High Expectations, Low Pay

Evelio Rodriguez, a third high-ranking officer and one of seven captains on the school police force, was fired from the Metro-Dade Police Department in June 1984, during his probation period, for using excessive force against a prisoner, according to Rodriguez's school background report. Metro-Dade internal affairs investigators determined that Rodriguez dragged a suspect by the hair to his patrol car, slammed his face against a seat, and hit him on the head with his hand in front of a witness, according to the school police background report.

Fred Taylor says a department is ethically obligated to determine that new recruits do not have any history of serious violations of law or policy before they are hired. "If they were fired for cause, it would be very rare to hire someone like that," he explains, "because it would be negligent hiring."

In an effort to enhance its hiring process, the school police department in the last three years has improved the way it gathers recruits' employment and personal histories. But Chief Vivian Monroe still has the discretion to hire candidates who have been fired or disciplined elsewhere. A case in point is Ofcr. Nelson Fernandez.

During his four-year stint at the Hialeah Police Department, Fernandez was suspended four times for a total of 90 working hours. One of the suspensions resulted from his having referred to blacks as "niggers"; another was punishment for "revealing the content of an official police document." In addition, he was reprimanded five times for infractions ranging from "improper conduct toward the public" to conduct unbecoming an officer. He was finally fired for working at his family's towing business, Fuzz Wrecker Service, while on duty and after informing a supervisor that he had resigned from the company, according to his school police background file and Hialeah personnel records.

In 1994 the Opa-locka Police Department refused to hire Fernandez because he failed both the psychological and the polygraph tests. The polygraph examiner found that he displayed signs of deception when answering nine questions, including one about his use of excessive force on the job. A psychologist who evaluated Fernandez for the Opa-locka department determined that "the applicant's ability to tolerate the high stresses faced by a law enforcement officer is very questionable."

The Dade school police investigator, Sgt. John Hunkiar, also noted in his background report that Fernandez "falsified" his employment application by not disclosing his failed attempt to join the Opa-locka force, a disclosure required by the school police department's application process. When Hunkiar confronted Fernandez, he denied having applied at Opa-locka.

Hunkiar's supervisor, Capt. Claudia Milton, provided all of this background information to Chief Vivian Monroe. In May of this year, Monroe hired Fernandez anyway.

Officer Fernandez defends his integrity, explaining that he joined the police department because he wants to serve the public. "People who know me know I'm honest," he says. "People talk a lot of trash about me. It's all rumor."

-- Paula Park

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