By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
For the past six years, Alexandria Clayton has patrolled the streets of Hialeah Gardens, a town of about 20,000 wedged between Hialeah on the east and Okeechobee Road on the west. Clayton is in the unique position of being not only black but also the only woman to serve as an officer for the Hialeah Gardens Police Department.
Clayton alleges fellow police officers, including acting Chief Van Toth, harassed her because of her race and gender. Clayton, age 41, is suing the PD in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, claiming her state civil rights were violated.
Bizarrely, Clayton accuses her colleagues of putting six frogs inside her patrol car without her knowledge in late 2004. She didn't notice the amphibians until they were hopping all over her feet as she was driving on the highway headed home. She returned to the police station, where she and another Hialeah Gardens cop, Ofcr. Angel Gonzalez, removed the frogs. Clayton says the frog incident was done with a "complete disregard for my safety and the safety of other citizens by almost causing me to have a motor vehicle accident."
According to statements released by her attorney, David Comras, Clayton was forced to perform humiliating tasks none of the other officers on the Hialeah Gardens Police force was required to do. And she was often hazed and physically threatened by her white and Latin male colleagues, Comras said.
Toth, age 46, who assumed the top post when long-time chief Keith Joy resigned this past October, says Clayton's accusations are untrue. "Clayton has been treated more fairly than anyone else in this department," Toth comments.
Clayton is currently on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation that she disobeyed a direct order and insulted a local resident. Prior to her employment with Hialeah Gardens, she worked six years as a corrections officer at the Broward Correctional Institution in Fort Lauderdale and as a bus driver for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
Clayton declined to be interviewed for this story out of concern she could face retaliation. However, Comras provided New Times with an affidavit Clayton wrote detailing the harassment she endured at the hands of her police department peers and superiors.
This past June 21, Clayton had complained to then-Chief Joy about "insulting, outrageous, disrespectful, and racist comments" made by Sgt. Carlos Fojo regarding her appearance and stature. Clayton claims in the affidavit that at roll call the same day, Fojo ridiculed her about her hair and that he said she should be working at McDonald's. Clayton says Fojo also told her she resembled a K-9. Clayton alleges Fojo said, "That is how a K-9 looks at his master. That's right I'm your master."
Fojo says Clayton is taking his comments out of context to fit her version of events. However, Fojo declined to explain the context of the verbal exchange. "But the way she describes what happened is not true," Fojo insists.
Two months later, on August 12, 2005, Toth (then a lieutenant) was conducting a routine inspection of Clayton's patrol car. Toth became angry because apparently the interior was unkempt, Clayton wrote. She claims Toth removed several documents from the car and tossed them to the ground, scattering them across the police station's parking lot. He then ordered her to pick them up. "Toth began to laugh at me in the presence of Chief Joy and other officers," Clayton says in her affidavit.
Clayton says Toth arbitrarily denied her request for a patrol car with a heater and forced her to attend driving school after she was involved in a car accident that was not her fault. Clayton claims Toth said he was not required to provide her with a car with a working heater and told her: "You should have worn long johns under your uniform!"
Toth, who has been on the force for nineteen years, denies Clayton's charges. "Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you I am nothing like that," he states.
Her complaint also accuses other officers of acting aggressively and violently toward her on several occasions, including one encounter in which Sgt. Vito Santangelo had to be restrained by a fellow sergeant from physically attacking Clayton. The incident was documented in a department memo, but Santangelo was not disciplined.
Toth says Clayton's affidavit is the work of a disgruntled employee trying to play the race card. "Whatever allegations she is making will be resolved in a court of law," he says. He adds that Clayton has had work performance problems since she started on the force. "She has been suspended on at least two occasions because of poor attendance and conduct," Toth remarks.
However, a former Hialeah Gardens Police officer who asked to remain anonymous says Toth and other police officers made Clayton's life impossible. "They gave her the worst jobs and the worst details," he says. "They never wanted her there, but they hired her so they could cover up the stink created by the roller-rink fiasco."
In 2001, Medardo Martin filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Hialeah Gardens, claiming city officials, including ex-Mayor Gilda Oliveros and ex-police Chief Joy, conspired to shut down his now-defunct Thunder Wheels roller-skating rink because he had the audacity to sponsor a weekly event called Soul Night. The event, which had existed since the late Nineties, attracted a young black crowd that was apparently unwelcome in Hialeah Gardens. According to the complaint, the police department would regularly station patrols in the roller rink's parking lot to stop and detain patrons.
Martin's attorneys called city employees, who testified to Oliveros's campaign against Soul Night and her prolific use of derogatory terms such as molleto and chardo to describe Soul Night regulars. Under oath, Joy admitted he once played his "Johnny Rebel" tape recordings, old Southern music known to employ such racial epithets as "My wife ran off with a nigger," inside the city's taxpayer-funded police station.
Not surprisingly the jury found that Hialeah Gardens violated Martin's constitutional right to "enter into contracts with nonwhites." Martin was awarded $633,000 in damages.
The anonymous former cop, who is Latino, says since the day Clayton began her job, he had overheard other officers call her la negra, a Spanish derogatory word for blacks, and say that "she needed to go back to Liberty City.
"They ragged on her all the time," he says. "That department took a turn for the worse."