Behind the Badge

Danny Felton was a decorated cop and local hero. Then drug dealer Marvin Griffin showed up.

As a boy, Felton played in the Miami Central High School symphony and the marching band. "Participation in the church and playing drums consumed most of his life then," Sharpstein says. Felton's high school band leader John Ladson, who now lives in Georgia, adds: "He was one of those kids that always did the right thing. I never knew Danny to do anything wrong. I tell you, it was odd to have a student in both the church and the band. There were a lot of kids from the projects and they were rough. It seemed like the church kids didn't last long."

Felton not only lasted, he thrived, winning several statewide drum solo competitions. "He could play snares, tom-toms, timpani, bells," Ladson recalls. "He was excellent. He must have won over 25 medals. He was really disciplined."

If discipline helped Felton excel in school and band, it must have also aided him when he entered the military in 1989. After his graduation from Central, Felton joined the army and traveled to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for basic training. He served his time, received an honorable discharge, and remained on semiactive duty as a reserve. After returning to Miami he entered the police academy.

This was the ordered progress people had come to expect of Felton. Within months of becoming a police officer, he was racking up arrests. Throughout 1993 he was one of the most active officers in the city's north district, which included his home area of Liberty City. In October, after making 36 arrests, Felton was named officer of the month. "It is my distinct pleasure to bring to your attention the outstanding performance by Officer Danny Felton during the month of October 1993," Lt. David Rivero, commander of the north district's B shift, wrote in a monthly evaluation addressed to Ofcr. Angelo Bitsis. Rivero also called Felton's performance "remarkable." Police Maj. Gwendolyn Boyd told a reporter for the Neighbors section of the Miami Herald: "He's such an eager beaver.... He's a rookie, but he's always out there hustling."

In one case that month Felton chased down two men who tried to flee after crashing a stolen car. In another, he collared a man -- on the run for two days -- who was wanted for beating his pregnant girlfriend.

To the department's top brass, Felton was a gift. In the early Nineties, the Miami Police Department was still smarting from the so-called River Cops scandal of 1985 -- in which two drug dealers drowned while trying to escape a group of dirty cops out to steal narcotics. That embarrassment resulted in about twenty convictions and subjected more than 100 officers to internal discipline through 1995. Hiring officers like Felton, who had grown up in Miami and who had a sterling background, seemed a perfect remedy.

Felton at first lived up to those expectations. Word of his accomplishments reached his childhood haunts. "He was arresting everybody, getting commendations and everything," bandleader Ladson recalls.

Then, according to the confession and the internal affairs report, Felton bumped into a childhood acquaintance named Marvin Griffin and all that changed.

In the Tropicana, a neighborhood bar just down the street from the church, patrons have never heard of Danny Felton. "The boy from the church there? Naw, they keep to theyselves," says one midafternoon drinker nursing a Bud longneck. But some remember Griffin, alias Jody Daboyce, Edward Griffin, and Roosevelt Commings.

One regular recalls Griffin as a tall, slim, well-dressed man partial to slacks and silk shirts who would stop in occasionally for a glass of Hennessy cognac. He would hold low-volume conversations not meant to be overheard, talking only to the people he entered with.

Felton and Griffin couldn't have been more different. Felton was devout, and disciplined -- a high school graduate who basked in the adulation of his school and church. Griffin was slick and street-smart, a high school dropout who sought affirmation at night on the streets.

Griffin was born into a sprawling family of seven children. He attended Miami Central five years before Felton. He was a childhood acquaintance of Danny Felton's older brother Stanley, according to Felton's alleged confession. Sometimes Griffin, who had a bad reputation even then, would stop by the Felton house. "My family knew he was involved in robbing people and narcotics trafficking, so my dad would chase Marvin away," the confession reads. In Griffin's senior year, 1983, his attendance was requested elsewhere -- state prison.

Griffin's juvenile criminal record is sealed, but it's likely he was active. At age seventeen he was charged as an adult with burglary for stealing a purse from a northeast Dade home; a judge sentenced him to four years. Since then he's been accused of at least fourteen other crimes, including a violent robbery in 1986 that earned him four more years in prison. Neither conviction involved drugs.

"Marvin? He was a hell of a fella' around here," one of the bar patrons comments dryly. "He was quiet. He was also smart. It seemed like he always stayed a couple of steps ahead of the police."

Griffin declined through his lawyer Jon May to be interviewed for this story. But he wrote a five-page single-spaced typewritten letter to New Times detailing his exploits with Felton. He describes working with Felton on several drug rip-offs in 1994. In March a jury found Griffin guilty of possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Because of his past criminal record, he faces that minimum 30-year sentence on Friday. Griffin maintains he is not a drug dealer and feels even the minimum sentence is unjust.

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