Cop Land Revisited
A sign on Griffing Boulevard in the Village of Biscayne Park warns drivers in bold, italicized black-and-red letters: "Don't even think about speeding."
This suggests the tiny burg is a place where the police department sternly enforces the law so the village's 3,500 or so residents can safely roam the grassy medians lined with expansive oaks. In fact, Biscayne Park's finest handed out 863 traffic tickets in March and April last year.
But nailing motorists isn't all these boys in blue do. A battle between rank-and-file and Biscayne Park Police Chief Mitch Glansberg has exposed troubling and bizarre behavior. "I had heard horrible stories about Biscayne Park," says John Crocker, who served with the Biscayne Park force in 2007 after 31 years with Miami-Dade Police. "When I went to work there, I found out why. If you are part of Glansberg's in-crowd, you get away with anything."
Among the problems Crocker claims he encountered:
• A bag of pot disappearing from the evidence room without explanation.
• Coverup of a 2007 hit-and-run by an officer who was driving a marked patrol car.
• Hiring of a cop who had been dumped by the Sweetwater and Hialeah Gardens departments for, among other things, lying about his involvement in an improper high-speed chase.
Glansberg did not return two phone calls seeking comment. He also did not respond to a list of questions sent to his police department email address.
Mayor John Hornbuckle stands by his top cop. "Mitch Glansberg's reputation and experience is impeccable," Hornbuckle says. "These are just some disgruntled officers trying to make something out of nothing." He declined to answer questions about specific incidents in the PD that call into question the small force's ethics. Village Commissioners Bob Anderson, Chester Morris, and Steve Bernard did not reply to phone messages and an emailed list of questions.
Village Commissioner Kelly Mallette says she did not know about the claims of lost marijuana and coverup until New Times informed her. She found both incidents troubling. "This is the first I've heard of it," she says. "But these are allegations that need to be investigated, and I will see to it they are."
Crocker isn't Glansberg's only critic. Florida Police Benevolent Association President and Miami-Dade Police Sgt. John Rivera insists Glansberg has adopted policies where "favorites are treated differently. And that is sad to see, because he was the victim of that sort of thing when he wasn't a favored son."
Glansberg, a 52-year-old with a salt-and-pepper mustache, began his police career with Surfside. He worked there until the town fired him in 1994. According to an internal investigation, he conspired with two other cops to cover up an accidental shooting. While the officers were apprehending a purse-snatching suspect, the probe found, one of their guns went off, barely missing the culprit's head. It was not Glansberg's pistol, but the investigation concluded he had backed up his colleague's assertion that the gun wasn't fired.
Three years later, an arbitrator ordered Glansberg's reinstatement. Subsequent appeals by Surfside were denied. By then, Glansberg had gone on to work for Biscayne Park, where he rose up the ranks to become assistant chief.
In early 2005, the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics investigated Glansberg and then-Chief Ronald Gotlin for improperly collecting court overtime pay. Investigators claimed the then-assistant chief had received more than $5,600 for attending hearings while conducting surveillance on a fellow officer. (Police generally collect more for appearing in court.) In June, the commission dismissed the case because it could not produce sufficient evidence to show the officers had received "any more money by claiming 'court time' [than] 'overtime.'"
Then Glansberg hired Antonio Sanchez as his captain. Sanchez had been fired from the Sweetwater Police force in 1990, according to articles published in New Times and the Miami Herald. (He didn't reply to a list of questions faxed to his office.) Then, after five years as a Hialeah Gardens cop, he was axed in 1995, according to his personnel file at that city. An internal probe had alleged he was involved in an improper car chase and then lied about it. He was subsequently rehired after winning arbitration. In 1996, he was suspended for allegedly harassing and spying on fellow employees. Two years later, the claims were substantiated, and Sanchez was fired again, according to the personnel record.
Two anonymous cops, one who was fired and one who still works on the force, claim Sanchez is Glansberg's "hatchet man." Indeed, the two, along with six current and former officers, have hired employee rights lawyer Robin Hellman, who resides in Biscayne Park. According to Hellman, they intend to sue the city, alleging wrongful termination, harassment, discrimination, and intimidation by the chief and captain. That's a pretty impressive number of plaintiffs, particularly considering the village employs only eight full-time officers at a time, she says, adding, "When I am representing so many officers in such a small department, there is a problem."
Glansberg's woes don't end there. One of the plaintiffs in Hellman's proposed suit is Ofcr. George Mulero, who during a routine traffic stop in August last year arrested three teenagers for marijuana possession. Mulero, who declined to comment, confiscated a baggie with less than an ounce of weed in it. "When it was time to present the marijuana to prosecutors," Hellman says, "the bag had disappeared from the evidence room. The State Attorney's Office had to drop the case."
That claim is supported by a December 12, 2008 memo to Glansberg from Lt. Betsy Albert, who is in charge of maintaining the evidence room. "Ofcr. Mulero and I both went through several boxes and bags in the property room and still were not able to locate it," she wrote. (There is no indication that any specific police officer took the marijuana.)
Albert, who also declined to comment, has been with Biscayne Park for 18 years. She might have been involved in a mysterious 2007 crash, says Michael Marchese, who was a Biscayne Park sergeant at the time. In November that year, Marchese contends, a Miami-Dade County Public Schools teacher phoned the Biscayne Park Police station, complaining her 1993 Toyota Corolla had been struck by a town police cruiser on South Dixie Highway between SW 17th and 22nd Avenues. The cruiser had allegedly damaged a bumper and then left the scene.
Marchese, another of Hellman's clients, says he answered a phone call from the victim. "She complained that one of our cars had rear-ended her and kept going," Marchese recollects. "She wanted to file a complaint."
Marchese says the victim described the hit-and-run driver as a female with blond hair. "There is only one female in the department, Betsy Albert, and she is blond." Marchese says he passed along the information to Captain Sanchez. New Times phoned the teacher, who declined to give her name. She says Sanchez called her several times and was "fairly intimidating. He claimed there was no damage to my car and that I should be aware that making a false claim against a police officer was a serious offense."
She gave up and had her husband fix the dent. "I was pretty flabbergasted," she says.
So is the PBA's Rivera. "Biscayne Park should just dissolve its police department and allow the county to take over," he says.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.