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

A mere three hours later Detective Martinez placed Guerrier under arrest. The charges: two counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a minor.

The school district fired Guerrier, but when the State Attorney's Office reviewed the case, a prosecutor questioned whether the state could prevail in court. The girl's mother, it turned out, had eleven outstanding arrest warrants against her in Kentucky and Tennessee, which meant that a defense attorney might successfully challenge the credibility of both mother and daughter. Prosecutors dropped the charges this past March 17, and Guerrier is now suing the school district to get his job back. Guerrier's lawyer and the school district's attorney are trying to negotiate a settlement.

The only person punished: Capt. Joseph Diaz, the school police supervisor who authorized his subordinates to notify the Miami Police Department. According to Detective Martinez's report, a top district official, Neida Navarro, "confronted" and scolded Diaz for his "cooperation with the victim's mother."

Prosecutors who reviewed the Guerrier case say they were surprised and not a little disturbed to learn that the district's Office of Professional Standards had instructed Edison principal Ronald Major to administratively handle the girl's allegation of sexual molestation. As late as June 1996, Major himself was the subject of an investigation into a charge that he had sexually assaulted a seventeen-year-old girl at Miami Central High School, where he had been an assistant principal.

According to a June 10, 1996, memorandum prepared by the Dade State Attorney's sexual battery unit, a year earlier the girl had accused Major of summoning her to his office, bending her over his desk, and pulling her underwear to the side in an attempt to "insert his penis into her vagina. His penis made contact with her vagina, but did not penetrate it. The defendant then digitally penetrated her vagina." The girl told a Metro-Dade police detective that when the sixth-period bell rang, she fled Major's office and went home, skipping class. (See accompanying sidebar titled "The Ronald Major Case" for the full text of the state attorney's report.)

The victim said she did not immediately disclose the alleged sexual encounter because she was afraid that if she did, she wouldn't be able to graduate. Two days after the incident, however, the victim did reveal it to two of her female teachers, who later told the Metro-Dade detective that "the victim appeared upset on the day she disclosed. She had tears in her eyes."

The girl was soon called to the principal's office, where one of the female teachers and two male administrators -- both colleagues of Major -- had her repeat the allegation and put it in writing. The girl later told the detective that she omitted the part about digital penetration because she was embarrassed by the presence of the two men.

That same day Miami Central High's principal notified school police, who referred the allegation to school district administrators. More than a month passed before those administrators decided that a criminal investigation was warranted. On July 12, 1995, the case was assigned to school police Sgt. Oryntha Crumity.

In September Sergeant Crumity closed her investigation. The reason? She couldn't locate the victim. "Allegation remains unsubstantiated," states a memorandum written in November 1995 by the district's Office of Professional Standards. "Complainant did not respond to a certified letter requesting investigative interview."

The following February, Miami freelance writer Art Levine managed to contact the girl and helped to arrange interviews with her and her father for a segment of the television program A Current Affair, in which the girl repeated her allegations. Levine also featured Major in an article about the incident published in the Miami Beach Sun Post.

A week after the television show was broadcast, Metro-Dade Police assigned Det. Jay Canedy to review the case. He soon located the girl and spoke to her by telephone; eventually they met and she repeated her account. Canedy also learned that she had earlier accused a school monitor of sexually assaulting her. The monitor pled guilty in criminal court, and the girl, through her father's efforts, received a $500 cash settlement from the school district. Following the broadcast of A Current Affair, the father filed a claim against the school district, this time for $100,000. The district did not pay and the father did not pursue it further.

Ronald Major denied the girl's accusations and insisted that his office door had remained open during the time she claimed to have been assaulted. Two subordinate staff members corroborated his contention. Ultimately the State Attorney's Office decided not to file charges against Major, noting that the girl's statements were contradicted by Major's two subordinates, that no physical evidence existed to support her claim, and that she had a possible motive for fabricating her story.

Finally, the state attorney's report states, Major submitted to a polygraph test administered by a Metro-Dade Police Department specialist. He failed the examination.

At no time during the prolonged investigation did school administrators remove Major from contact with students. In fact, not long after the incident he was promoted to principal of Edison Middle School.

Prosecutors and law enforcement officials throughout Dade County have expressed profound unease with the school district's 147-officer police department. "We have concerns about the level of professionalism, the type of training they may or not receive, and some of their internal procedures," says State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. "They have a poor reputation."

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