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Metro-Dade officials wouldn't let grudges and ego get in the way of exemplary police work, would they?

Simmons's reconstruction depicted a more contentious episode: "It's obvious you both are unhappy here and I'm going to come right out and tell you that I'm uncomfortable with both of you," he remembered Prieto saying. "I don't like people who have personal agendas and are not team players."

Simmons also remembered asking Prieto to be specific, whereupon the commander allegedly snapped, "Where were you when the rest of us were running around going crazy before the inspection? I'll tell you where you were. You were in the cafeteria with Morales...drinking coffee for 37 minutes! ...Like I said, I'm uncomfortable with you guys. I don't trust either of you. You showed that you were not team players during our office crisis. There is nothing else to talk about. Find a home [outside the bureau]."

Simmons and Morales left Prieto's office shell-shocked. Both say they subsequently spoke with Heller, who assured them that the commander would calm down, and that his threat of a transfer would probably be rescinded. According to his own statement during arbitration, Heller told both men he would apprise them if the transfer became a reality. (Heller later contradicted himself on this point, insisting he never made the promise.)

Days later Prieto wrote a memo announcing that applications were being accepted for a sergeant "to fill any future vacancies within the child-exploitation unit."

On November 8, Simmons submitted a memo of his own to John Farrell, Prieto's supervisor, outlining his concerns about the alleged administrative wrongdoing that had taken place before the October inspection. He attached a binder filled with supporting documents. Simmons then delivered the same package to Internal Affairs.

Prieto sent out a second memo on November 10, this one announcing an "anticipated position vacancy."

Taking the cue, Morales arranged to be transferred to homicide. Simmons interviewed for a position in Internal Affairs in late December but was not selected. On January 2, he received written notice of his new assignment -- a uniform position at Northside, the same station where he'd served as a rookie patrolman 22 years earlier. Simmons's base pay remained the same, but his actual income took a nosedive, because he was no longer able to earn regular overtime pay, as he had as an investigator.

Sgt. Jeffrey Wander, the officer Prieto chose to take over leadership of the child-exploitation unit, had been a sergeant less than three years at the time of his promotion, and had a total of one year's experience as an investigator. His three most recent annual evaluations graded him as "satisfactory," in the middle of the department's five rating categories.

"Was the quality of our work negatively impacted? You're damn straight," fumes one of Simmons's former subordinates. "Simmons not only knew the answers, but if it came down to it, he'd go in and interview a suspect himself. And there wasn't anyone he couldn't get to cop out. No knock on [Wander], but the guy had never worked the kind of sensitive cases you get in child exploitation. To be honest, if I had any questions [even after the transfer], I called Simmons."

It isn't every day that a police sergeant with a by-the-book reputation files an internal affairs complaint against his commander. Consequently, Simmons's complaint was given special attention. Sgt. David Rehrig spent a total of 350 hours investigating the primary claims -- that original records were shredded, that equipment logs were dummied to cover up lost items, and that overtime pay was wrongly disbursed to accomplish these ends.

Most of the 46 people Rehrig interviewed denied the claims. No logs had been dummied, they asserted; only duplicate records had been shredded. The IA sergeant's conclusion: The complaint was much ado about nothing. Prieto had allocated 52 hours of overtime pay, but that was no crime.

Joe Centorino, the Dade State Attorney's Office prosecutor who supervised Rehrig's investigation, concurred. "There is no concrete evidence that any criminal statute was violated," Centorino noted in a close-out memo written last August. "[Simmons's] decision to file the complaint three weeks after the incident is an indication of the flimsiness of his accusation."

In dismissing Simmons's complaint, the investigators did disregard several key statements. Sgt. Thomas Murphy, for example, noted that he had seen photographs among the material being shredded. Det. Denis Morales said original copies of gang unit reports were also fed into the machine. Carlos Vazquez, who had been paid overtime to destroy records, said he did not specifically recall what he had shredded but believed it included confessions and reports from child-exploitation cases, photographs, and gang unit intelligence files -- all of which are required to be warehoused, according to state record retention statutes.

Though Sgt. Rafael Nazario, the bureau's records custodian, told Rehrig he had adhered to all record retention procedures, he wasn't so confident during Simmons's arbitration. When asked if any improper or illegal shredding could have occurred, Nazario responded, "Well, see, that would be hard to answer. I mean, there were files there that, old administrative files from 1989, and I didn't spot-check every one of them."

One other issue Rehrig seems to have ignored: Practically all his witnesses were subordinates of Prieto, the man Simmons had accused. And while the investigator took the trouble to consult the manufacturer of the shredding machine, he never ventured to the records center to see for himself the condition of the files that had been updated and stored there.

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