Under Fire

She says he ordered her to sue a local resident, and then fired her. He says that's a lie. Being Key Biscayne police chief isn't the hassle-free job Michael Flaherty thought it would be.

But Flaherty also clashed with the union and local black leaders. After six years of swelling crime rates and public turmoil, he resigned. "It was simply a matter that the blacks were coming to power," Flaherty observes, "which they deserved as a majority of that county. They wanted a black police chief. The head of the NAACP told me many times: ďWe want a black police chief.' So it wasn't about Mike Flaherty."

Two years after his resignation he saw an ad for the Key Biscayne position in a police trade journal. Flaherty, who lived in Miami as a young man after a stint in the military, had always hoped to retire to South Florida.

Key Biscayne officials made it easy by giving him a boatload of money. "I hired him out of about 100 people," Kissinger recalls. "He was clearly the best." This was not a case of a stressed-out chief taking a pay cut to hide in a small town. He was hired at $60,000 per year, with a stipulation that he had to live on the key. To help ease that transition he received a $12,000 housing bonus. By 1998 he was earning $100,509 and still was able to convince village officials that he was owed a whopping $84,600 incentive bonus. Flaherty received another $5000 cost-of-living adjustment as well. This year Flaherty will earn $117,000, slightly less than Miami Beach police Chief Richard Barreto ($127,000) and Miami police Chief Raul Martinez ($118,000). Miami has 1000 officers, and Miami Beach has more than 300. Key Biscayne has 30.

Jackie Rojas never had a problem as a Key Biscayne police officer until she met Larry Curtin
Steve Satterwhite
Jackie Rojas never had a problem as a Key Biscayne police officer until she met Larry Curtin
Jackie Rojas never had a problem as a Key Biscayne police officer until she met Larry Curtin
Steve Satterwhite
Jackie Rojas never had a problem as a Key Biscayne police officer until she met Larry Curtin

Details

To Samuel Kissinger Flaherty is worth every penny. "He's one of the top chiefs in the country," the village manager says. "The department's been surveyed and resurveyed, and the public always gives us glowing marks. I think that's because of him."


Jackie Rojas plunks a box of folders down on the kitchen table of her South Miami-Dade home. The walls are adorned with pictures of Miami Dolphins players (her husband, a City of Miami cop, is a huge fan). Rojas describes her job on Key Biscayne almost wistfully. "The residents liked me; I gave out my home phone number," she recounts. "One woman would call to ask me to stop her kids from jumping off the roof onto a trampoline. It's not the City of Miami. It's not complicated. There was some domestic violence. But that was not the norm. For the most part it was traffic tickets and noise complaints. The residents of Key Biscayne liked having police around."

Her tenure as a Key Biscayne cop was unremarkable, and she was never disciplined while working there. "I never had a problem until Larry Curtin," she says.

Curtin, the brother of actress Jane Curtin, is a well-known figure on the key. He's worked as a magazine and script writer, and has patented a solar-cell design. By all accounts he's very bright. He's also been described by police as "agitated" and "hostile" toward them, terms he vehemently denies. "I'm argumentative," he clarifies.

Curtin has a penchant for filing lawsuits against authority figures. According to a department memo, his own son told police his father likes to file lawsuits "against people he's angry with." Curtin maintains any lawsuits he has filed are only intended to redress wrongs and government inaction.

Rojas made Curtin's acquaintance around midnight on September 6, 1998. She was in her patrol car when she says she saw a black truck roll through three stop signs. She says she pulled the vehicle over and Curtin stepped out of the car and began yelling. Rojas called for backup. Ofcr. Brett Capone responded. In a memo to the chief, Capone described the scene as he approached: "I observed what appeared to be the driver of the vehicle ... in the middle of the street yelling at Ofc. Rojas. I identified the subject as Mr. Larry Curtain [sic], a resident of Key Biscayne. I knew this to be Mr. Curtain because he is an acquaintance of mine." Despite his efforts to calm him, Capone says Curtin grew increasingly hostile, calling Rojas a liar and demanding to fill out a complaint. Curtin claims he merely argued with the officers to prove his point. "I'll admit to being loud," he concedes, but asserts Capone threw him against a car. "He assaulted me. Who's volatile?"

In the end Rojas cited Curtin for running one stop sign. The next day Curtin sent a letter to the chief insisting he did indeed stop at the sign and calling for Rojas to be fired. A few days later he sent another letter. And another. And then another. He appeared at village council meetings denouncing Rojas and Capone. He filed a public-records request to view their personnel files and researched Rojas's file at the FHP. He also accused Rojas of falsifying documents while she was a trooper.

On December 9, 1998, Flaherty sent a memo to all police personnel warning that Curtin was "infuriated" after losing his appeal of the ticket Rojas had given him: "Recently I had a conversation with Mr. Curtin during which he made veiled threats toward police officers." Curtin allegedly told Flaherty he had been arrested in Boston for assaulting a police officer in 1977 (Curtin says he was defending someone). "It has also been noted that Mr. Curtin has followed several of our officers around while officers were on patrol," the chief wrote. He warned all officers to use caution handling any call involving Curtin and to have a backup present.

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