By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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The object of Senter's fear? Davis. For the past three years, ever since the Degraves search, Senter has waged a campaign to remove the burly cop from the town's police force. And he has allies: Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett and Town Manager W.D. Higginbotham.
On August 22 New Times met Senter at his hideout. It is a one-bedroom unit on the 10th floor of a North Miami condo building with a stunning view of Bay Harbor Islands, Bal Harbour, Surfside, and Miami Beach. On his glass-top dining table, Senter laid out several piles of documents that portray Davis in a negative light, including copies of his Miami PD disciplinary files; portions of Davis's Surfside background questionnaire, in which he supposedly lied about past transgressions; and recent internal affairs reports that conclude Davis is a bad cop.
Senter is a New York native who moved to California in the late Seventies to begin a career as a music publisher and producer. He even had a production credit on Helen Reddy's hit "I Am Woman."
In 1997 Senter and his French-born wife, Eva, moved into the Palm Bay Club, a condominium in Miami. There he met the Degraves. Soon he partnered with the French couple in a firm called Atlantic American Trust Inc., which was dissolved in 2001, according to state corporate records. "We enjoyed a brief, successful business partnership," Senter says. "When I divorced my wife, we went our separate ways but still maintained our friendship."
When the Degraves moved to Surfside, Senter says, he would drive across the causeway to visit them. In September 2003, he began provoking town officials by openly disobeying a law that prohibits people from feeding feral cats on the beach. Senter's love for felines is no secret. He has three cats — Dickens, Smokie, and Layla — the last a black-and-white kitty Senter rescued off Surfside's sand dunes. "Since I did not live in Surfside," Senter attests, "town officials called me an outside agitator."
Senter and two other cat activists were cited nine times at $100 a pop by the town's code enforcement officers. He challenged the citations, and Surfside spent at least $15,000 on Miami law firm Adorno & Yoss to fight him in April 2004. The town eventually forgave Senter's debt.
Around the same time, Senter decided to help the Degraves fight both the criminal charges and the town's efforts to shut down their rental business. "The only way I was going to help Dan and Brigitte was to be there," Senter says. "I had to be there so I could talk to people at town hall and get information."
Among the city employees Senter befriended was Lt. Manuel Crawford, whom Davis had once investigated. A framed photograph of Crawford in uniform sits on Senter's fireplace mantle. "Manny never gave me a piece of information, but he encouraged me to dig into Davis," Senter says. "So I did."
Senter claims Davis has been lying for years. "He says he was allowed to resign from the Miami Police Department," Senter seethes. "But in fact he was fired. He says he has never been detained, but in 1994 he was pulled over and searched by six cops for kidnapping his son."
In mid-2005 Senter found an ally in Charles Burkett, who was gearing up for a 2006 mayoral run. Initially Burkett was reluctant to meet with him and the Degraves, Senter says. "Charles thought they were bad people," he says. "Eventually I wore him down. I showed him how Dan and Brigitte had been wronged by Davis and the previous town administration."
During town commission meetings prior to the 2006 election, Senter, Burkett, and Howard Weinberg, the town's vice mayor, who was part of Burkett's 2006 slate, often took the podium to accuse town officials, including Davis, of wrongdoing.
Burkett calls Senter a "virtuous" person and an "agent of change." He adds, "Mr. Davis ran the department. By most every account I have ever heard, it functioned mostly through intimidation and fear. I was very concerned about his relationship to all that had been going on and was also concerned about what his potential was for coming after all of us."
Shortly after assuming power, Burkett appointed Senter chairman of the town's personnel appeals board. A month later, the new chairman filed a formal complaint with then-Police Chief Shawn O'Reilly. He alleged Davis had fudged some facts on his job application and claimed overtime he hadn't worked. O'Reilly forwarded Senter's complaint to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which cleared Davis.
Yet things got progressively worse for the cop.
On August 28, 2006, an officer named Woodward Brooks made a blockbuster allegation: Davis had asked for help in planting drugs on Senter and trapping Vice Mayor Weinberg on a DUI.
A few days later Davis and Brooks were ordered to turn in their badges, guns, ID cards, and keys and were placed on administrative leave with pay. Over the next year, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office and the Miami-Dade Police Department investigated Brooks's claims and other alleged misdeeds Davis committed. The town also contracted Robert Franklin, a private investigator who had conducted internal probes for the Bal Harbour Police Department, to review the officer's work. The reports state that Davis: