A No-Class Operation

Something isn't right at Mays Middle School -- and it's not just because of that bomb threat

On December 10, 1999, at 2:47 p.m., a call came into the Miami-Dade County 911 dispatcher: "Yeah, I got an emergency over at Mays Middle School," the deep, sonorous voice of a black man crackled from the mouthpiece of a gas station pay phone. "My name is Mr. Bradley."

"What's the emergency at Mays?" the female dispatcher asked.

"I'm going to kill a bunch of those bitches over there," the voice muttered with the indifferent tone of someone ordering a pizza to pick up on his way home from work. Then, as if realizing the inconsistency of the flat voice and incendiary words, the man kicked it up a notch. "They fired me. I was a teacher there for thirteen years, and those son of a bitches got rid of me!" Now he was really cooking, voice rising, words coming faster and faster, a bit of a drawl slipping out. Then he laid on his last line, clinching the performance just before the dramatic hangup. "I got a bomb in my classroom! I'm going to kill all them bitches!"

"Ohhh, Lordy!" the dispatcher exclaimed.

Less than ten minutes later, hundreds of students and their teachers stood outside in the winter sunshine of Goulds while county and school police checked the classrooms. They found nothing. It was just one of dozens of false threats called in about county schools every year. A few minutes after three o'clock, former Mays math teacher Charles Bradley walked out of his Winston Park house, fastening his work shirt. Waiting for him in the driveway was a school police officer -- and the beginning of a yearlong nightmare he still can't shake.

Bradley claims an overzealous principal and assistant principal tried to force him out since they took over the school three years ago. He also believes they pressured the school police to arrest and the State Attorney's Office (SAO) to aggressively prosecute him for the false report of planting a bomb and the disruption of a school function. He says this capped off a long argument between the administrators and himself that resulted in his dismissal from Mays weeks earlier. The criminal case against Bradley was dropped ten months later, in part owing to evidence collected by his attorney. The SAO is now investigating whether former security monitor Walter Phillips actually made the call. Phillips, fired from the school early last year for stealing computers, denies making the bomb threat. But like Bradley he also thinks principal Kenneth S. Cooper and assistant principal Carolyn Kaloostian had it in for Bradley and would stop at nothing to get rid of him. Bradley's allegations, which he has reported in conversations to school district administrators and in a letter to the Department of Education in Tallahassee, are unproven. In fact other than Bradley's speculation, there is no known evidence linking top administrators to any threat.

According to John Hunkier, captain of the school police general investigations unit, the bomb-threat inquiry did not end when Bradley was let off the hook. "We are following up on the information given to us," he says. "This is not a closed investigation."

Principal Cooper would not discuss the case at all. "I don't have a response," he told New Times. "I don't discuss personnel with the news."

Phillips, however, contends school administrators have established a climate of fear and intimidation at Mays to control teachers. Current and former employees, most of whom agreed to speak only if their names were not used, admit many teachers have left since Cooper and Kaloostian arrived in 1997. "Mays is a dumping ground for teachers who can't work anywhere else in the system," Phillips declares. "Nobody wants to work there."

On that Friday afternoon in December 1999, school police officer Ken Bonnet sat outside Charles Bradley's house on SW 127th Road. He had been called away from nearby Sunset High to apprehend Bradley based on the 911 call and because Cooper and Kaloostian confirmed the voice belonged to Bradley when the tape was played for them over a phone line. Problem was, Bonnet didn't know what Bradley looked like. When a powerfully built black man in his midforties emerged from the house on his way to his job as a baggage handler for American Airlines, Bonnet asked him who he was. Bonnet later told fellow officers Bradley wouldn't identify himself. Bradley claims he was in a rush and didn't understand what Bonnet was saying, so he left. Bonnet didn't detain Bradley because he wasn't sure who he was, according to statements other school police officers later made to Bradley's attorney, Paul Schwiep.

Later that evening Bradley was getting ready to unload baggage at Miami International Airport when he was approached by Miami-Dade police. According to an incident report filed by county police, Bradley was asked to voluntarily come with them to the airport station. They had instructions to hold him for school police, who had said they had probable cause to make an arrest on a felony charge related to a bomb threat. Bradley says he was handcuffed, but police dispute that point. He kept asking what they were holding him for and for how long. "We're not holding you against your will, are we?" Bradley remembers a sergeant telling him. "They didn't want to make an arrest," he says."

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