The Return of Loco Joe

Miami's mayoral meltdown has a long and nasty history

Born in Caibarién, Cuba on March 12, 1955, Carollo left the island when he was six years old as part of Operation Pedro Pan, a wave of child immigration that began after Fidel Castro's revolution. His parents followed a short while later and the family settled in Chicago, where he was raised. Carollo cites his education at St. Jerome's, in the city's north end, as a defining influence. As an altar boy, he repeatedly was picked by Mayor Richard Daley to attend city functions. When he was fifteen years old, his family moved to Miami.

In 1973, at age eighteen, Carollo was anxious to get into public service; he applied to become a firefighter, a corrections officer, and a police officer. The cops hired him as a public service officer [PSO] in October of that year but soon determined he was a less-than-stellar employee, according to personnel records. "Officer Carollo's overall performance is satisfactory. He could improve his standing by using better police practices and procedures when confronting the public," wrote J.B. Hartley, Carollo's field training officer, in September 1975.

When Carollo's upper lip disappears, someone's going to get hurt
Steve Satterwhite
When Carollo's upper lip disappears, someone's going to get hurt
O'Brien walked rather than work for Carollo
Steve Satterwhite
O'Brien walked rather than work for Carollo

The prickly rookie responded in a way that foreshadowed his recent public tirades. "I was one of the senior officers in the squad that broke Officer Hartley into this job," Carollo wrote in response. "I ... was the one that was training him.... I feel that Officer Hartley graded this officer with the same complexes, prejudice, and incompetence, that was observed by me in him throughout the twenty days we were together."

The tit for tat prompted Carollo's squad leader to weigh in: "This writer basically agrees with Officer Hartley.... As a PSO Officer Carollo must learn to subdue his high degree of natural aggression until it can be channeled into a more appropriate assignment."

In 1976 Carollo again caused concern among his superiors. In July of that year he delivered to several colleagues a spoof advertisement from National Lampoon magazine. The ad showed a black man, a Latin man, and an Asian woman in traditional Klan garb helping a child on crutches. It read: "Today's Klan means a better tomorrow." A sergeant who interviewed Carollo reported, "He had placed this in those officers' mailboxes who, he thought, would find the item humorous." His superiors nonetheless issued Carollo a written reprimand for insensitivity. In August of that year, he was again cited, this time for excessive use of sick leave. (The file contains no explanation.) On September 8, 1976, Carollo resigned. "I feel that it would be extremely beneficial for me to return to school on a full-time basis and further advance my education," he wrote. The commander of the airport district, where Carollo was assigned, commented: "Based upon continuing problems in the areas of attitude, attendance, adherence to rules and regulations, and his less-than-satisfactory performance, Officer Carollo is not recommended for re-employment." (All his reviews were not negative. Carollo notes that he received a commendation after he was the first officer at the scene of a bombing at Miami International Airport, and helped preserve evidence.)

In November 1976 he married Miami native Karen Chestnut. Then in 1977, at age 22, he ran for Miami City Commission and lost to Rev. Theodore Gibson, a renowned civil-rights activist.

Former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre remembers that race as "one of the dirtiest I have ever seen. [Carollo] was raw. There wasn't much sophistication to his rage." Arthur Teele, presently the only black on the commission, calls the campaign "the pill that poisoned the water in his relations with the black community."

Undaunted, in 1979 Carollo burnished his anti-communist rhetoric and defeated Demetrio Perez (who would win a commission seat in 1981). This time he won. Thus began a raucous decade in city hall where Carollo, according to the Miami Herald, was "the loose cannon that never stopped firing."

In the early 1980s, Carollo repeatedly clashed with Police Chief Kenneth Harms. Several episodes are described in a series of memos Harms addressed in 1981 and 1982 to then-Miami City Manager Howard Gary, recently obtained by New Times and the Miami Herald. The correspondence is of particular interest now, because authorities are investigating allegations by ousted City Manager Donald Warshaw that the mayor incessantly meddled in police business.

"Commissioner Carollo has attempted to manipulate and pressure me into actions which would benefit him personally," Harms wrote to Gary in an undated memo. Another note in the file alleges Carollo improperly challenged a friend's traffic ticket by calling the chief.

Carollo also pressed Harms repeatedly to provide police escorts for visiting Saudi millionaire sheik Mohammed al-Fassi, something the chief maintained he generally authorized only for heads of state, according to correspondence in the file. Gary authorized Harms to provide the escorts, and the sheik gave the cops cash tips. The officers surrendered the money to their superiors, but Harms called the episode "an embarrassment to the police department."

When Carollo applied for special-officer status in 1981, which would have allowed him to carry a pistol, the Miami Police Department's background check revealed problems with two past employers; Florida International University's public safety department, where Carollo worked as a security guard, told the cops Carollo "would not receive a favorable recommendation for future employment." And a statement from Wackenhut Corporation explained that "Mr. Carollo is not eligible for rehire ... and his suitability to carry a firearm was questioned." (Spokespeople for both groups later said they would rehire Carollo.) The commissioner withdrew his application and called Harms a "two-bit punk." Harms claimed his nemesis retaliated by voting against the purchase of much-needed police equipment.

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