The Long Fall of Sgt. Niki Lawrence

She was a pioneer at the Metro-Dade Police Department, a rabble-rousing advocate for women behind the badge. And now, of course, she's paying for it.

In fact, Lawrence's lawyers had asked the federal jury to award her more than one million dollars. She justifies the amount by explaining that she was asking only for compensation, not for punitive damages. The compensation broke down as $68,000 in past lost wages, $736,000 in future lost wages, and lost pension benefits of $566,000. (Lawrence does admit she turned down a $250,000 settlement offer from the county before going to trial.)

The courtroom defeat seems to have deflated Lawrence's confidence. Her second lawsuit -- this one regarding Lt. Donald Kausal and the post-pinup controversies -- may end in settlement. "I have a very good case," she contends, "but if I go to court and I win, they're going to appeal and we're talking about another five years, and I don't know if I have it in me." From vows of fighting on till the bitter end, she now allows she's prepared to walk away from it all with nearly nothing. All she'd like in a settlement is reimbursement of her attorney's fees and her retirement benefits.

"I'm at the point where I've lost all my friends, I'm completely isolated, I'm starting to have real bad panic attacks, and I'm not going to allow it to kill me emotionally," she says. "If something positive were to come out of my case, whether it's positive in the sense of helping me directly or if it improves the system for sexual-harassment victims in the future, it would make this all worthwhile. Looking back on 25 years of battle with the police department, it has to have counted for something. It really does.

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