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.

In October 1996 a district auditor examining payroll records at Norland Middle School discovered that a former secretary at that school, Suzanne Glasse, had submitted a check-request form featuring a payroll clerk's signature that appeared to be forged, according to a February 1997 police incident report obtained by New Times. The requested pay was for computer-graphics work Glasse had done outside regular school hours. Had the auditor not questioned the authenticity of the signature, Glasse would have been paid for 40 hours of work that police described as unauthorized.

The auditor notified his boss, assistant superintendent George Balsa, who heads the district's Office of Management Audits. Balsa contacted school police Sgt. John Hunkiar, who interviewed Glasse late this past January. According to the sergeant's subsequent report, Glasse admitted she had signed the document using the payroll clerk's name and attempted to make the signature look authentic. But she also told auditors and police that the payroll clerk had given permission to sign her name to the document. The clerk, she asserted, later turned against her.

It was not the first time Suzanne Glasse had been investigated by school police. In 1994, when she herself was a payroll clerk, police substantiated charges that Glasse had used improper procedures to provide another school district employee with an unauthorized paycheck. According to school police reports, Glasse received no money in that case, and investigators found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

This time, however, Sergeant Hunkiar was concerned enough that he contacted Assistant State Attorney David Maer. As noted in Hunkiar's report, the prosecutor concluded that the evidence was strong enough to support a criminal charge. The sergeant then met with George Balsa and Julio Miranda, the district's forensic auditor, and they agreed to charge Glasse with forgery.

By this time Glasse had moved up in the school district hierarchy. She no longer worked at Norland Middle School; now she was an administrative secretary for Joyce Annunziata, the senior executive director of the Office of Professional Standards. As a courtesy, Hunkiar called Annunziata and said Glasse could surrender at a location of her choice rather than suffer the embarrassment of being escorted from work in handcuffs.

Annunziata promptly informed her supervisor, Nelson Diaz, deputy superintendent for labor relations and personnel management, who in turn called Balsa to discuss the case. Balsa and Miranda met again and then contacted David Maer at the State Attorney's Office.

Now they told the prosecutor they had doubts that their evidence against Glasse would stand up in court. Apparently Maer was persuaded. Reports show that he subsequently told Sergeant Hunkiar that Glasse should not be arrested and that the case should be handled administratively.

Nelson Diaz, who has no official authority over the school district's police department, arrived at a staff meeting several days later and excoriated high-ranking police officers for allowing Hunkiar to proceed with the case. Deputy superintendent Carol Cortes, who does oversee the police, listened as Diaz upbraided her subordinates. Diaz recalls his words: "I said, 'I don't think that you can arrest someone when the State Attorney's Office has said there's nothing here to make an arrest.'"

Despite the turnaround regarding criminal charges, Glasse's supervisors believed some form of punishment was called for, and so they officially "demoted" her. Before her demotion, she was earning $25,836, according to personnel records. But after the demotion, her annual pay actually rose to $26,083. The official report describing Glasse's case, which would be considered a public document at other police agencies, was withheld from New Times by school district officials who claim it will be part of her annual job performance evaluation and is therefore confidential.

On October 8 of last year, a fourteen-year-old girl told her principal at Miami Edison Middle School that a teacher, Jean Baptiste Guerrier, had physically restrained her between classes, told her she was pretty, asked to meet her later, rubbed her leg, and fondled her breast.

Instead of calling police, school authorities relayed the allegation to the district's Office of Professional Standards (OPS). Officials at OPS chose not to approach the case as a criminal matter but rather as an administrative issue, according to an OPS report. Edison principal Ronald Major questioned the girl and had her write out a statement describing the alleged incident.

When two days passed and no one had contacted her, the girl's mother reported the incident directly to school police Capt. Joseph Diaz. The allegation then went to a subordinate officer, who called the sexual battery unit of the City of Miami Police Department. Det. George Martinez was assigned to the case.

As Martinez later wrote in his investigative report and testified during a sworn deposition, he had already looked into 1993 allegations of "sexual misconduct" against Guerrier. The State Attorney's Office did not press charges in that case. Martinez also learned that Guerrier had been investigated by school district staff in 1990, again for "misconduct involving sexual activities."

As soon as he was assigned the case, Martinez called school district police and asked them to bring the girl to his office immediately. By the time she got there -- October 11 -- the student was so hostile she turned her back on the detective and refused to talk. "She said she felt uncomfortable," Martinez recalls. "She said that nobody believed her, that the investigation was a waste of time, and that the system protects people." Eventually, though, Martinez and the girl developed enough rapport that she provided him with her account of the events of October 8.

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."

Among the most pressing of those concerns is the looming presence of the district's Office of Professional Standards (OPS) -- a civilian agency that for years has maintained tight control over many police functions. For example, even the most basic criminal investigation of school district employees -- from janitors to principals -- cannot begin without the approval of OPS administrators. Often those administrators simply bypass police and conduct their own investigations. In addition, say a dozen school police officers, OPS on occasion thwarts their attempts to investigate allegations of criminal wrongdoing -- allegations that sometimes involve child sexual abuse.

"We as a police department disagree with the way the school police department is run," declares Lt. Carlos Alfaro, who supervises sexual battery detectives at the Miami Police Department. "I wouldn't trust the school police department with my child's allegations when decisions are made by people who have an interest in keeping [the allegations] quiet."

Alfaro's boss, Miami Police Chief Donald Warshaw, is bewildered by OPS's role in criminal matters. "It would be like me going to [Miami City Manager] Ed Marquez to ask for permission to arrest someone," he says. "It's almost unthinkable. That's what makes a police chief and a police department different: The city manager can tell you how to spend money, he can hold back your budget, but he can't get involved in the investigation of crimes."

Adds State Attorney Fernandez Rundle: "We were very concerned about criminal allegations being screened by OPS, which is really an administrative arm. [OPS officials] were making the determination as to which allegations should be investigated criminally. We thought that was an inappropriate screening method. Criminal allegations need to be reviewed by an agency that has the ability to work up a case and determine whether charges should be filed."

In interviews for this article, Fernandez Rundle expressed her concerns in the past tense because she believed they had been fully addressed and corrected. The embarrassment and frustration provoked by A Current Affair's February broadcast of the incident involving Ronald Major had been compounded by a more recent case in which school officials failed to notify police after an eight-year-old girl told them she had been sexually assaulted by a monitor at W.J. Bryan Elementary School. Moreover, in recent months the sexual battery unit at the State Attorney's Office has been investigating several school district cases in which no criminal charges have been filed, despite one knowledgeable prosecutor's startling conclusion that "children have been victimized again and again."

Such was the level of alarm that the state attorney dispatched two of her top prosecutors to meet with school district officials. Their mandate: The district must adopt new policies for handling reports of child abuse and must revise procedures in such a way that OPS would be excluded from involvement in all criminal cases.

The meeting, held in April, included public corruption prosecutor Joe Centorino and Windy Johnston, supervisor of the state attorney's sexual battery unit. The school district was represented by deputy superintendent Carol Cortes, Chief Vivian Monroe, and the district's in-house attorney, Phyllis Douglas.

Initially the administrators flatly rejected the prosecutors' proposals. "The State Attorney's Office didn't want OPS involved [in any child-abuse investigations]," Cortes recalls. "We had a real problem with that because if it's an employee, we have to know so we can reassign them."

But Johnston and Centorino persevered, and in mid-April Douglas sent a letter to Johnston signaling the district's willingness to adopt a new policy -- at least regarding cases of suspected child abuse. A month later, however, Chief Vivian Monroe still had not incorporated it into the police department's standard operating procedures. In a May 28 memorandum, attorney Douglas insisted that the chief insert the following language into the procedures manual: "In the case of suspected or confirmed child abuse committed by a school board employee, it shall immediately be reported to Dade County school police. The school police will make the determination as to whether to handle the investigation itself or to refer it to the local law enforcement sexual battery unit. School police will notify the School Board's Office of Professional Standards so that decisions can be made reference removing the accused employee from the school site.... The Office of Professional Standards will make no determination regarding the appropriateness of criminal investigation." (A police department official says the new policy was added to the procedures manual within the last couple of weeks.)

But contrary to the expectations of Centorino, Johnston, and State Attorney Fernandez Rundle, the school district has not removed OPS from involvement in all criminal matters. If an employee like Judith Hunter or Suzanne Glasse should be accused of breaking the law (without injury to a child), OPS still controls the decision whether to launch a criminal investigation.

In defending the district's determination to keep OPS in the criminal loop, attorney Douglas argues that adults do not need the same protection as children. "Let's say I'm a school [district] employee and one of my subordinates beats me up," she hypothesizes. "I want this guy prosecuted, fired, and OPS says, 'We think he has a drinking problem and that's why we won't pursue a criminal case.' There's nothing to prevent me from going down to the State Attorney's Office and pressing charges."

Deputy superintendent Carol Cortes, who has overall responsibility for the school police, goes even further. OPS, she maintains, not only has the authority to decide whether a criminal investigation or an arrest is appropriate, but its directors also have a responsibility to hold overzealous officers in check. "I've looked at cases where police officers have overused their powers," Cortes says. "I can't use my authority as a deputy [superintendent] against someone because I don't like them. The police are here not to crack heads and be Rambos. If someone wants to follow the letter of the law, they shouldn't be school police."

As far as Katherine Fernandez Rundle is concerned, such thinking is seriously flawed. "I certainly want to review that with them and determine why they make a distinction between some crimes and not others. All criminal allegations should always be investigated by a criminal agency," she says emphatically. "You need to know what the elements of a crime are -- what is the burden of proof, how do you gauge credibility, how do you examine whether someone is just trying to ruin someone's career or whether there's enough corroboration? Those are professional skills that should be handled by professionals."

Otto del Forn is the type of professional Fernandez Rundle has in mind. A 26-year veteran of police work, 23 of them with the City of Miami, he joined the school police force three years ago, after retiring from the city. But this past May he resigned in frustration after a school principal successfully barred him from arresting a Miami High School football player suspected of aggravated assault. Today he is a lieutenant with the newly formed Pinecrest Police Department. "The OPS should stick with civil matters and we should do ours," del Forn asserts. "If you're going to arrest someone for possession of a kilo of cocaine, why should you go to their supervisor? If there's a complaint against a principal, only a captain of a region can investigate it. Why can't a detective investigate it like anyone else? We have to be professional and should not have outside interference -- not even from the school board."

Hopes for a new era of professionalism at the school police department were raised when former chief Eugene "Red" McAllister stepped down this past December after 28 years with the force, 18 as chief. During his tenure, he developed a reputation for preserving cordial relations with his superiors in the school district's administration while at the same time irritating some local law enforcement professionals by failing to establish a comprehensive system of mutual aid among Dade's various police departments and by hiring officers who didn't meet the minimum standards required by such agencies as Metro-Dade and the City of Miami.

When McAllister left, twenty outspoken officers signed a petition asking the superintendent and school board to hire a chief who had been trained and groomed for management by another police agency. Instead the board promoted 44-year-old Vivian Monroe, who joined the department in 1974 and had worked her way up through the ranks.

Monroe's elevation to chief may not have represented the dramatic change many officers had hoped for, despite the fact that she was the first woman and the first black to hold the position. Still, with few enemies among officers or administrators, and with a spotless record replete with excellent evaluations, she inspired guarded optimism that the department might be transformed into one respected by both law enforcement professionals and school district officials.

According to a dozen school police officers who spoke off the record for this story, some of that optimism began to fade almost immediately after Monroe was named chief. For one thing, shortly before her appointment she married James Monroe, a top executive with the Office of Professional Standards. Their relationship only exacerbated the officers' long-standing concerns about OPS's involvement in police work.

Since she took charge this past January, say the officers, Monroe's hiring and promotion decisions have failed to ease their doubts about her ability or desire to upgrade the quality of officers and executives. As an example, the officers note that the chief recently hired an officer who was fired by one local police department and rejected by another (see accompanying sidebar titled "High Expectations, Low Pay"). In addition, Monroe promoted an officer who is actively being investigated for possible violations of law and police department policy.

When she advanced to chief, Monroe frequently declared that she wanted to be a role model for other African-American women. Accordingly, late this past May she announced the promotion of Stephana Clark, a black lieutenant, to the rank of captain. (The department employs twelve black female officers, six of whom hold the rank of sergeant or above.)

As part of her new position, Clark was assigned responsibility for staff services, which, among other things, requires her to supervise the police department's internal affairs unit. Internal affairs routinely undertakes sensitive investigations of police officers suspected of wrongdoing.

As Chief Monroe must have known, Stephana Clark herself is the subject of an investigation by the internal affairs unit that began in May 1995 and which remains open while awaiting disposition by the State Attorney's Office.

According to documents pertaining to the investigation obtained by New Times, Clark was involved in an automobile accident on May 15, 1995, while driving an unmarked school police car on SW Eighth Street.

When she reported the accident to school district police, Clark said she had been the victim of a hit-and-run driver and that she had only glimpsed the suspect car as it sped away. In a written statement, she provided this account: "I was travelling eastbound on SW Eighth Street and Nineteenth Avenue in the far left lane. I attempted to park vehicle and unknown person struck the right side of car causing damage to the front passenger's door. Driver of other vehicle fled scene. No known injuries at this time. I am responding to doctor's office."

School police Ofcr. Rick Brincefield, an accident-investigation specialist, went to the scene. In later written reports and a sworn deposition, Brincefield related that he quickly came to doubt Clark's story. Physical evidence strongly suggested that the accident did not occur in the manner or at the location Clark claimed. A garage mechanic across the street provided Brincefield with a detailed description of the accident's aftermath, which varied dramatically from Clark's version of events.

In a written statement, the witness, Luis M. Perez, recounted: "The driver of the blue car had to exit the car through the passenger side. He and the woman driver of the grey car (she was African American) got together and talked for a while. Both cars then parked by the curb and both drivers continued to converse."

Brincefield's suspicions moved him to action. In his sworn deposition, he said, "After determining that it was possibly developing into a criminal case ... I requested that someone from internal affairs respond to the scene, and Lieutenant Dodson responded there."

Brincefield was then asked: "From your knowledge and experience in investigating accidents, what crime [sic] specifically do you feel was violated?"

Brincefield: "The verbal. It's actually two separate crimes, the verbal falsification of an accident report for circumstances surrounding that, and the written falsification of that." Brincefield identified the state statutes: 837.05 and 837.06, both of them misdemeanors.

Ofcr. Rick Brincefield died unexpectedly in October 1995 at the age of 34.
Capt. Stephana Clark referred all questions regarding the internal affairs investigation to her attorney, Howard Brodsky, who declined to discuss the matter.

After initially cooperating with New Times in the preparation of this article, Chief Vivian Monroe abruptly ended all communication, prohibited any contact with police officers on school campuses, and actively discouraged members of the department from participating in interviews.

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