By Chuck Strouse
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Chief Hood will not discuss why he felt only a reprimand was warranted or why he allowed St. Amand to remain in the domestic-violence unit. And because there is no written documentation of the department's administrative review, it remains unclear whether an exhaustive examination of all cases assigned to St. Amand was undertaken to determine if there were other victims he failed to contact.
North Miami City Manager Lee Feldman says he was not involved in the decision to reprimand St. Amand. Determining how to discipline police officers, he asserts, is Chief Hood's responsibility. "If the chief felt a reprimand was warranted, then I would back him on that," Feldman says.
Interviews with city officials and police officers suggest that a number of factors may have influenced Chief Hood's approach to dealing with St. Amand. First, the informal nature of an administrative review may have shielded the department from scandal. Hood also may have felt a measure of loyalty to St. Amand, who in January 1998 helped secure the release of four children who were being held hostage. That incident ended in a shootout that left one of the kidnappers dead. The chief may have believed the stress from the event adversely affected St. Amand's later performance.
Another possible concern for the chief: In recent years his department has been rife with allegations of racial discrimination. Disciplining St. Amand more severely might have exacerbated the problem. Last year, for instance, seven black police officers (St. Amand was not among them) filed a complaint against the department with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In addition it is no secret that St. Amand comes from a wealthy and politically influential South Florida Haitian family. Suspending or firing him could have sparked turmoil within North Miami's growing Haitian community. (St. Amand's father, Fred St. Amand, Sr., claims that the allegations against his son are politically motivated. The elder St. Amand, who says he plans to run for a seat on the North Miami City Council in two years, believes city officials are trying to ruin his candidacy by embarrassing his family and destroying his son's reputation.)
If the reprimand was intended to serve as a warning to St. Amand that his conduct was being scrutinized, it didn't work. In August 1998, two months after receiving the rebuke, he allegedly began exposing himself and masturbating in front of one of his co-workers. The woman says she tried to ignore the detective, who would make lewd comments to her while he masturbated. She says she was afraid to report the incidents because she didn't believe the department would support her. Only after confiding in another officer, who encouraged her to report the incidents, did she speak with the State Attorney's Office this past May.
"I believed her," says Assistant State Attorney Ruth Solley, referring to the victim. The prosecutor adds that the four other women who complained of sexual harassment were also very credible.
It was during the course of investigating the sexual-harassment allegations that prosecutors first discovered the discrepancies in St. Amand's handling of domestic-violence cases. Solley declined to comment on that ongoing phase of the investigation.
In response to the stinging memo from the State Attorney's Office describing St. Amand as a threat to the women around him, the police department has begun a formal internal-affairs investigation into the charges of sexual harassment leveled by the five women included in the State Attorney's report.
Although the department was aware two months ago of the complaints against St. Amand and the fact that the State Attorney's Office was investigating them, the detective was relieved of duty (with pay) only after this column detailed those charges three weeks ago. All of which leaves Julia Dawson, of the National Organization for Women, with just one question for city officials: "North Miami NOW would like to know why, considering his record, Detective St. Amand should remain working in law enforcement?"