Under Suspicion

Despite a history of corruption in its north district substation, the Miami Police Department won't get tough with its own cops

The roughly 200 police officers, men and women, working out of the north district substation have one of the toughest beats in the city. It covers three of the northernmost neighborhoods. The Upper Eastside includes Biscayne Boulevard's hooker-strewn corners. Little Haiti and its bustling streets are a testament to free-market drive and ingenuity, but the area is basically poor and has some of the highest violent-crime rates in the city. Model City, at the western edge, is a gritty stretch of public housing tracts and modest bungalow homes, one of the most impoverished sections of Miami.

If you are black and grew up poor in this area, chances are you don't think too fondly of the cops. Whether your family was forced to relocate to grim, barracks-style subsidized housing during the construction of I-95 in the Sixties, or you feel strongly about police brutality, such as the fatal beating of Arthur McDuffie that sent rioters raging against police in 1980, there have been plenty of historic wounds to nurse.

Prompted by the 1980 riot, and others in 1982 and 1989, police administrators made it a priority to swell their ranks with black officers. They also made it a priority to staff the north district station with black officers. Today some cops believe the department's top officials are reluctant to investigate black officers accused of wrongdoing because they fear being labeled racist. Others point out that for years the internal-affairs unit had been primarily white, severely limiting their ability to conduct undercover surveillance in black neighborhoods.

An arsenal belonging to the John Does was found in a car trunk along with a Miami Police Department bulletproof vest (bottom)
An arsenal belonging to the John Does was found in a car trunk along with a Miami Police Department bulletproof vest (bottom)
Convict Marvin Griffin (top) in better days, and former Miami cop Danny Felton's police ID photo
Convict Marvin Griffin (top) in better days, and former Miami cop Danny Felton's police ID photo

When department veterans hear talk of corruption in the north end, they inevitably invoke the name of Dan Bailey, a charismatic beat cop who for a while was the shakedown king of the inner city. In the Seventies his queen was heroin. Bailey ran a couple of rackets in Liberty City. He took protection payoffs from dealers, charging $50 a week, according to the testimony of some of those dealers. Then he actually partnered with a drug trafficker named Patrick Goodall, who went by the sobriquet Jamaica Patrick.

Bailey would ferry tinfoil packets of heroin to Jamaica Patrick's street distributors, according to witnesses and court documents. Bailey also would act as a bag man, picking up money from the distributors. In one case, after he'd been transferred to Coconut Grove, Bailey ordered one of the heroin peddlers, Walter Williams, better known on the streets as Livercheese, to start selling in the Grove while he was on duty, according to Livercheese's testimony.

But Livercheese had a gambling problem, and in 1978, after Jamaica Patrick fronted him money to buy drugs, the street dealer lost it to Lady Chance. Word got out that Bailey and Jamaica Patrick were after him, so Livercheese sought protection in a most unlikely place: He met with an investigator from the State Attorney's Office. The two struck a bargain, and Livercheese then proceeded to wear a wire and make a series of payoffs to Bailey with marked money. In 1979 Bailey was sentenced to five years for bribery, after a jury acquitted him on another bribery charge. But Bailey didn't give up any other officers and no one was implicated in the investigation.

That Bailey is black, like the command staff and many of the officers in the north district substation, has prompted some to warn that attempting to weed out problem officers could appear racist, and unfairly brandish all black officers as corrupt. Black cops, however, have no corner on the corruption market. The policemen responsible for the department's most notorious scandal to date, the River Cops case, were primarily Hispanic. And before that, in the days when Miami was a cracker town, white cops were notorious for their shakedowns of numbers joints and brutality against black suspects.

"To focus on the north district is unfair. There are a lot of really fine officers up there," Major Burden emphasizes, pointing out that the suspicious activity represents but a fraction of the officers there over the years.

He's right, of course. This is not a black-officer issue, any more than the River Cops case was a Latin-officer issue. It's a corruption issue that puts other cops -- black, Latin, or white -- and the public at risk.

Just before midnight on New Year's Eve 1996, Ofcr. Ricky Taylor and his partner George Russell received a call to provide backup at the scene of a shooting on NW Thirteenth Avenue and 61st Street. As Taylor, a 40-year-old veteran of the department, sat in his patrol car during the first few minutes of 1997 helping to secure the crime scene, a shot rang out from the third-story balcony of a nearby building. A bullet from a rifle fired by Charles Brown smashed into the back of Taylor's head. The police response was swift and intense. A tactical team of 50 officers scoured the area, rounding up suspects and witnesses. Brown would later claim he fired his gun as a New Year's celebration and had not intended to hit anyone. Taylor survived the shooting but was forced to retire on disability.

During the sweep that morning, someone tipped off homicide investigators about a blue Chevy Caprice parked near the scene of the shooting. Police immediately requested a search warrant and popped the car's trunk. Inside were more than a dozen automatic and semi-automatic pistols and rifles. Under the guns was a surprise find -- a bullet-proof vest from the Miami Police Department.

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