Applying to be a cop there, he used Star Island neighbor Gloria Estefan as a reference, and asked about special skills and equipment, he wrote, "laptop computer, binnochulars, master of surveillance."

The department clearly didn't do much vetting of the August 2004 application, which is full of obvious untruths. O'Neal claimed he had never been the subject of a police investigation (apparently ignoring the 1998 Disney World incident), hadn't been sued (he had been named as a defendant in at least three lawsuits in Florida and California), and didn't have savings or checking accounts, any investments, or an automobile (he made $27.7 million in playing salary that year).

During an interview with officers, O'Neal yearned for "investigative work." Asked about his favorite memory, he replied, "All dreams have come true." The worst: "Messing up so much that he thought [his] parents didn't love him." 

Steve Vance
Rogue IT guy Shawn Darling in a 2006 mug shot.
Miami-Dade Police Department
Rogue IT guy Shawn Darling in a 2006 mug shot.

An Army brat raised mostly in Newark, New Jersey, O'Neal confessed to the interviewers that he doesn't "express [himself] when he feels he should. His father was a drill sergeant who taught him to keep everything in."

As a Miami Beach quasi-cop, O'Neal formed a strange trio of BFFs with then-chief Donald DeLucca — a flashy character referred to in the department, somewhat derisively, as "the Don" — and since-convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro. They even traded jewelry, with Shapiro later claiming he gave O'Neal diamond-studded handcuffs.

Quizzed about the gift by reporters, O'Neal huffed, "I had my own handcuffs." Shapiro, he said, only arranged for a bargain on the diamonds.

Officer O'Neal was developing a specialty: undercover work targeting online sexual predators. He was deputized with the U.S. Marshals and told reporters that posing as a child online had resulted in 30 arrests of sexual predators. (The agency couldn't confirm this claim to New Times.)

In August 2006 in the sticks of Virginia, one pumpkin farmer got well-acquainted with Keystone Shaq's special brand of law enforcement. That's when a cavalcade of police cars screamed onto A.J. Nuckols's farm and disgorged barking cops in SWAT gear, including the tallest man he had ever seen.

Told he was suspected of possession of child porn, Nuckols was tossed against his Ford pickup. The giant officer reached into the truck's gun rack and hoisted the rifle like it was Pablo Escobar's coke spoon, booming victoriously, "We've got a gun!"

The farmer studied the behemoth.

"Are you... Shaquille O'Neal?"

The officer grumbled, "No. My name's Tony."

Nuckols, it turns out, was innocent. Nine days later, the local sheriff, who admitted that O'Neal had accompanied the raid, attributed the blunder to faulty information from an Internet company.

The farmer angrily blames ass-kissing cops eager to give their superstar charge an adventure. "They didn't do any investigation," he says. "It was all a big show."

By the time O'Neal was traded to the Phoenix Suns in February 2008, he had already spent time romping through the Arizona desert with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the swashbuckling and controversial border hound whose honorary posse also included Steven Segal. Now, O'Neal joined the Tempe Police force, working with the Internet Crimes Against Children initiative with veteran detective Burke Mattlin as his mentor. His one official assignment during his few months on the squad was raiding a trailer park with Mattlin in search of a suspected child molester with the Internet handle "Iamthecumster."

The perv had already skipped the state. O'Neal and Mattlin drove back to the station empty-handed.

In June 2009, O'Neal was traded to Cleveland, continuing a twilight tour that would later take him to Boston and into retirement.

Despite all the apparent shenanigans in his private life, only once did a police chief sanction him. While O'Neal was with the Suns, Sheriff Arpaio demanded that he return his honorary badges after a video circulated of Shaq freestyle-rapping at a nightclub. "If any of my deputies did something like this, they're fired," Arpaio seethed.

A sample of the offending lyrics: "Kobe ratted me out — that's why I'm getting a divorce. He said Shaq gave the bitch a mil. I don't do that, 'cause my name is Shaquille... Kobe, tell me how my ass taste."

Like old summer-camp buddies, O'Neal remained close with his law enforcement friends in Miami Beach and Maricopa County long after moving away.

A public records request involving emails sent from Miami Beach cops to O'Neal reveals a posse of supporters-with-badges forwarding news articles about him, congratulating him, and calling him "chum."

Miami Beach Internal Affairs Sgt. Jorge Alessandri was especially smitten, gushing in December 2009: "You know I first looked at you as a co-worker then as a friend and now as family. I can't put into words how proud I am of you and how proud I am to be part of your family."

Embroiled in a divorce, at war with a purported mistress, and infiltrated by his former IT guy, O'Neal turned to his cop connections for help.

When Vanessa Lopez sent the text message threatening to go public, O'Neal forwarded it to Detective Alessandri. "Det george take a look at this text and tel me what u think sir," he asked.

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