Cop Out
Photos by Steve Satterwhite

Cop Out

What has Vivian Monroe done to deserve her January 12, 2000, removal as chief of the Miami-Dade County School District police department?

Plenty. Since becoming chief in January 1997, she has repeatedly interfered with investigations of school district employees with whom she is personally acquainted. She has even gone so far as to release district employees who, according to Monroe's own police officers, should have been arrested.

Such actions have engendered a growing tide of resentment against Monroe among her subordinates. One reliable gauge for the cops' dissatisfaction with Monroe has been the rise of a new union within the rank and file. Several officers broke away from the Teamsters, which currently represents school police, and formed a chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) in October 1999. The new union has distinguished itself from the old by vocally and enthusiastically bashing the chief for her numerous screw-ups.

Monroe must have known the political heat was on. Her response this past November: She personally ordered another high-ranking school district employee to be unarrested -- after her own officers had arrested him for battery and as he sat in a police car, handcuffed, at the Miami-Dade County Jail awaiting booking. The episode provoked outrage among officers at all levels of the department.

Thing is, she didn't get fired. Instead, ostensibly at Monroe's request, the district created a new job for her: Investigative Unit Commander. Even after she gets a new boss, she will continue working for the department, supervising six people rather than the 141 officers she has now, for the same salary: $89,463 of public money. In conjunction with her lateral move, the district pumped up the potential salary of the next chief's position to $113,100 and announced the formation of a committee to search for Monroe's successor. The school board unanimously approved this restructuring at its January meeting, but board members Michael Krop and Manty Morse both questioned why she was going to keep the same salary for supervising far fewer people. Top administrators will submit a candidate for the new job at the March 15 school board meeting; until then Monroe remains acting chief.

Many fired executives receive "golden parachutes" upon their termination. Vivian Monroe has received a golden couch.

Top administrators within the school district seem to have no problem justifying Monroe's cushy job. Henry Fraind, the deputy superintendent of schools, uses the word "adequate" to describe Monroe's performance as chief, but is supportive of her voluntary move to a new role.

Another high-ranking school district official, who asked not to be identified, offers a different assessment: "She was such a bad chief, anything that came the administration's way as a means to get rid of her was acceptable."

As for the rank and file, representatives of the FOP have dubbed Monroe's new gig "the cover-up unit" -- a platform from which she can engage in the same sort of meddling they believe should have gotten her fired.

The Division of School Police at the Miami-Dade County Public Schools has been plagued with problems throughout its existence. Although many good officers work within the department, its low starting salary and the long absence of psychological screening tests (first instituted in 1997) have attracted a slew of cops who might not have cut it at other departments.

The bureaucracy in the school district can also tie the hands of school cops, and prevent them from doing their jobs like other police officers would. Especially when school police have to investigate school board employees. In such cases the district's Office of Professional Standards (OPS) has the authority to decide whether any inquiry is handled as a criminal investigation or as an administrative matter.

Also, unlike in most municipalities, where the police chief is accountable directly to the top administrator (a city manager or mayor), the top school cop has several layers of paper-pushers separating her from Superintendent Roger Cuevas. The school district has treated its police department like a bureaucratic hot potato. Since Vivian Monroe became police chief three years ago, she has reported to four different administrators.

After Daniel Tosado, Monroe's boss was deputy superintendent Carol Cortes. In October 1998 Cuevas transferred direct control of the police department from Cortes to the district's number-two administrator, Henry Fraind. This move sent a collective groan through both the district as a whole and the police department in particular. Fraind's obstructionist and dictatorial tendencies have earned him the enmity of his subordinates, many school board members, and local journalists. Both Fraind and Monroe are widely reputed to be favorites of school board member Solomon Stinson, the single most powerful force on the board.

In July 1999 Cuevas took the police department away from Fraind (which, Fraind says, was fine with him). From that time until the present, the police chief has reported to Nelson Perez, the associate superintendent for adult and vocational training, alternative education, and drop-out-prevention programs.

In some cases, however, the most problematic bureaucrat has been Vivian Monroe herself. Though she is a cop, she's shown ample evidence of a bureaucratic mentality when it comes to protecting upper-level district employees, both within the police department and elsewhere. She joined the department in 1974 and worked her way up. In 1980 she began as a personnel investigator and was promoted to ever-higher supervisory posts. When she was made chief in January 1997, after the retirement of long-time chief Eugene "Red" McAllister, she became the first black, and the first woman, to hold the office. (Monroe did not respond to numerous calls requesting an interview for this story.)

Perhaps the most egregious case of Monroe's abuse of power during her tenure was that of Judith Hunter, a former assistant principal at Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School. In April 1997, according to several witnesses, Hunter came to school apparently drunk, refused her principal's orders to leave the school, and proceeded to kick a school police officer in the groin during a subsequent scuffle. Monroe's response to this situation was to drive to the school personally and whisk Hunter away from her officers on the scene, without arresting the assistant principal. Not only was Hunter never charged with a crime, but the district's OPS, which oversees both criminal and administrative investigations into school employees, did not conduct its own investigation into the matter. Hunter faced no disciplinary measures for her conduct. This incident was first reported by New Times ("Flunk Out," July 1997).

According to several police officers contacted for this story, Vivian Monroe also used her position to protect fellow officers whom she favored.

Monroe promoted Stephana Clark from lieutenant to captain in May 1997. Clark's new assignment was to oversee the department's internal affairs (IA) division. Ironically, that unit was investigating Clark at the time she became its boss.

The school IA investigator assigned to her case, Ofcr. Rick Brincefield, had recommended Clark be charged with two misdemeanors for falsifying an accident report verbally and in writing. Clark had been involved in an accident while driving her unmarked police car in May 1995, and reported the damage was from a hit-and-run driver. A witness stated Clark had in fact conversed with the other driver involved in the accident; Brincefield's investigation on the scene (inspecting Clark's car and fresh skid marks on the road) determined that the accident had not occurred the way Clark had described. Several documents within the IA file had been copied to Assistant Chief Vivian Howell, who, shortly before becoming chief, would marry and take the last name of James Monroe, head of OPS.

Although it appeared ample evidence existed to charge Clark, she got off the hook in October 1995, when Brincefield committed suicide in his rented warehouse bay in Broward County. Hollywood police found him seated inside his marked school police car with a gunshot wound to the side of his head and his department-issued Beretta automatic in his lap. In September 1998 the public-corruption unit at the State Attorney's Office dropped its criminal investigation of Clark. "Due to the death of the lead detective this case cannot be filed," the close-out memo reads.

Another captain, Arnie Weatherington, should have been investigated by internal affairs, but never was. On May 29, 1998, Hialeah officers responded to a complaint of a police officer in a police car "making out with his girlfriend" in Amelia Earhart Park. The Hialeah police determined neither of the individuals were Hialeah cops, and the license plate was from an unmarked school board police unit. The police took some photos, then called the school police, turning the investigation over to them.

On June 19 Sgt. Steven Tarrago wrote a memorandum (initialed by his superior officer, Capt. Stephana Clark) to Asst. Chief Charles Martin, which included the Hialeah police report of an "unauthorized vehicle use." Also attached was a form titled "Allegation of Member/Employee Misconduct Initial Report." This document named Weatherington as the subject of the allegation. Even though Tarrago recommended the incident be referred for "appropriate action," no further action was taken in the case.

School district maintenance worker Ranis Ford is a major thorn in the side of his bosses. The guy has made a habit of filing union grievances, as he did on November 17, 1999. The next day his superiors at the district's North Central Satellite Facility, at 2780 NW 87th St., called him into the building's administrative offices for a disciplinary hearing.

What happened next is the subject of an open personnel investigation within the school district. Documents pertaining to this inquiry obtained by New Times tell a familiar tale: High-ranking school administrator gets in trouble, Vivian Monroe bails him out.

At the aforementioned conference, which began at approximately 9:00 a.m., were Ray D. Davis, director of North Central facility; coordinators Michael Brush and Larry Blanco; and Ford himself. Ford declared his wish to withdraw the union grievance, which was in fact sitting on Davis's desk at the time. Ford picked up the grievance and attempted to exit Davis's office.

The director was having none of it. According to Brush and Blanco, Davis stated that if Ford wanted to withdraw his grievance, he would have to do so in writing. Blanco then stepped out of the office. Brush gives the following account:

"Mr. Ford lunges for said paper and Mr. Davis tried to grab paper out of Ford's hand. As Mr. Ford tried to exit office, Mr. Davis tried to restrain him from stealing this paperwork. The only restraint I saw was Mr. Davis use his right arm around Mr. Ford's shoulder."

With some variation on such points as ferocity and justification, Brush, Davis, and Ford all remember things the same way: Ford tried to leave with the letter, Davis grabbed him and restrained him, Ford hollered repeatedly, "Let me go!" Davis asked that someone call the police, and released Ford after a few seconds. Everyone then waited for the police to arrive.

First on the scene were two Miami-Dade County Police officers. Not far behind was school district officer Alicia Neal. The two county cops told Neal the witnesses' accounts about the episode. Neal began asking her own questions. Ford complained of neck soreness but said he didn't want Fire-Rescue. Neal then called school police detectives Niurka Echezabal and Daniel Schmerr to continue the investigation.

Before they left for the North Central facility, the school detectives spoke to their superiors at the investigative offices at Lindsey Hopkins Technical Education Center. Capt. Stephana Clark and a lieutenant told them that "Chief Monroe was aware of the situation and authorized the arrest(s) of any school board employee we deemed necessary," Echezabal wrote.

When the two detectives arrived, Neal and the county cops had already identified Davis as the suspect and Ford as the victim. The detectives interviewed all concerned. Ford, Echezabal wrote, was crying and "appeared rather shaken up." Their questions established that Davis had grabbed Ford and held him against his will, locking his arms under Ford's shoulders in the hold commonly known as a "full nelson."

The detectives called the State Attorney's Office specifically to review the battery statute, a misdemeanor. They determined they had probable cause to make an arrest.

Echezabal and Schmerr then confronted Davis in his office. By that time another party had appeared: James Monroe, then assistant superintendent for maintenance, and husband of Vivian. The detectives arrested Davis for battery. Davis said, "I did not batter anyone, I grabbed him." The detectives informed Davis of his Miranda rights -- including the right to remain silent -- but Davis went ahead and gave his account of what happened. He was good enough to demonstrate on Officer Neal his method for restraining Ford. Davis was then arrested. Neal handcuffed Davis, put him in her car, and left for the Miami-Dade County Jail.

Then things got weird. Stephana Clark paged Schmerr and ordered him to stop Neal from taking Davis to jail, "as she was talking to Chief Monroe on the other line," Echezabal wrote. After a stop at Lindsey Hopkins, Neal made it to the sally port of the jail and was about to bring Davis in to be booked when higher-ups reached her again and ordered her to wait.

As Neal sat at the jail, the following was happening, according to Echezabal: "Chief Monroe contacted witnesses in the case without our knowledge, along with Public Corruption ASA [Assistant State Attorney] Mark Smith and Joe Centerino [sic]. After their review of the facts of the cases as presented to them by Chief Monroe, she ordered the subject [Davis] released and transported to the site of arrest." Officer Neal carried out her orders.

Joe Centorino, head of the public-corruption division, remembers this case and confirms the account in the police report. He says the officers probably should have called his unit in the first place because the case involved a state employee in his workplace. He adds it was a little unusual to get a call from the chief of police, but notes police supervisors often call his office in similar cases. "I don't think we disagreed that there was probable cause [for the arrest]," Centorino says, "But it was our judgment this was not something that belonged in the criminal justice system."

Even weirder: A week after the episode the computer record of case E-03899 was updated. Ray Davis, who came within a hair's breadth of having a criminal record, was changed from the subject of the investigation to the victim. The case record now lists Ranis Ford, the erstwhile victim, as the alleged perpetrator. The record now reads that Ford "tried to steal an official document, and was directed not to take it. Offender took the document and proceeded to run out the door. Offender became disruptive, and had to be restrained."

The Ranis Ford-Ray Davis incident set several wheels in motion. Ford, for his part, filed for an injunction to keep Davis away from him. At a December hearing, the judge did not grant Ford's request, noting Ford could not make a case for "repeat violence" based upon one event. (Ford had been in domestic-violence court before. He was charged with aggravated assault with a firearm in 1997. According to the arrest form in this case, Ford drew a pistol during an argument with his wife on November 23, 1997. Their daughter called police. Prosecutors dropped the charges a month later.)

Within the ranks of the school cops, the unarrest served as the final straw for a number of them. They've expressed their displeasure by defecting from a Teamsters union seen as too soft on Monroe. "It hasn't been fair," grumbles Ofcr. Rafael Gomez, chief steward of the Teamsters. "The FOP [the new union] recruits by bashing Monroe. After that unarrest, ten people went out and jumped over to the FOP. They're benefiting from her incompetence."

Sgt. Ian Moffett and Ofcr. Carlos Fernandez of the FOP confirm that they've played up this incident -- mostly to call attention to the need for change at the top. If that helped them build membership in the meantime, so be it.

Scarcely a month after the unarrest, Vivian Monroe presented associate superintendent Nelson Perez with a memorandum requesting a "career redirection." "She came to me and expressed an interest in basically going to investigations," he states. "That's where she came from, that's always been her true interest." In cooperation with the chief herself, and with other administrators, Perez quickly sketched out Monroe's exit strategy from the chief's post.

Moffett asserts a combination of pressure from below (the FOP) and above (higher-ranking administrators) precipitated Monroe's move. Nelson Perez and Henry Fraind refute that assessment. Both say the change was totally Monroe's idea, and that neither their displeasure with her nor union bellyaching, had anything to do with it.

The Teamsters' Gomez says he's not surprised the FOP is trying to take credit for Monroe moving aside. "Everybody over there has an agenda, and none of them has labor experience," he states. A barrel-chested cop with a round face and round, gold-rimmed glasses, Gomez reaches for his pager as he sits in his patrol car at the front entrance of Ruben Dario Middle School in West Miami-Dade. His position as chief steward of the Teamsters has made him something of a lightning rod for the ire of disgruntled officers; he turns on the light of his beeper's LCD display. "43-43-43-43-43" it reads. "That means 'Fuck you,'" he explains.

He stresses that his union, which replaced the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) in 1995, has not exactly gone to the mattresses to defend Monroe. He points out her promotion from assistant chief to the top job in 1997 followed closely on the heels of the first school board election decided by single-member districts, and was a measure of the power of Solomon Stinson, the newly elected board member and long-time district administrator. "She was mostly a paper-pusher," Gomez laments. "She has the minimum qualifications to be chief, but she'd never been out on the road, doing day-to-day police work."

Even so he feels his union was able to negotiate two pretty good contracts with Monroe, instituting a seniority program for the first time, and adding a 27-percent pay increase over five years. He says the Teamsters didn't see the need to mount a propaganda campaign for her removal, despite her dubious record. Gomez admits this stance has cost the Teamsters dearly. The FOP has petitioned the state for a union election, which could take place as soon as the first week in April. Moffett predicts victory for the FOP. By his reckoning, the Teamsters have 60 dues-paying members; the FOP has 78.

Capt. Stephana Clark sits in her subdivided office, clad in a light-brown pantsuit, glasses pushed down on her nose. She is one of six police officers assigned to the special investigations unit now headed by Vivian Monroe. Clark regards the reporter who has identified himself as a staff writer for New Times.

"Oh," she says, peering stonily over her spectacles, and likely remembering that New Times three years ago described the internal affairs investigation into her alleged falsification of an accident report. The reporter asks if Chief Monroe is in.

"No," she says.

Does she know if the chief would be back today?

"No," she said. "Not here."

Does she know how the chief could be reached?

"Call her, leave a message."

Though Clark appears well-settled in her office, the rest of the fourth-floor wing of Lindsey Hopkins Technical Education Center, a vocational school at 750 NW Twentieth St., is eerily barren. In the offices adjacent to hers on the south side of the hallway, only every third cubicle appears occupied. The rooms on the north side of the hallway are stacked head-high with a thicket of school desks.

In April 1999 Monroe ordered all of her department's detectives (eighteen investigators, including a captain and a lieutenant) out of their individual region offices, and centralized them at Lindsey Hopkins. When Monroe negotiated her new position as head of the "special investigations unit" in February 2000, she and her six hand-picked subordinates moved to the Lindsey Hopkins offices, and the detectives were sent back to the regional offices. This relocation left the old investigators feeling, well, not very special.

Sergeant Moffett, a fast talker with a sardonic smile, was one of the detectives stationed at Lindsey Hopkins when the whole unit was booted. He also is the first vice president of the FOP. He says that, if the unarrest of Ray Davis caused a parade of defections from the Teamsters to the FOP, the scattering of the investigative unit created a stampede.

Happy as he is that Monroe will no longer be chief, Moffett is incensed she's remaining on the payroll, and that she has displaced him and his colleagues from Lindsey Hopkins. "How can this person be making $89,000 a year to supervise six people?" he queries. "And now she has this X-Files squad. What constitutes a 'special investigation'?" (Gomez of the Teamsters also is skeptical of the new unit, though he asserts some of Monroe's handpicked officers are good cops who want the squad to be a "gung-ho" investigative team.)

"First of all, she needed to go somewhere," Nelson Perez offers. He points out the main police office is too small to accommodate a new unit. But who ordered the detectives out and the special investigative unit in? Vivian Monroe. "She's still the acting chief, and that was her decision," Perez says.

As far as the mission of the new unit? "They wanted to break out the high-profile cases, and move them along rapidly," Henry Fraind says. "Whether it's employees with drugs on campus, sex allegations -- we don't want those to go on for months on end.

"The chief always liked investigations," Fraind adds. "That was her forte."


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >