DeFede

Good Cops, Bad Cops

his week I wanted to praise the City of North Miami and its police department for firing Det. Fred St. Amand. Instead I find myself once again wondering if anyone in that city -- the mayor, the city manager, the police chief, the city attorney -- understands the difference between right and wrong, and if they can grasp just how far out of bounds they are now straying.

The decision to fire St. Amand was a good one, albeit for the wrong reason. The city fired St. Amand because he had become an embarrassment and a liability. As much as the chief and others in the department tried over the years to conceal the detective's failings, the truth eventually surfaced: St. Amand was a bad cop.

He may have been the highest-ranking Haitian officer in the department, but he was also a glory hound, always looking for praise but unwilling to perform the less glamorous aspects of his job with the department's domestic-violence squad. He ignored complaints from women who were attacked or threatened by their boyfriends and husbands because investigating such incidents wouldn't bring him the attention he craved. Even more shocking was his willingness to write misleading and possibly fraudulent reports that led his superiors to believe he indeed was examining these tales of abuse.

Only after some of the victims complained that no police officer had contacted them to investigate their allegations did the department realize what St. Amand was doing, or more accurately, what he wasn't doing. He should have been fired on the spot. Instead his misconduct was covered up.

St. Amand, who had been honored as Officer of the Year in 1998, comes from a wealthy and influential Haitian family; his father harbors aspirations to run for a seat on the city council. Firing or even disciplining St. Amand might have been the right thing to do, but it could have caused problems in a city with a large and politically active Haitian population and a police department with a history of racial tensions.

I don't know whether such considerations originated solely with Police Chief Tom Hood or whether they were passed along by City Manager Lee Feldman, but today both men must be held accountable for the consequences.

St. Amand remained on the force, and (surprise!) before long it became clear that the contempt he displayed toward women was not limited to crime victims; he demonstrated a similar lack of respect toward his female co-workers. According to the sworn statements of at least five women, St. Amand repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances and bragged about his sexual prowess in lewd and graphic terms. He is even alleged to have attempted to seduce a seventeen-year-old girl who was part of the police department's youth Explorer program.

None of these revelations should have shocked his superiors, however. They had been given plenty of notice that St. Amand had a serious problem with women. But they did little about it. And then came the allegations of Cheryl Wolosz, who accused St. Amand of exposing himself to her in the police station and then masturbating. Not once, not twice, but three times.

Wolosz, a code enforcement officer for the city, told several people about St. Amand's behavior, among them Ofcr. Christine Casas and Sgt. Neal Cuevas. Given the police department's record of covering up for St. Amand, Wolosz was reluctant to report him to the internal affairs unit, which investigates complaints against officers. Casas and Cuevas made it clear to Wolosz that she could not keep this information to herself, and she must report it. If she didn't feel comfortable keeping it within the department, she should go to the State Attorney's Office (SAO).

That's exactly what Wolosz did. And once word of St. Amand's conduct spread outside the department, he was finished. Soon all St. Amand's secrets, which his superiors had been sweeping under their semen-stained rug, were finally exposed. Although prosecutors at the SAO decided not to charge St. Amand with a crime, they noted in a stinging memorandum that the evidence they gathered "indicates that St. Amand has a serious problem and should not be working alone with female crime victims and co-workers." Prosecutors went on to say that "action should be taken administratively to ensure the safety of any females who come into contact with [St. Amand] in connection with his duties."

Once the prosecutors' findings were made public, there was nothing the police chief or the city manager could do to protect St. Amand. So they fired him.

But rather than let the story end there, Chief Hood launched his own internal affairs investigation against Officer Casas and Sergeant Cuevas. By encouraging Wolosz to go to the SAO, Casas and Cuevas circumvented the department's formal chain of command, and in the chief's view, that was cause for punishment, possibly even termination.

As far as I'm concerned, Casas and Cuevas should be given commendations. They could have ignored Wolosz, pretended not to hear what she had to say, and allowed a bad cop to remain on the force. Make no mistake about it: There is no greater threat to the public than a bad cop left unchecked.

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