Gripping a 12-gauge shotgun by the stock, Steven Robbins stormed out of a single-story home on Martinque Drive in Cutler Bay late in the evening of March 4. The tall, burly ex-Miami Beach cop, whose long, silvery mane and scruffy salt-and-pepper beard augment his imposing demeanor, marched toward the circular driveway of a lemon-colored three-bedroom house.
Then he pumped the weapon and aimed it in the air.
Across the street, six neighbors, some of them teenage boys, milled around the lushly landscaped front yard of the Maldonado family home. They looked on with apprehension as Robbins pulled the trigger. He pumped and pulled twice more. Luckily the firearm wasn't loaded. "The whole time he's racking the shotgun, he's looking straight at us," recalls Chris Maldonado, one of two siblings who live in the house. "It was like he was trying to intimidate us. So we called the cops."
neighbors battle in Cutler Bay
Robbins has allegedly harassed the Maldonados and their friends ever since he moved into the neighborhood a year ago. Indeed, Miami-Dade Police officers — who patrol Cutler Bay — have responded to 68 calls involving Robbins and the Maldonados in the past year. "He's nuts, man," says the patriarch, Thomas Maldonado. "We only want this guy to leave us alone."
A wiry, raspy-voiced 51-year-old Puerto Rican with a bushy gray goatee, Thomas Maldonado has lived in Cutler Bay for more than 44 years, since the town was plain old Cutler Ridge. He and his wife purchased their home in 1998 for $79,000. "I'm a Ridge rat," he boasts. "We've been living in this house on Martinique for the past 10 years, and we've never had a problem with neighbors."
Robbins, who is Jewish, claims the Maldonados have routinely pelted him with rocks, threatened to "kick his ass," "done Nazi salutes," and made anti-Semitic comments such as "the only good Jew is a dead Jew."
Both sides obtained restraining orders against each other this past March. Theirs is a particularly vicious example of the kind of neighborhood dispute that takes up tens of thousands of hours of police time every year — and distracts officers from the real work of nailing bad guys.
Like Maldonado, Robbins has been around here a long time. His parents moved to Miami Beach from New York shortly after he was born in 1955. He graduated from Miami Beach Senior High and took a job at the city's police department, where he spent 26 years. Though Robbins steadily climbed the ranks and received numerous commendations, Chief Philip Huber demoted him from captain to lieutenant in 1991. Two years later, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission confirmed Robbins's claim that Huber had discriminated against him because of his religion. Huber was later fired for, among other things, using racial and religious slurs.
Robbins retired in 2001 after losing a bid to become chief. A year later, he was named chief of police in Chesterfield, a small township about 60 miles northeast of Detroit. In 2004, he was suspended without pay and then terminated for a series of minor infractions including ordering a subordinate to destroy a memo about departmental efficiency. Again he won a claim of discrimation, when the Michigan Department of Civil Rights found he had suffered unlawful retaliation.
On August 1 last year, Robbins separated from his wife in Michigan and moved in with his girlfriend, Deborah Bauer, who has owned a home on Martinique Drive for seven years. Ever since, Robbins has been engaged in his dispute with the Maldonados, who live across the street.
If the Maldonados are to be believed, Robbins has been extraordinarily devious. For instance, this past March 5, the family contends the former police chief refused to stop taking pictures and videotaping son Ryan Maldonado and his friends. Five days later, the Maldonados allege, Robbins called the Florida Department of Children and Families to report the family patriarch for molesting his daughters when they were younger. (The Maldonados emphatically deny the allegations.)
Robbins declines to discuss the call to DCF, but concedes that, yes, he cocked his shotgun in his front yard — but only to make sure there were no shells in the chamber. "And I wasn't staring at anyone," he says.
He also admits to taking pictures and videos of the Maldonados and others who hung out with the family, but only because a Hispanic female Miami-Dade Police officer advised him to do so. That ended when a judge ordered him to stop, as well as surrender his nine handguns and the shotgun.
After obtaining restraining orders against the Maldonados this past March 12, Robbins has called the cops on his neighbors across the street at least 60 times, he says. Among the calls: On March 20, he complained Thomas Maldonado had sneered at him. And on July 18, he phoned authorities to moan about the neighbor yelling, "You have a fucking problem."
According to six neighbors, four of whom are teenage friends of Ryan Maldonado, Robbins is the instigator. One of them, a middle-age man who did not want to be identified for fear Robbins would come after him, says he has been living on Martinque Drive for more than 20 years and has never witnessed the constant police presence Robbins has engendered. "Sometimes he'll call them two, three times a day to report something," the neighbor says. "It's ridiculous. These officers could be responding to real calls for help; instead they have to come here."
Chris Askler, who lives three houses down from the Maldonados, says Robbins has been a nuisance, sometimes following Ryan Maldonado down the street in his car and confronting him. Askler says he has seen Robbins shining his headlights into the Maldonados' front yard when they are outside. "You see someone going after your kid, you're gonna protect him," Askler says. "Mr. Robbins claims he is in fear of his life. Why, I don't know. Tommy is a real neighbor. He tries to help you out."
Maldonado family friend Pete Martin says Robbins wants to drive the family "crazy." "He wants [the Maldonados] to do something stupid. Since he is a former cop, he knows exactly what to say and what to leave out when he calls Miami-Dade Police to report an incident."
Robbins also blames police for his problems. He has filed internal affairs complaints against seven Miami-Dade officers — all Hispanic — accusing them of falsifying incident reports. "Every single cop that comes out here is Hispanic and everybody across the street is Hispanic," grouses Robbins. "I can't help but wonder if it is some animus toward Anglos or Jews."
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And it doesn't appear the hostilities will end soon. Robbins and Thomas and Ryan Maldonado all recently filed for new 90-day restraining orders.
Shortly before dusk this past August 26, as he was escorting this reporter out of his home, Robbins noticed that Thomas and Ryan Maldonado, along with four skateboarder friends, were in their front yard. The gathering seemed to be paying no attention to Robbins. Ryan was working on his car while his friends practiced tricks on their skateboards.
"That's a violation of the restraining order," Robbins complained. "They are not supposed to be out there loitering." Sure enough, he called police.
About 15 minutes later, two uniformed officers arrived at Robbins's house. He opened the door, handed one of the cops the restraining order, and pointed toward the Maldonado home. After a few minutes, the officers got into their cars and drove away. They did not question the Maldonados.