About 30 freshman cadets run up and down the worn, expansive bleachers of Traz Powell Stadium. It's just past 6 o'clock on a chilly December morning, and despite the cold, the students are dressed in navy running shorts, black sneakers, and gray T-shirts embroidered with their names. As they land on the bottom step one after the other, a separate group of nearly 100 cadets lobs water balloons at them. Then they squirt water guns.
Slipping and shivering, the soaked runners continue their sprints. They finish after 30 exhausting, icy minutes.
"It was humiliating," says a student who participated in the drill. "No one told me I was signing up for a fraternity-style hazing. It was hard enough running up and down the stands. But to do it while getting blasted with water balloons was absolutely ridiculous."
Welcome to the Miami Dade College School of Justice, the premier location for training the county's men and women in blue. The school, where hundreds of officers have trained in the past four decades, was once highly respected in the field. But, according to a dozen current and former trainees and teachers who spoke to New Times over the past two months on condition of anonymity, it has deteriorated under the stewardship of basic training director Richard Moss and a cadre of instructors with terrible work histories whom he favors.
They contend Moss is unfit to shape new generations of cops and corrections officers: "The way Moss is running things is not good for the students," says a firearms instructor who pulled himself off the teaching rotation. "I've only met the guy once, and his attitude leaves a lot to be desired. He gets off on bullying people. The way he runs things is not what you would want in a learning environment."
Indeed, Moss landed the $85,000-a-year gig at Miami Dade College in December 2009 despite a poor track record as a law enforcement officer that included a demotion for insubordination when he was with the Broward Sheriff's Office. Public records also include allegations that he bullied rank-and-file officers when he was police chief in Woodstock, a small Georgia town with a population of 10,000.
Approached on campus, the tall, muscular, salt-and-pepper-haired 56-year-old would say only: "There's two sides to every story," before referring a reporter to a spokesman who didn't respond to repeated requests for comment.
The Miami Dade College School of Justice was founded in 1971 at the school's north campus, at 11380 NW 27th Ave. It grants associate's degrees in criminal justice and bachelor's degrees in public safety management.
Each semester, the school provides instruction to about 500 new recruits as well as continuing education for more than 2,000 sworn law enforcement officers from across the region. Tuition for the eight-week classes ranges from $1,200 per year for Miami-Dade residents to $6,100 for nonresidents. Notable graduates include Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez and county commission Chairman Joe Martinez. Alvarez served as the county police department's director before being elected mayor in 2004, and Martinez served 17 years as a county cop.
Moss began his law enforcement career in 1977 as a patrolman in Middlesex, New Jersey. Four years later, he was hired by the Town of Lake Park Police Department in Palm Beach County, where he was disciplined for improper discharge of his firearm during his three-month probationary period. He resigned June 11, 1982, to accept a job with the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office.
In 1983, he joined the Broward Sheriff's Office, where he rose through the ranks to captain. But his tenure was marred by 12 internal affairs complaints, five of which were substantiated. In 1990, he was investigated for three separate incidents. Details are vague, but an investigator recommended that two of the complaints be sustained. In one, during July of that year, an investigator recommended he be suspended and lose pay. In another, during August, a different investigator suggested a written reprimand.
In August 2003, Moss was cited for insubordination. At the time, his boss, Major David Carry, wrote, "Captain Moss's disrespectful demeanor, condescending attitude, and use of the word fuck with Chief [Frank] Lightbourn is clearly in violation of BSO policy and procedures."
A year later, internal affairs detectives opened an official misconduct probe when Pompano Beach resident Gregory Cesarani accused Moss of trying to dissuade him from reporting a sex crime. Cesarani had alleged the son of John Rayson, who was Pompano Beach mayor, had been having sex with his 15-year-old daughter. The young man was 18. According to the investigative file, "Cesarani felt that Moss refused to complete the report because of political reasons."
Moss classified the case as a "domestic disturbance" between Cesarani and his daughter, records show. He claimed Cesarani had failed to produce any evidence of a crime and added that Cesarani's wife knew of the sexual relationship. Interviews showed, though, the kids had been dating (and possibly having sex) when the girl was 14. Moss was cleared of official misconduct, but he was given a written reprimand.
In 2006, Moss deliberately blew off a mandatory meeting so he could work an off-duty job, according to his personnel file. In a February 28 memo, Broward Sheriff Lt. Col. Danny Wright concluded that "it was quite apparent that Capt. Moss has lost all respect for rank and authority" and that he "failed to exhibit good judgment, temperament, and maturity one would expect with a Broward Sheriff's Office captain." Moss was demoted to commander, suspended 20 days without pay, and reassigned to the Port Everglades detail, a less than desirable assignment.
He left the department and, four months after the incident, was hired as police chief in Woodstock, Georgia. There, three of his subordinates asked elected officials to stop his bullying and disrespectful behavior. Former Woodstock Police Officer Francie Chambers, interviewed by New Times, said Moss's attitude prompted her resignation. "He was always screaming and cursing at me," she said. "He created an atmosphere of fear. He has a propensity toward abusing people."
A December 19, 2006 internal complaint filed by Woodstock Police Officer Shane Collie against Moss alleges the chief pushed the cop in the back and nearly knocked him down at a crime scene in front of other police personnel. Moss allegedly told the officer to "go somewhere and sit the fuck down," according to the complaint. It's unclear whether he was disciplined for the behavior, but in 2008, Woodstock City Manager Jeff Moon asked Moss to resign or be terminated. "My management style and [Moss's] style are completely different," Moon said, before declining to comment further.
But somehow Moss landed in the driver's seat of Miami Dade College's basic training program December 18, 2009, when he was offered the director's job. The students and instructors interviewed by New Times say that since Moss took over, he has broken academy rules and bullied female employees.
Also, the anonymous critics contend, Moss has given more hours to favored instructors, including Manuel Arrebola, an ex-cop with a terrible track record. Arrebola was terminated from the Opa-locka Police Department in 1992 after admitting he and another officer severely beat a suspect. Prosecutors agreed to not charge Arrebola with a crime in exchange for his testimony against his partner, who was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Another favorite, the officers claim, is Acie Mitchell, who resigned from the Sweetwater Police Department following an internal investigation that revealed he had been using his department-issued credit card to fuel his personal vehicle, according to his personnel file.
Arrebola and Mitchell declined to comment.
The dozen present and former cops also complain Moss and Mitchell used ammunition paid for by students and the college for personal target practice this past October. "Under Moss's predecessor, an instructor was reprimanded one time for using school ammo for personal target practice," an ex-firearms instructor notes. "Yet Moss goes out there, pulls students off the line, so he and Mitchell can fire their rounds even though they were not teaching a class."
Most recently, the critics add, he cursed out and belittled School of Justice employee Marelyn Benedetto on February 24 because she would not add one of his cronies to the payroll system. Moss, they contend, had not submitted the proper paperwork. Benedetto, who filed a complaint with Moss's supervisor, Hector Garcia, declined to comment. An email from Benedetto to Garcia immediately following the incident says, "I would like to meet with you in reference to an issue that happened this morning with Richard Moss. He was unprofessional and unfair in front of colleagues and students. This is the second time, and he has never treated any other colleague in such a manner."
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New Times last week provided a list of 20 questions regarding Moss and the accusations against him to Miami Dade College spokesman Juan Mendieta. Despite repeated calls and emails over four days seeking the answers, none were provided. "Please be patient and responses will be provided in the coming days through my office," Mendieta said.
Moss's critics want the college to get rid of the director. "How he got hired with all the incidents in his record is baffling," says a former defensive tactics teacher. "He's creating a hostile work environment."
Another teacher says employee morale is down. "People fear for their jobs," he says. "The atmosphere is very tense."
A former firearms instructor at the school adds that Moss is "the worst director that has been here... There is a lot about his attitude and demeanor that is not conducive to law enforcement, let alone a learning environment," he says. "What the hell was the college doing when they hired this guy?"