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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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Vivian Monroe's three-year stint as chief (which ended when she "demoted" herself in January 2000) was similar to the careers of other school district officials who had been promoted beyond their level of competence. She had been with the department since the early Seventies and worked her way to assistant chief by 1996. But in November 1996 everything changed at the school district. That year was the first in which school board members were elected from geographic districts rather than countywide, which meant more black and Hispanic faces on the board; it also meant a fundamental shift in the power structure of the public schools.
A lot of bureaucrats who had ties to either a school board member or to Roger Cuevas, the new superintendent appointed by the board, were suddenly promoted. Board member Solomon Stinson, for example, is credited by many with having the largest single effect on personnel changes during this time. Before running for the board, Stinson had enjoyed a 38-year career in the school district, the last years as a powerful and influential deputy superintendent of school operations. He is said to be partially responsible for Monroe's promotion to become the first black and first female chief of the school police. (Neither Monroe nor Stinson returned calls seeking comment for this story.)
Unfortunately the revolution ended there. Monroe only helped cement the reputation of the school police as the stooge of the district's civilian Office of Professional Standards. OPS is the office that investigates employee misconduct and recommends disciplinary action. Concerns ran rampant among employees and state prosecutors that the police were letting OPS decide whether incidents involving employees or students would be handled criminally or administratively swept under the carpet. This had come to be common practice over time because the school district really had no practical independent check on its internal behavior. The perception of tainted investigations was not helped when, during part of Monroe's tenure, her husband, James Monroe, became an executive director at OPS.
New Times has documented some of the horror stories before (see "Flunk Out," July 17, 1997, and "Cop Out,"March 9, 2000), which include several cases of employees school police officers tried to arrest, only to be stopped by Monroe. In one case in 1997, assistant principal Judith Hunter came staggering drunk to school, swore like a sailor, and kicked Sgt. Harold McKinney in the groin as he was attempting to escort her to a police car. A friend of Hunter came to the school and whisked her away. No charges were filed, and Monroe's husband in OPS ordered police to drop any investigation.
Similarly maintenance administrator Ray Davis put one of his workers, Ranis Ford, in a headlock during a disagreement in November 1999. He was arrested and taken to jail for booking, only to be rescued at the last minute by Monroe and "unarrested." Later the computer record of the incident was changed, making Davis the victim and Ford the perpetrator. This incident was the last straw for many officers, who joined the Fraternal Order of Police union that began to push for Monroe's removal. "We got a lot of people after that case," recalls FOP president Ian Moffett.
More disturbing were cases involving children. In 1997, then-Edison Middle School principal Ronald Major, who had previously been investigated for allegedly sexually assaulting a student, was allowed by OPS to quietly handle a similar allegation against a teacher. When the girl's mother became frustrated with a lack of action, she called school police, and a conscientious captain brought in the City of Miami's sexual-battery unit to investigate. The motivation for meddling in all these incidents, according to officers familiar with the cases, was either to protect a friend or high-ranking official, or to avoid a potentially embarrassing criminal investigation.
Monroe played the same game inside her department, which some officers say created or widened ethnic rifts within the school police. She promoted Stephana Clark, a lieutenant under investigation by school police internal affairs at the time for allegedly lying about a car accident, to a captain's position overseeinginternal affairs. Also on Monroe's watch, several officers were investigated by state prosecutors for allegations including public-records violations, perjury and witness tampering, as well as charges involving sexual misconduct or misuse of office. Monroe's assistant chief, José "Pepe" Gonzalez, resigned earlier this year in a deal with state prosecutors that allowed him to quietly disappear from the school district and police work. In return the state agreed not to drag him into court for his alleged role in a 1987 plot to kill a witness associated with the notorious Miami River Cops case from the mid-Eighties (see "River of Sleaze,"April 6, 2000, and "Confessions of a Former School District Cop," July 19, 2001).
Gonzalez maintained that the two-year investigation into his past more than a decade later was political payback from Monroe, who considered him a rival, and her boss Henry Fraind, the deputy superintendent. In a sworn statement on file at the State Attorney's Office, Gonzalez claimed that Fraind had asked him to wiretap the offices of Solomon Stinson and Roger Cuevas and had sneakily ordered police equipment for use in his car. At the time Gonzalez was both a rising star in the police department and a vivid symbol of the department's dirtiest little secrets.