Under Suspicion

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

McKinnon says he believes the police used his name as an excuse to break into the building without a search warrant. According to his theory, a police officer anonymously phoned in his name, giving cops probable cause to enter the building. Police saw him while they were rushing to the scene, he says, because he was working an off-duty security job at an apartment complex nearby on NW 69th Street and Seventh Court. "I actually saw a unit pass by me," he recalls. The episode did not show up in a public-records request of closed internal-affairs cases in McKinnon's personnel file. But police sources point out that when information is considered "intelligence" that might be used later, it usually is not made public.

Internal affairs received another tip in 1988. This one came from Ofcr. Ken Nelson, now a lieutenant, who passed along information he received from a young man who told him McKinnon had pulled him over the night before and stolen a half-kilo of cocaine and $2000. Nelson affirms that he presented his information to internal affairs but declines to comment further. A former internal-affairs officer corroborates Nelson's involvement, though New Times could not learn if internal affairs interviewed Nelson's source. Again this allegation did not appear in any of McKinnon's closed internal-affairs files. "I know nothing about that," McKinnon says.

In 1995 the department promoted McKinnon to lieutenant. He was recently reassigned to the police unit that handles auto thefts.

Miami Police Chief Raul Martinez believes problems in the north district are restricted to a few bad cops
Steve Satterwhite
Miami Police Chief Raul Martinez believes problems in the north district are restricted to a few bad cops

Some of the most damaging allegations against north district officers come from a civilian named Marvin Griffin. Miami-born and bred, with a grifter's knack for a good hustle, Griffin freely admits he stayed employed for years defrauding drug dealers of their money with the help of police officers.

New Times first wrote about Griffin in a cover story that detailed his 1995 exploits with Danny Felton, a rookie north end cop and former officer-of-the-month honoree ("Behind the Badge," August 6, 1998). Griffin explained how he would pose as a drug supplier and lure to Miami potential clients from other cities. He would then arrange to pick up his mark, usually at a hotel, and drive him to buy the drugs. The dealer would be carrying a large amount of cash. At a prearranged spot Officer Felton would pull them over and pretend to arrest Griffin. Felton would allow the dealer to flee, leaving behind the money, which the cop and Griffin would then divvy up between them.

Eventually an informant who lived in Griffin's neighborhood tipped off the FBI. Agents set up a sting. They fed Griffin information that a dealer was carrying a large sum of cash. Griffin told Felton. On May 19, 1994, agents caught Felton stealing $10,000 from an undercover officer posing as a drug dealer. When the FBI hauled him in, Felton immediately flipped, signed a confession, and promised to snag more corrupt officers. He wasn't able to deliver on the dirty cops, but he did wear a wire one night and turned on his partner-in-crime Griffin.

Felton told Griffin he had stolen six kilos from a dealer and asked if Griffin wanted to buy the cocaine from him. Griffin said he didn't have any money, so Felton simply gave Griffin the kilos, which were really packets of flour tightly wrapped in plastic. The feds arrested Griffin in April 1995. But as he sat in the back seat of a police cruiser he was able to slip out the door and escape.

During his time on the lam, Griffin says he actually began negotiations with a federal prosecutor named Thomas Mulvihill, who declined to be interviewed for this story. Authorities wanted Griffin to help them snare other corrupt cops. Ultimately Griffin declined to cooperate and became a fugitive. "That's just something I'm not going to do," Griffin says of the request to become an informant. He was caught two years later, on October 25, 1997. After a short trial a federal judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison for a drug deal in which no money or drugs were exchanged.

Meanwhile Danny Felton was never charged. He resigned from the police force and now operates a thriving business as a mortgage broker. Only last year was his certificate as a police officer revoked by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for grand theft, even though he never was formally charged with that crime. The U.S. Attorney's Office never explained why it declined to charge Felton, but the extremely long sentence Griffin received only underscored how arbitrary the drug war can be.

Griffin also worked with Miami-Dade police officer Marvin Baker. Miami-Dade police arrested Baker in May 1999 and charged him with drug conspiracy for his role working with another drug gang called the Boobie Boys. He's since been sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

In the matter of police corruption, Griffin's credentials are firmly established.

New Times wrote to Griffin at the Federal Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison in South Miami-Dade, requesting a meeting. He agreed to be interviewed.

A tall, lean 34-year-old with medium-length dreadlocks held in place by a rubber band, Griffin carries himself with a polite, even shy, demeanor. During a series of three interviews, each of which took place in a small glass-enclosed room in the prison's visitors center, New Times asked Griffin about other officers he worked with to steal cash from unknowing drug dealers.

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