Opa-locka Boots the Boss

Ousted police chief leaves complaints in his wake.

"He explained that many women that worked with him later became sergeants, lieutenants, or were transferred to other specialized units," Buissereth wrote.

Three days later, officer Nikeya Hill alleged Chief Wright "had utilized his position and power to intimidate me into a sexual relationship in order for me to maintain my employment here in Opa-locka." She added, "This harassment got to an all-time high when I formally announced my pregnancy."

Wright's crime analyst, Tamika Miller, wrote four complaints between November 30 and Christmas Eve, detailing a bizarre series of unwanted advancements and punishments visited upon her by Wright. She alleged he made inappropriate comments about her underwear and, on another occasion, whispered in her ear that "I look good and for me to call him later because he has something to tell me."

Former Opa-locka Police Chief James Wright, when he had a job.
Jacqueline Carini
Former Opa-locka Police Chief James Wright, when he had a job.

She also claimed Wright "would constantly call me into his office and ask me what I think about what he was wearing" and that the incidents had caused her to suffer a mental breakdown. Miller says her doctor required her to take time off from work and that within a month of her return, she was moved to a trailer with no telephone or air conditioning.

Wright has filed ethics complaints against Miller's mother, Opa-locka City Commissioner Gail Miller, alleging she harassed him on numerous occasions in an attempt to get preferential treatment, including pay raises for her daughter and Buissereth.

As for the trailer, Wright insists the move was part of the station's renovation and that conditions there are fine. "None of the other employees are complaining about having to work in a brand-new trailer," he writes.

In her third complaint, Miller alleged Wright retaliated against her, ordering his last remaining administrative officer, Lt. H.A. Tubbs, to issue her a variety of directives he refused to put into writing, including a demand that she not speak to other employees at the station.

Miller's complaints appear to have been corroborated by Tubbs, who filed a January 4 memo to the city manager asserting his belief he was "being 'set up' as a scapegoat for the issues raised in [Miller, Buissereth, and Hill's] complaints, giving the chief cover for actions that were directed by him." Tubbs also complained that Wright objected to allowing Hill to work a light-duty detail because of her pregnancy. "The chief remained adamant over several attempts, saying each time Officer Hill would work 12-hour shifts," Tubbs wrote.

In the meantime, the ranks continued to thin. New Times obtained at least 10 police work rosters showing that between July and December 2007, there were only two officers and a supervisor available to respond to calls citywide. Station insiders say only one detective remains to handle a backlog of more than 2,000 cases.

After City Manager Jannie Beverly removed Wright from his post January 22, she did not publicly disclose her reasons. Indeed she has remained impressively aloof when dealing with any questions, declining to return several messages from — and canceling a scheduled appointment with — New Times. ("The manager decided to do what she did," says the town's mayor, Joseph Kelly.)

At the following evening's commission meeting, no mention of Wright's dismissal appeared on the agenda. The task fell to Opa-locka resident Alvin Burke, who rose up during public comments to berate the commission for hiring Wright, who had a history of "problems" in the first place. "More money being drained from the poor city of Opa-locka," he boomed.

Holmes attempted to put a positive spin on things. "I know [we've] made a change," he said. "I just hope that with the start of this, we have more police officers out on the streets."

Nine police cadets wearing suits and ties sat in the audience. One sniffled throughout the proceedings; others looked notably uncomfortable. They will take their entrance exam at the end of January.

Tubbs, acting as interim chief, declines to say whether he wants the job permanently. Hill and Buissereth are back at work in the station, and Miller is on her way to a suitable office, Tubbs says.

Mayor Kelly says he hopes large cadet classes will send more officers into the community. Like his colleagues on the city commission, he offers little in the way of specifics when asked to describe the kind of leader who could turn around the department — and, ultimately, save the city.

Wright has vowed to fight his termination.

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