Rapist with a Badge?
The 911 call was answered this past August 7 at 4:44 a.m. According to a tape recording of the call provided by the Metro-Dade Police Department, this is how the conversation began:
Operator: County police and fire.
Caller: Yes. I'd like to report -- um -- I'd like to report a rape, I guess.
Operator: You guess?
Operator: Where'd it happen?
Caller: At -- what park is it? Olinda Park.
Operator: Where are you now?
Caller: I was coming home and I got pulled over by two police officers and they had sex with me.
Operator: Two police officers from where?
Caller: From Metro-Dade.
Operator: How long ago was this?
Caller: About 30 minutes ago.
Operator: Where did this happen?
Caller: At Olinda Park.
Operator: Olinda Park. Where are you now, sir -- ma'am?
Caller: I'm home.
Operator: What's the address?
Caller: [Address deleted from recording by police.]
Operator: Did you get an ID on them?
Caller: No. [The caller then disclosed what she believed to be the surname of one of the officers.]
Operator: Were they black or white?
Operator: Both of them?
Operator: Did they have different cars or were they in one car?
Caller: They were together.
Operator: In one car?
Operator: And this happened 30 minutes ago?
Caller: About 30 minutes ago.
Operator: At Olinda Park?
Operator: Were you walking?
Caller: No. I was driving. They stopped -- they pulled me over.
Metro-Dade Police officials have not released the name of the female caller, who spoke in a subdued voice that is sometimes barely audible on the tape recording. After providing information regarding her vehicle (a rental car), the caller continued with a more detailed description of the incident, which she said began on NW Fourteenth Avenue near 65th Street:
Operator: Okay. Now what did they [inaudible] when they stopped you?
Caller: He -- um -- he asked me for my license and registration and whatever. And I gave him all the information that he gave me -- he asked me for -- and then he told me to step out of the car. I had to use my [inaudible] to step out of the car and the lights were still on.
Operator: Uh huh.
Caller: And I stepped out of the car and everything and he went back to his car and he talked to his friend -- whatever. Then like a couple of minutes later he told me to come -- he told me to get into the car.
Operator: Into whose car?
Caller: Into the police car. I'm like, listen -- because the car isn't in my name or anything and I explained all that to him, that I am home on leave, that I'm in the military.
Operator: You're in the military?
Caller: Yes. I explained all that to him, that I'm home on emergency leave or whatever. He told me to step into the car. And they left my car right there, the lights and everything still on, and they drove off. At this time I wasn't at the park.
Operator: But you were in the police car?
Operator: And this happened in the police car, then?
Caller: They took me to the park.
Operator: They took you to the park.
Caller: Yes, it's like a walking trail.
The caller apparently was confused regarding her whereabouts. According to a police incident report prepared later, the alleged assault did not take place at Olinda Park but at Arcola Lake Park, 1301 NW 83rd St. Arcola does have a walking trail and many trees; Olinda does not. The call continued:
Caller: It's not very many people there [inaudible]. There were like a couple of people walking, but they didn't see me.
Operator: And you didn't scream or anything?
Caller: They're like way on the other side of the park [inaudible]. The trail is like real open, and by the time they got back around where I was --
Operator: You mean everybody got out of the police car and you walked down on the trail?
Caller: They got out of the police -- we all got out of the police car. Right there. They did it right there. They parked the police car like right next to the trees, right there.
Operator: Okay. And this happened 30 minutes ago?
Operator: And what happened afterwards? They took you back to your car?
Caller: No, they left and I walked back to the car. And I drove [inaudible].
Operator: And you didn't scream or anything?
Caller: There was nobody to scream to.
Operator: You said there were people walking around.
Caller: By the time they finished they -- they were way on the other side. I just got in my car and came home.
Operator: All right, do you -- uh -- you just got home now?
Caller: Yeah, I just got home.
Operator: Okay, you didn't wash yet?
Operator: Don't wash and don't take any showers.
Operator: You understand?
Operator: Okay, I'm going to send somebody over to talk to you.
Operator: But you understand what I am saying?
Operator: I don't want you to wash or take any showers. Don't do anything to yourself. Caller: No, I won't.
Operator: Okay. Are you there alone? Do you have somebody there or what?
Caller: My family is here, they -- my kids.
Operator: Okay. All right. You just stay there until I get somebody by, okay?
Operator: Okay. Bye-bye.
Three weeks ago several Miami television stations reported that Dante Starks, a black patrol officer, was a suspect in the rape of a South Florida woman. The Metro-Dade Police Department has not confirmed those reports, though a spokesman has acknowledged that the department's professional compliance bureau and sexual battery section "are conducting a criminal investigation of one of their police officers." Officials have also confirmed that Starks was suspended from the force, with pay, two days after the 911 call. Additionally, a detective in the media relations division, in the presence of a reporter, referred to the 911 tape recording as "the Dante Starks tape." (The tape was released to the media late last week after New Times filed a series of increasingly specific public-records requests.)
The department, however, will not explain why Starks has been suspended. "He will remain suspended until the Professional Compliance Bureau issues its findings," explains Det. Pat Brickman, a department spokesman, "or until the State Attorney's Office presses charges." (Regarding the possibility of a second officer being involved in the alleged rape, police officials are circumspect but skeptical. "We have no reason to believe that more than one police officer was involved," says Detective Brickman.)
New Times first wrote about Starks more than a year ago ("Dante's Inferno," April 13, 1995), after eight female Metro-Dade officers charged him with sexual harassment. In a sworn statement to department internal affairs investigators, Ofcr. Robin Ables said Starks, who was her commanding officer at the Northside substation, had sexually assailed her in late 1993, going so far as to stick his tongue in her ear. Ofcr. Sherrill Robinson testified that Starks fondled her buttocks while they were alone in an elevator in 1989. That same year, Ofcr. Marlenes Caceres reported a similar incident. Each of the other five female officers also gave sworn statements to investigators.
"Collectively," concluded a panel of high-ranking officers who investigated the charges, "these incidents indisputably support the finding that [Starks's] actions were at times criminal...and always irreproachable [sic] as a member of the Department. The liability in Sergeant Starks's behavior is too great to assume, for himself, the Department, and those female employees with whom he may interact in the future."
Despite the panel's clear recommendation that Starks be fired, his supervisors demoted the probationary sergeant to patrol officer and transferred him to the Miami International Airport substation. A short time later he moved to a downtown substation at Biscayne Boulevard and 29th Street, known as the Police Operations Bureau, where he patrolled the Rickenbacker Causeway and the Port of Miami. The August 7 telephone call to 911 came during Starks's regularly scheduled shift.
Starks, who has not been charged with a crime, could not be reached for comment for this story. In the April 1995 article, he denied that he had verbally or physically harassed anyone. "Sexual harassment is a serious problem," he said. "But it's gotten to the point where it can be lodged against anyone at anytime and you have no defense. The people that truly know me know I am not capable of this type of behavior. It's not in my character."
Though Starks's superiors declined to fire him, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) found probable cause that he is guilty of the harassment charges. A formal hearing, similar to a criminal trial, will be held to determine his guilt or innocence. If guilty, he could be stripped of his credentials to work as a police officer in Florida.
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