If the Suits Fit

The mayor of Hialeah Gardens has a taste for vulgarity, revenge -- and for costing the city big bucks in legal fees

In response the mayor's office issued a memorandum castigating Carrera for using the word molleto, and stating that no such discriminatory terms would be tolerated. This same ex-employee found the memo ironic, bordering on laughable. She and another of her co-workers who are of Afro-Cuban descent, often were subjected to racist comments from Oliveros, she says. The EEOC complaint from former secretary Nattacha Amador, who quit in June 1999, includes a charge of discrimination based on the fact that her mother is Afro-Cuban. Amador would not comment for this story.

Attorney Harriet Lewis says the mayor "vehemently denies" she has ever discriminated against black people, or made racist comments.


Attorney William Amlong likens entering Hialeah Gardens to stepping "through the looking glass"
Steve Satterwhite
Attorney William Amlong likens entering Hialeah Gardens to stepping "through the looking glass"
PBA leader John Rivera says his police union is getting ready to "punch [the city] in the nose"
Steve Satterwhite
PBA leader John Rivera says his police union is getting ready to "punch [the city] in the nose"

Deborah Collins Kidwell is smoking Marlboro Reds in the Florida room of the Davie home she shares with her husband, a cockatoo, and five dogs. One of the dogs, a small white terrier mix, sleeps on the leather couch next to her.

A 43-year-old Miami native with powder-blue eyes and graying, wavy blond hair, Kidwell drags on her cigarette, describing how she came to join the Hialeah Gardens Police Department in 1987. After enlisting in the Coast Guard in the Seventies and doing a five-year hitch, she bounced between maritime jobs and law enforcement before joining Hialeah Gardens' 30-member force as a patrol officer.

"It took me less than a week to say, 'What the hell have I gotten myself into?'" she says. But, since she had already left two jobs after less than a year, she didn't want to get stuck with a reputation for being unable to finish a probationary first year with any department. "By the time the year was up, [the Hialeah Gardens Police Department] had made me so mad, I had decided to stay and be a pain in the ass," she declares, giving a long, hard laugh.

Kidwell became one in a long line of cops to sue the city of Hialeah Gardens. And like most of them, she's gotten paid, albeit not very much. The current recordholder for whipping the city is Diane Scrima, former secretary to the police chief. In 1997 a jury found the city had messed with her duties, hours, and working conditions so egregiously they ordered the city to pay her $294,000; the mayor herself was ordered to pay $27,000 in punitive damages. (The actual amount was settled on appeal; Harriet Lewis says that, under the settlement agreement, the mayor's payment was dropped.)

Kidwell has sued the city twice, once in 1989 (for sexual harassment; the case, which was filed when Oliveros was a councilwoman, was settled), and again in 1997 (for gender discrimination and retaliation; she won a jury verdict of roughly $32,000).

Sitting among her dogs, Kidwell describes how one of Chief Harold Keith Joy's predecessors, Glenn Sime, had promoted her to sergeant in 1993; when the other sergeants protested because she was a woman, he suggested a lateral move to detective, with the same pay as a sergeant. She accepted, but the other sergeants were still angry. (At the time George Hameetman was mayor.)

"I'm appointed a detective September 24, 1993, a Friday. When I came in Monday, [Sime] told me I was no longer a detective. I'm back to being an officer." She complained to the federal EEOC in October; within ten days, she says, she was immediately switched to the midnight shift. "That's a violation of our [Police Benevolent Association] union contract," she says. She promptly added a retaliation charge to her complaint.

Kidwell (known then as Debbie Collins) continued doing her job while she waited to receive her right-to-sue letter from the EEOC. By the time Gilda Cabrera Oliveros won back the mayor's seat in 1995, Kidwell still hadn't heard from the EEOC. And though her complaint was rooted in the actions of the previous mayor and police chief, under Oliveros and Joy nothing changed. She also heard some disturbing news through the grapevine.

"I got word that I had been followed and surreptitiously videotaped, for no apparent reason other than nastiness, starting in 1992 [when Gilda was mayor the first time around]," she says, patting a stack of VHS tapes on her lap. Another officer discovered them in 1995, and gave them to Kidwell, she says. In one of the earlier tapes she's shown pulling into the parking lot at Hialeah Hospital in 1992. "When I came out from my doctor's appointment -- I'd fallen during a burglary investigation, and I had bulging discs in my neck -- I came out and I had two flat tires. They videotaped me arriving, and videotaped me standing there looking at my slashed tires. Gee, why didn't they get the guys who flattened my tires?"

She says she knew who made the tapes: Antonio "Tony" Sanchez, who, by 1995, had been hired full-time as a police officer in Hialeah Gardens. At the time the tapes were made he was a reserve officer: what Kidwell calls "an unofficial spy-boy" for the city and Oliveros. Kidwell says Sanchez has admitted to her he made those tapes and slashed her tires, and that he had conducted the surveillance. Kidwell guesses that at least some of the tapes were intended to prove she was faking her injury in order to get paid time off.

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