By Chuck Strouse
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Operator: I don't want you to wash or take any showers. Don't do anything to yourself. Caller: No, I won't.
Operator: Okay. Are you there alone? Do you have somebody there or what?
Caller: My family is here, they -- my kids.
Operator: Okay. All right. You just stay there until I get somebody by, okay?
Operator: Okay. Bye-bye.
Three weeks ago several Miami television stations reported that Dante Starks, a black patrol officer, was a suspect in the rape of a South Florida woman. The Metro-Dade Police Department has not confirmed those reports, though a spokesman has acknowledged that the department's professional compliance bureau and sexual battery section "are conducting a criminal investigation of one of their police officers." Officials have also confirmed that Starks was suspended from the force, with pay, two days after the 911 call. Additionally, a detective in the media relations division, in the presence of a reporter, referred to the 911 tape recording as "the Dante Starks tape." (The tape was released to the media late last week after New Times filed a series of increasingly specific public-records requests.)
The department, however, will not explain why Starks has been suspended. "He will remain suspended until the Professional Compliance Bureau issues its findings," explains Det. Pat Brickman, a department spokesman, "or until the State Attorney's Office presses charges." (Regarding the possibility of a second officer being involved in the alleged rape, police officials are circumspect but skeptical. "We have no reason to believe that more than one police officer was involved," says Detective Brickman.)
New Times first wrote about Starks more than a year ago ("Dante's Inferno," April 13, 1995), after eight female Metro-Dade officers charged him with sexual harassment. In a sworn statement to department internal affairs investigators, Ofcr. Robin Ables said Starks, who was her commanding officer at the Northside substation, had sexually assailed her in late 1993, going so far as to stick his tongue in her ear. Ofcr. Sherrill Robinson testified that Starks fondled her buttocks while they were alone in an elevator in 1989. That same year, Ofcr. Marlenes Caceres reported a similar incident. Each of the other five female officers also gave sworn statements to investigators.
"Collectively," concluded a panel of high-ranking officers who investigated the charges, "these incidents indisputably support the finding that [Starks's] actions were at times criminal...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."
Despite the panel's clear recommendation that Starks be fired, his supervisors demoted the probationary sergeant to patrol officer and transferred him to the Miami International Airport substation. A short time later he moved to a downtown substation at Biscayne Boulevard and 29th Street, known as the Police Operations Bureau, where he patrolled the Rickenbacker Causeway and the Port of Miami. The August 7 telephone call to 911 came during Starks's regularly scheduled shift.
Starks, who has not been charged with a crime, could not be reached for comment for this story. In the April 1995 article, he denied that he had verbally or physically harassed anyone. "Sexual harassment is a serious problem," he said. "But it's gotten to the point where it can be lodged against anyone at anytime and you have no defense. The people that truly know me know I am not capable of this type of behavior. It's not in my character."
Though Starks's superiors declined to fire him, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) found probable cause that he is guilty of the harassment charges. A formal hearing, similar to a criminal trial, will be held to determine his guilt or innocence. If guilty, he could be stripped of his credentials to work as a police officer in Florida.