Behind the Badge

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

In his letter to New Times, dated January 15 but received much later, Griffin recalled the meeting that allegedly initiated his partnership with Felton: "One day I seen Danny in his Maxima car. I stopped him and I asked him would he be interested in buying some rims for his car. Danny answers, Man, I don't have any money to buy no rims. I wished I could. Shit, them crackers don't pay me enough. Hell, I need to be doing what you do, so I can ride around like you guys." Griffin writes that he laughed "bashfully," then said to Felton; "Man, stop playing, you want the rims or not? They fit right on your car." Griffin contends Felton replied, "I'm serious, we don't get paid shit."

Then, Griffin writes, he mulled it over, "until I finally got up the nerve to approach him and ask him would he be willing to participate in rip-offs."

In Felton's contested FBI confession, the meeting is recounted differently. "One day, I ran into Marvin on the street and Marvin told me that I could make a little money if I was interested. He said he had a little something for me and I would just have to do my job as a police officer. Marvin was always saying that he had something big and one day, I said I was interested." Felton does not explain his motivation.

"Cases like this are absolute shockers," remarks Maj. Bill O'Brien, commander of the Miami Police Department's internal affairs section. "I don't know why he would do something like this. He was a young man with an excellent future. All he had to do was continue to do his job and he was on the path to success." O'Brien's section substantiated two findings of misconduct against Felton for the rip-offs. The first allegation was that he stole money from an FBI agent posing as a drug dealer on May 19, 1994. The second was that he had ripped off a real drug dealer four months earlier. "After the conclusion of the joint City of Miami internal affairs and FBI investigation, it is clearly and factually evidenced that Officer Danny P. Felton planned and assisted Mr. Marvin Griffin in money and/or drug rip-offs on two separate occasions," the internal affairs report states.

Sharpstein acknowledges that Felton and Griffin were in contact. But in his version, Felton was only doing some unauthorized undercover work. Sharpstein contends Felton was hoping for a promotion. "He was young, naive, and misguided as to how to advance."

According to Griffin, the first rip-off was easy. He traveled to Atlanta and let it be known in night clubs and on the street that he was a Miami drug dealer prepared to do business. Anyone interested should come to Florida with cash to spend.

On January 6, 1994, the first buyer to take up Griffin's offer arrived, according to both Felton's confession and the internal affairs report. At about 4:00 p.m., Griffin and the customer -- who is not named in either document -- passed NW Eleventh Avenue and 40th Street in Griffin's 1993 cream-color Infiniti. Felton pulled them over.

Griffin's letter doesn't refer specifically to this date. Rather he describes generally how the two would separate drug dealers from their lucre. Felton would request Griffin's license. Griffin would pretend he didn't have it. Felton would tell Griffin to step from the car and lead him to the cruiser. Then, Griffin writes, Felton "would ask me in private where's the money located [inside the car] and does this fellow have any weapons on him?" Next, Felton would "arrest" Griffin and inform the visiting drug dealer that, as a passenger, he was free to go. The dealer would take off on foot, leaving the money behind. Griffin and Felton would split the profit.

According to the internal affairs report, Felton earned $1000 for the charade. (A police incident report says the stop occurred January 6, but the internal affairs report, apparently because of a clerical error, states the date as January 1.)

Griffin thought of the scams as a public service. "In a sense we still did some good, because here was another drug dealer going back to wherever empty-handed," he writes.

Felton's lawyer Sharpstein disputes both Griffin's allegations and the contention that his client profited from the stop. "Any contact made was in a pure law enforcement capacity," Sharpstein snorts contemptuously. "Any discussion of money was Marvin asking to be paid for information."

To his supervisors, the rookie cop continued his hot pace. In March 1994 he led the approximately 200 officers in the north district substation in arrests, prisoners transported to jail, and a half-dozen other categories. His supervisor, Sgt. Cornelius Drane, wrote, "Officer Felton is a probationary employee; however, he has displayed above-average attention to duty." In April Felton again led his sector in arrests. He passed the department's required three months of probation with a backslapping endorsement from Drane: "Felton is a highly motivated young officer. He sets the pace for production in his north district patrol assignment. I recommend permanent police status."

On May 2, while Felton was burnishing his success on patrol to a high gloss, FBI Special Agent Thaddeus Buggs received a tip from a source that "Officer Danny Felton and a drug dealer by the name of Mr. Marvin Griffin had committed several thefts of drugs and money from local drug dealers," according to the Miami internal affairs report. "Agent Buggs advised the [confidential source] to inform Mr. Griffin that a drug dealer was coming to Miami carrying a large amount of money and drugs in his vehicle."

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