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.

Flaherty also ordered Lt. José Monteagudo to conduct a "threat-assessment report" on Curtin. The report, which filled two large binders, included lawsuits Curtin had filed, police reports from around the nation, and a mental-health report conducted during Curtin's attempt to win custody of his children.

At that point Curtin changed his tactics. "Suddenly his campaign veered away from me and Brett [Capone], and he went after the chief," Rojas notes. Curtin wrote letters to the mayor and village council, the State Attorney's Office, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, claiming that the chief was having officers trail him, that Flaherty was hiring officers with criminal pasts, and that the chief himself had a questionable background, a reference to his resignation from the Prince George County Police Department.

"One day after all this started," Rojas says, "the chief calls me into his office, and he says, “Kid' -- that's what he called me -- “Kid, come here. I want to talk to you.' He tells me he's been advising Larry Curtin he has to stop. Then he says, “It's time to sue Larry Curtin.' I said you can sue too, but he said he couldn't; as an appointed official he wasn't allowed to. He said he talked to Mortimer Fried, a councilperson and an attorney, and concluded I could sue. He told me to call my attorney. “Call and set up an appointment. I'm going with you.'"

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
Rojas's attorney John Agnetti says the police chief told his client to sue Larry Curtin
Steve Satterwhite
Rojas's attorney John Agnetti says the police chief told his client to sue Larry Curtin

The chief, Rojas says, thought this would shut Curtin up.

Flaherty flatly denies ordering Rojas to sue Curtin: "Ms. Rojas had an attorney; she was looking to sue Larry Curtin anyway. She came to us and said, “Can I have the files on Larry Curtin?' She already had an attorney. She simply came to us and asked for assistance." Flaherty won't get into the specifics of her allegation, citing the pending litigation with Rojas.

When New Times contacted Mortimer Fried to verify that the chief called him to inquire about suing Curtin, Fried declined comment. "I have to get back to the chief," Fried said. "I'll have to call you back." A few days later Fried called back and said the chief never made such a request.

Although Rojas's illegal-termination lawsuit is against the Village of Key Biscayne, the council has treated the case as an internal police affair. "I'm not familiar with that matter," Councilman Robert Oldakowski says, adding, "I think the chief does an extraordinary job. The turnover is low. I mean, we know these people; we live with these people."


But John Agnetti, Rojas's attorney, claims Chief Flaherty played a more active role than he admits in encouraging his underling to sue Curtin. In early April of 1999 -- Agnetti can't recall the exact date -- he met with Rojas, Flaherty, and Lieutenant Monteagudo. "[Flaherty] came to my office with another gentleman. He was having a lot of problems with Curtin, and he wanted Jackie to preemptively sue him. Mr. Curtin was slandering Ms. Rojas. It wasn't a frivolous lawsuit."

Agnetti continues, choosing his words with lawyerly care: "I can tell you, the impression I got was that in order to be a team player, quote-unquote, this is something she needed to do because he asked her. There was a lot of pressure. No one ever said, We'll reimburse you for your legal fees. And she took money out of her retirement account to pay my retainer. It was more like, Be a team player: You take care of us and we'll take care of you." (Key Biscayne police officers do not belong to a labor union, which commonly provides attorneys in such situations.)

As he recounts the meeting, Agnetti asks an assistant to produce the threat-assessment report on Curtin. "These two binders were given to me by the chief," he says. "He said if I needed anything else, to talk to this gentleman [Monteagudo]. They didn't want this case to get expensive for her."

Rojas concurs: "The chief said, “Whatever you need to keep her costs down; we'll utilize the department.'" Agnetti never called for assistance.

In other words, according to both Rojas and Agnetti, not only did Flaherty order his officer to sue a civilian, he then put his department's investigative services at Agnetti's disposal -- for use in a civil case. Flaherty denies doing anything other than offering the Curtin files to Rojas at her request, and those were public documents.

A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in Tallahassee says its legal department will not speculate on what laws or code of conduct Flaherty's alleged actions would violate. Milton Hirsch, a Miami criminal lawyer who has handled public-corruption cases, says he can't speak to the veracity of Rojas's claims, but he does note, more broadly, that "a police chief would have no authority to devote public resources to the pursuit of a civil lawsuit. That's no different from theft or fraud of public money."

Rojas says she thought the chief was giving her a choice: File suit against Curtin or be out of a job. "I didn't have a choice," Rojas asserts. "I knew I had to do it."

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