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When Metro-Dade Police Cmdr. Antonio Prieto transferred Sgt. David Simmons out of the Juvenile Investigations Bureau to a patrol unit eighteen months ago, the comment most frequently heard among Simmons's subordinates was, "What a joke."
Exile a recognized expert in the field of child-abuse investigation? "What a joke." Risk dashing the morale of Simmons's highly motivated squad? "What a joke." Dispatch one of the department's finest detectives to break up domestic disputes in Liberty City? "What a joke."
The joke, as it turns out, is on Prieto. And on the Metro-Dade Police Department. And on county taxpayers, who will foot the bill for its long-overdue punch line.
After his involuntary transfer, the 45-year-old Simmons, who joined the Metro-Dade force in 1973, filed a grievance against the county, requesting reinstatement to an investigative position in another detective bureau. His superiors balked, and the complaint spurred a costly legal battle that culminated in a three-day arbitration hearing this past January. (The case was the subject of the April 27 New Times story "No Comment.")
Three weeks ago arbitrator Edward Pereles issued a fifteen-page opinion in which he scolded Metro-Dade officials for violating their own labor contract with police and ordered that Simmons's year-and-a-half-old request be granted.
The problems began in 1990, when Simmons joined the Child Exploitation Unit, which investigates the physical and sexual abuse of minors. His annual evaluations portray him as a model supervisor with "an incredible ability to motivate his personnel." His handling of various high-profile cases often cast him in the spotlight; the Miami Herald's Tropic magazine devoted an entire cover story to his pursuit of the notorious Pillow Case Rapist, and crime writer Edna Buchanan lauded him in her books.
But in 1992 Simmons ran afoul of Prieto, who felt he was too friendly with the media. The conflict came to a head in October 1993, when the commander called Simmons and one of his subordinates into his office and told them to "find a home" outside his bureau.
Simmons was bewildered by the transfer and infuriated to learn he would be moving to a patrol unit in Liberty City, the same beat he had worked 22 years earlier as a rookie. His grievance bounced up the chain of command and eventually was denied by police department director Fred Taylor, forcing the matter into arbitration.
The arbitrator's June 9 ruling boiled the dispute down to its essentials. Pereles notes that the principal reason for a transfer, as set forth in the negotiated agreement between police and the county, "is to improve the effectiveness or efficiency of the department. However, with regard to the transfer of Simmons, this arbitrator cannot find evidence to support an improvement in either the effectiveness or efficiency in the department. In support of the transfer, the county only offered the argument that Simmons was a 'burr' to Commander Prieto. In what way? Did he refuse an order? No. Did Simmons fail to do something he was required to do? No. Did he do something illegal? No. Although Commander Prieto states that Simmons violated his guidelines, Commander Prieto was unable to testify as to what Simmons did." Pereles also noted that the transfer seemed to have been "an alternative to discipline," another violation of the police contract. In conclusion Pereles's ruling states that "the grievant shall be promptly placed in an investigative detective's position commensurate with his ability and previous experience."
Both Simmons and Prieto declined to comment on the verdict. Carole Anderson, the assistant county attorney who argued Metro's case during arbitration, says she has ordered the county to "find a new home for Simmons." Lt. Linda O'Brien, a police spokeswoman, says Fred Taylor has already assigned staffers to scout available positions for Simmons. "But no action will be taken until the director has a chance to review the decision," O'Brien adds. (Taylor was out of town last week.)
In the meantime, Simmons, a 22-year veteran recognized as one of the department's finest investigators, remains in Liberty City, overseeing a squad of six patrol units.