Flunk Out

Dade County's school district may have its own police department, but law enforcement experts say it doesn't come close to making the grade

Dade County Public Schools Police Case No. B12537 School police Sgt. Harold McKinney received a delicate assignment from a school district administrator early one morning this past April. He was asked to assist in removing an assistant principal from the campus of Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School. Officers often dread calls involving any of the school district's 41,000 employees; the simplest criminal charge can take months to investigate, and the officer frequently incurs the wrath of the employee's supervisor, or the supervisor's boss.

McKinney could clearly see the trouble as he drove into the school's parking lot: On the porch of the main building, a heavy-set middle-aged woman was arguing with another school district police officer, Joe Locke, who was trying to carry out a district administrator's order that the woman, assistant principal Judith Hunter, be escorted off the school grounds. In his subsequent report of the incident, a copy of which was obtained by New Times, Locke wrote that he was not going to let Hunter drive her own vehicle because he believed she was intoxicated.

According to several school employees who later provided police with eyewitness accounts, Hunter had arrived at the school about 7:00 a.m. and barely avoided colliding with another car in the faculty parking lot. A security monitor, Randy C. Collins, related that Hunter began repeatedly honking her horn. He drove his golf cart to her vehicle. "Ms. Hunter then got into the cart," Collins wrote. "I asked her if she was alright and she told me to mind my own business. I then asked her about the bus driver meeting tomorrow and she said, 'Fuck the bus drivers' and 'Fuck everybody else.' I drove her to the southwest porch, where she got off and almost fell on the steps." Another witness described Hunter as "upset and distraught ... not her normal self, changing her moods every minute." Still another school employee, Carolyn Spina, recounted that Hunter "smelled of alcohol and was working hard on her speech."

Alerted to the situation, the school's principal, Elliott Berman, took Hunter to his office, closed the door, and told her to sit there as he stepped outside to await a call from a supervisor. One of Berman's assistants, Jo Stover, later reported that she had to enter the principal's office to retrieve some papers. "The smell of alcohol in the room was very evident," she wrote.

Soon a district administrator arrived and, after consulting with one of his own superiors, informed Hunter that she had to leave the campus -- quietly and immediately. Instead of complying, however, the assistant principal went to her nearby office and locked the door. That's when school district police Ofcr. Joe Locke got involved.

After a top district administrator directly ordered her to leave, Hunter headed for the parking lot with Locke at her side. Sergeant McKinney had arrived as the two of them stood on the porch arguing. McKinney approached and also commanded Hunter not to attempt to drive her vehicle.

The assistant principal "became irate and stated she is not under arrest, and she can do what she wishes," Locke wrote in his report. Finally McKinney and Locke decided they had no choice but to remove her from the campus. Each took hold of an arm. "Mrs. Hunter responded by kicking Sergeant McKinney in the groin," Locke recounted. While attempting to subdue Hunter, all three people, plus another school employee who was attempting to assist, tumbled to the ground in a heap.

Handcuffed at last, Hunter was placed in the back seat of McKinney's patrol car. "Once inside the car," wrote William Cabrera, the school employee who was assisting, "she tried to kick the door open and even tried to climb out of the window, and said, 'You can't do this to a black woman.'"

A school security monitor, Diane Pope, marched to the patrol car and urged Hunter to calm down. "At this point," Pope later noted, "she asked [McKinney and Locke] to call [Dade County Public Schools Police] Chief Vivian Monroe. She was given the privilege to talk to her. They were told to uncuff her and allow her to go into her office with myself and Mr. Cabrera."

At about 10:00 a.m. Chief Monroe herself arrived at the high school, accompanied by district police Capt. Lurene Mack. Hunter, Monroe, and Mack then rode together in Mack's patrol car to Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, where Hunter would be tested for drugs and alcohol as school district policy required. McKinney followed in his patrol car. (Judith Hunter did not return numerous phone calls seeking comment for this story, and Chief Vivian Monroe refused to discuss the case.)

No charges were filed against Hunter -- not misdemeanor criminal mischief or disorderly conduct, not felony battery on a police officer, not resisting arrest with force.

A month later Chief Monroe's husband, James Monroe, an executive director of the school district's disciplinary arm, the Office of Professional Standards, ordered that the police department terminate its investigation of Hunter. According to school district officials, Hunter is currently on medical leave without pay. Ofcr. Joe Locke's report, which would be considered a public document at other police agencies, was withheld from New Times by district officials who claim it remains part of an open investigation.

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