrive under his new boss. His annual evaluations, written by Lieutenant Heller and approved by Prieto, portray a model supervisor with "an incredible ability to motivate his personnel." Heller's May 1993 write-up is typical: "As a result of Simmons's expertise, it is routine for representatives from various local and national organizations to contact him.... He never hesitates to seek additional responsibilities.... He constantly strives to find more productive methods to accomplish Unit and Bureau objectives." Simmons consistently earned "outstanding" ratings, the highest of five possible classifications.
Because they investigated cases of suspected child abuse, Simmons and his detectives were frequently sought out by the media, and it was over the issue of granting interviews that he and Prieto first clashed in April 1992.
Susan Candiotti, a television reporter from WCIX-TV (Channel 6), had asked Simmons if he would submit to an on-camera interview about a case of alleged child abuse. Simmons referred her to the media relations bureau, and the interview was refused, apparently on Prieto's order. But Candiotti appealed to Fred Taylor, director of the police department, who approved the interview.
Prieto was present at the taping, and Candiotti later recalled that he was not at all pleased. "He said that he was pissed and that this was not a media circus and that, you know, he didn't like this thing," the Channel 6 reporter stated at Simmons's January arbitration hearing. "I wanted to get feedback from him as to what the problem was. He just kind of mumbled, said a couple of bad words. He didn't have time for me and left."
Prieto was allegedly more direct with his subordinate. A few days after the interview, Simmons recalled, he was summoned to a closed-door meeting with his boss. "He told me he knew that I got along with the news media and had never encountered a problem with them in the past," Simmons recalled during the arbitration hearing. "[He said] it is only a matter of time before I was fucked like he has been fucked in the past by them."
Several months later Simmons gave another on-camera interview that was cleared through the media relations department. At arbitration Prieto said he wasn't informed of the second interview and felt he didn't have any control over Simmons. He had been scolded by his superiors about Simmons's interview with Candiotti, Prieto also claimed, though he admitted he never told Simmons about any flak; nor was the sergeant ever formally reprimanded for his conduct.
According to Simmons, Prieto's tirade about the media involved the coverage of a 1987 federal corruption probe that centered on Prieto's old boss, former chief Bobby Gonzalez. A lieutenant at the time, Prieto was never accused of any criminal wrongdoing but was forced to testify at Gonzalez's trial, which received a lot of press coverage. But his distaste for the media might well date back to January 20, 1982, the day he and 71 other aspiring police lieutenants (including, coincidentally, David Simmons) marched into the Mahi Shrine building to take a grueling, six-hour promotional exam. A month after the test, an anonymous note surfaced suggesting that cheating had occurred. An internal affairs investigation was launched, and a number of irregularities soon came to light.
Most striking was the similarity in answers on Prieto's test and that of a master sergeant named Robert Otero, who achieved the second-highest score on the test. Otero missed eighteen of 175 questions. Prieto, who earned the eighth-highest score, missed 24. Of their incorrect answers, seventeen were identical. Although the alphabetically arranged seating chart for the exam had called for Prieto and Otero to be separated by two tables, the men somehow wound up sitting at the same table. An analysis of Prieto's answer sheet revealed that "Prieto changed 34 of his answers to coincide with Otero's," according to the investigators' file.
The officers vehemently denied cheating. A statistician appeared to concur, determining that "no conclusive evidence of cheating was found." Six months after the exam acting department director Robert Dempsey issued a memo announcing an abrupt halt to the investigation. "There has been not one scintilla of hard evidence that there was cheating on the exam," he wrote. "Because I believe it to be in the best interests of the department and those who have a vital interest in the integrity of the promotional process, I have arbitrarily taken personal control of the file."