Taking Heat

Maj. Frank Christmas, the Miami Police Department's top in-house investigator, finds himself the subject of a criminal investigation

"One day I'm sitting in my office and Major Christmas comes in and starts saying I'm incompetent and my sergeants are out of control, and I am not running my unit," recalls Gonzalez, a nineteen-year veteran of the force. According to Gonzalez, Christmas complained that detectives working the Williams murder had detained underage witnesses against their will, had coerced them into identifying a suspect, and had intimidated the main witness -- the son of Christmas's family friend.

Gonzalez says he assured Christmas the interviews were conducted properly and with the utmost care to guard the identity of witnesses. But the major retorted that he was not going to risk the boy's safety any longer. Referring to the murder victim, Christmas reportedly blurted, "The guy's only a doper."

Gonzalez says he responded, "We're not in a position to judge that. We don't pick and choose our victims."

Chief Martinez has vowed to restore his department's credibility, an uphill battle
Steve Satterwhite
Chief Martinez has vowed to restore his department's credibility, an uphill battle

But Christmas was determined. "He says to me: “You're going to cease this investigation now,'" Gonzalez relates. "I said, “We can't do that. We have an ethical and statutory responsibility to investigate, and not you or anybody else can stand in the way.'" Gonzalez then met with Capt. David Rivero, deputy commander of the criminal-investigations division, and explained the situation. "Rivero supported us 150 percent," Gonzalez says.

Rivero acknowledges he tried to mediate between the homicide cops and the major, but he denies that Christmas ordered the investigation be dropped. "Tell someone to stop an investigation?" Rivero asks incredulously. "Never. We're still working on it."

On October 7, 1982, Christmas disciplined his son, Frank Jr., for not doing well in school, according to a reprimand report in the major's personnel file. "While counseling his son, Sergeant Christmas spanked him with a small branch from an Australian pine," the report states. When Christmas returned the boy to his mother's house (the couple lived apart), the youngster was so badly injured she took him to the South Miami Hospital emergency room. The examining doctor determined the wounds were the result of child abuse. Metro-Dade police arrested Christmas and contacted Miami's internal-security unit (now called internal affairs), which conducted its own investigation.

Christmas admitted beating his son. According to the reprimand report, Christmas "was found guilty of child abuse and administrative charges of conduct unbecoming an officer." He was relieved of duty for three months and ordered to take a seven-week domestic-intervention course. Afterward the conviction was expunged, and Christmas resumed his job as police officer.

Some time after their heated conversation in September, Lt. Israel Gonzalez says, Christmas tracked him down at the scene of a murder to ask him to transfer Julio Pino. The sergeant, who has been with the department fifteen years, was a widely respected homicide investigator. His former supervisor, John Campbell, recounts with awe the time Pino identified a skeleton by extracting human DNA from maggots found on the remains.

"Christmas told me: “Either you or Pino has got to go,'" Gonzalez remembers. "I told him: “I'm not going to allow you to damage the reputation of a good man. Over my dead body will I let you transfer him.' I told him I was going to go directly to the chief."

Gonzalez arranged a late-September meeting with Chief Raul Martinez, along with Pino, Christmas, and Christmas's assistant, David Rivero. After Gonzalez and Pino "explained everything from A to Z," as Gonzalez describes the conversation, Rivero spoke in defense of Christmas. Gonzalez, who is 42 years old, says he became upset with Rivero and accused the captain of "chasing his cloverleaves," a derogatory reference to Rivero's ambition to be promoted to major. (Christmas was acting assistant chief at the time and in a position to recommend promotions.) "Izzy flew off the handle," Rivero claims. "He was very insubordinate."

Martinez's response, according to Gonzalez, was to tell the two officers not to expect him to "micromanage" their affairs. He then told Gonzalez he had to learn to be "flexible." Pino declines to discuss the matter in detail, though he corroborates Gonzalez's account of Christmas's actions and what was said at the meetings. "My lieutenant went to bat for me," says 35-year-old Pino. "He's telling the truth."

Chief Martinez has a different recollection. He says he remembers no mention of a specific murder investigation being dropped. "The issue," Martinez recalls, "was Gonzalez saying that Christmas was not letting him run investigations his way and that they were going to transfer Pino."

Even after his arrest, Christmas's rise within the ranks continued. He was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant in 1989 and was assigned to the north district substation, where he was involved with the community and well-liked by many activists. In 1992 someone sent an anonymous typewritten letter to then-police Chief Perry Anderson, asking him to put a stop to "Lt. F. Christmas sexual activity with little young girls." The letter writer claimed to be an employee of the department. "When he was married to a fine beautiful lady name Jonne [sic] he was living with a girl name Angie. During that time he was sexually involve with her niece," the letter stated. "She was about 15-16 at the time." The letter, which is contained in a department investigative report, then named several people with knowledge of the alleged affair.

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