If you are a black female officer on the Miami police force, standing by your man can get you fired.
Take Ofcr. April Hardemon. The 42-year-old has known Gregory Barnes since the two were teenagers attending Miami Northwestern Senior High. They became reacquainted in October 2003 after running into each other at a party.
Pretty soon they were dating.
Then Miami Internal Affairs investigators got involved. On May 24, 2004, IA questioned Hardemon about her relationship with Barnes. She admitted he was her boyfriend and they were living together.
Then came the kicker. Barnes, the interrogators said, is a convicted felon. He had been released from federal prison July 3, 2003, after serving eleven years on cocaine-trafficking charges. Hardemon says she had no idea.
Despite a virtually blemish-free record, she was fired. Her bosses cited a controversial police rule that prohibits officers from knowingly fraternizing with criminals unless they are working a snitch for information or undercover.
"It's the worst type of governmental interference in a sacred relationship," says Hardemon's union lawyer, Ron Cohen. Police Chief John Timoney, Deputy Chief Frank Fernandez, and department spokesmen did not return phone calls or respond to e-mailed questions seeking comment.
Hardemon isn't alone. Two other Miami officers Rronniba Kamarakafego and Viona Browne-Williams might also lose their jobs for the same reason. All three are black. They contend their problems are a result of racial discrimination.
Whites and Hispanics are treated differently, the trio says. For instance, Lily Warshaw, a Hispanic administrative assistant in the police chief's office, is married to Donald Warshaw, the disgraced former city manager and police chief who was convicted of defrauding a children's charity. And Ofcr. Mercedes Corazco, a Hispanic female officer, was investigated by IA for dating a man with a criminal history but was only reprimanded, Hardemon claims. (Corazco did not return a phone call seeking comment.) "They won't explain why she gets to keep her job," Hardemon fumes. "It's just not fair."
Kamarakafego's case is even more complicated than Hardemon's. The 40-year-old Carol City native joined the Miami Police force in 1994. According to her personnel file, she has never been reprimanded for shirking her police duties.
She was fired in late 2004 after IA verified Kamarakafego had once had a relationship with Jason Patterson, a 27-year-old who was convicted in 2001 on a felony drug-trafficking charge in Lexington, Kentucky. Kamarakafego says she and Patterson dated for several years before he left for Kentucky in 2000. Together they had bought a two-bedroom house at 282 S. Biscayne River Dr.
The issue might never have come to light had Kamarakafego not married fellow Miami Police Ofcr. Roderick Passmore in 2001. Soon the two began having marital problems. Then Passmore drove by the house on South Biscayne River Drive and saw Patterson who had been released from federal prison mowing the lawn, Kamarakafego says. "He got mad and made a complaint with Internal Affairs," she explains.
Kamarakafego says she had no romantic relationship with the felon. "He wanted his half from the house we bought together," she says. "I agreed he could stay there, help me fix the house, and sell it." (The house sold last year for $253,000.)
She filed for an arbitration hearing to get her job back, which is pending. "It's ridiculous," she says. "Jason served his time, and I was just trying to help him out."
Viona Browne-Williams, a 45-year-old officer who began her career in the department as a public service aide in 1989, hasn't been fired yet. But she expects to be the next black Miami policewoman on the chopping block. In 2002 she married Larry Lee Williams, her longtime beau, who was released from prison in 2000 after serving time on felony armed robbery and kidnapping charges.
The couple has a seventeen-year-old son and a five-month-old granddaughter. "I have another four-year-old son that he takes care of as if he was his own," says Browne-Williams, choking back tears. "He's been a part of my life for the past twenty years. You just don't stop and start all over."
Browne-Williams says Internal Affairs informed her this past February 14 that she was in violation of the department's order prohibiting officers from associating with known criminals. "They said they couldn't tell me what to do," she recalls. "But I got the sense that they didn't want me to reside with my husband anymore."
She discussed the situation with Williams, and they agreed he would find a separate apartment. He moved out of their house in late March. Browne-Williams provided Internal Affairs with rent receipts as proof her husband had moved out. "It's been very hard for us," she says. "Every time he visits me and the kids, he is always worried that IA is watching the house."
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Browne-Williams's superiors at the 62nd Street substation have requested she receive only a reprimand for misconduct. "It's a shame that I have to choose the city over my family," she says.
Even if Browne-Williams is allowed to stay on, the issue is likely to intensify in the next few months. A twenty-year-old federal court ruling should have provided cover for all three women. It exempts officers whose blood relatives, spouses, or significant others have been convicted of a crime.
In May the city's civil service board recommended that Hardemon be reinstated, but administrators have so far declined to do so. In June she filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice claiming the police department discriminated against her.
The result is anybody's guess, but in a memo arguing on Hardemon's behalf, Miami Lt. Rafael Suarez claimed the department had unfairly singled out the cop: "If we are to punish officers for associating with undesirables under the current guidelines, it should be carried out across the board, not excluding any other member of the department."