To Catch a Cop: Part 2

When Dennis Whitt returned to Opa-locka from Tampa on December 11, he wore the broad smile of a vindicated man. The reason: barring a minor miracle, police officer Charles Jones would finally lose his badge.

Whitt, a vociferous city manager and ex-cop, says the 46-year-old Jones is a "disgrace to the profession" who used his position to extort sex from several women, then filed false reports to conceal his misdeeds. Three years ago Whitt fired Jones from the Opa-locka Police Department and has battled ever since to strip him of his state certification, which would prevent him from serving as a police officer anywhere in Florida. Jones, a ten-year veteran whose personnel file is thick with commendations but even thicker with reprimands, has been investigated twice by the Opa-locka internal affairs unit and the State Attorney's Office. Criminal charges, however, have never been filed against him.

On Thursday, December 10, Whitt flew to Tampa to testify against Jones at a preliminary hearing of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Standards and Training Commission. He spoke barely five minutes before a member of the commission's three-man panel cut him off to call for a vote. The panel ruled there is probable cause to revoke Jones's certification. Jones, who did not attend the hearing, now has 30 days to relinquish his certification voluntarily, or demand a hearing before the full seventeen-member commission.

Jones, who in past newspaper articles has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, could not be reached through his attorney, Donald Slesnick. In fact, Slesnick himself did not return phone calls to comment for this article.

The FDLE's prompt ruling came as something of a surprise. Two years ago commission staffers had reviewed the Jones case and decided to take no action. "This time we tried to package our information a little better," Whitt notes, "and emphasized his falsifying of documents and false arrests, rather than the allegations of sexual misconduct."

The case against Jones stems from a series of incidents dating back to 1986, in which the officer was accused of arresting women under false pretenses, transporting them to the Opa-locka police station, then releasing them on the condition they have oral sex and/or intercourse with him. In the fall of 1986, the State Attorney's Office launched a probe of Jones and, according to an internal memo, was ready to issue an arrest warrant by June 1987. Instead, prosecutors abruptly closed the investigation in December, informing Opa-locka officials the allegations "lacked sufficient probable cause" to press criminal charges.

Former Opa-locka police chief Floyd Reeves then relegated Jones to desk duty, but reassigned him to street patrol on Valentine's Day, 1988. In August 1989, two months after being promoted to robbery detective, Jones was again accused of extorting sex from a female arrestee, Kimberly Wycoff. This time, though, five police officers came forward to assert that Jones had lied in the arrest report he filled out after picking up Wycoff. But prosecutors opted not to file charges when Wycoff refused to cooperate with investigators. City Manager Whitt lobbied State Attorney Janet Reno in person to press charges. She refused, and Whitt finally fired Jones in October 1989.

Jones immediately filed a grievance against the city, and several months later a labor arbitrator ruled in his favor. When a state court judge earlier this year upheld the arbitrator's decision, it appeared likely Jones would be reinstated. But last month the Third District Court of Appeal reversed the state court ruling and endorsed Whitt's 1989 firing of Jones. "The city contends that the arbitration process was never intended to be used for disciplinary matters," the six-page decision read. "We agree."

George Knox, the attorney who filed the appeal on Opa-locka's behalf, called the decision "vindication for the city, the city manager, and the police chief. What the court has said with this decision is that disciplining police officers is not subject to outside arbitration," Knox says, "and that's a precedent that will be significant to all communities that have contracts similar to Opa-locka's."

Donald Slesnick, Jones's attorney, responded by requesting a rehearing before the appeals court, arguing that the reversal "is of exceptional importance [and] impacts not only the parties hereto, but the entire public-sector collective-bargaining community." Appeals court judges have yet to rule on Slesnick's request.

Whitt's ultimate hope is that Reno will file criminal charges against Jones. Reno did order a review of the Jones investigations this past July, after acknowledging that the previous two investigations were fraught with problems. She also had Assistant State Attorney Howard Rosen contact Karen Wycoff, Jones's alleged 1989 victim. According to a memo Rosen wrote this past July, Wycoff insisted she had never been released from jail by Jones in exchange for sex. "Because Ms. Wycoff denies any sexual activity with Officer Jones," the memo notes, "there is no benefit that can be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that would be conferred upon Officer Jones by his falsifying an arrest form. The investigation remains closed."

But Whitt stresses he wants Reno -- like the FDLE -- to look beyond the allegations of sexual misconduct. "I told her three years ago when we met that I have the evidence to prove Jones committed a third-degree felony -- falsifying a police report. We were told the reason they shut their investigation down was witness credibility. But I'm not talking about witness credibility. I'm talking about five police officers who saw another officer write a false report," Whitt fumes.

He says he is confident FDLE's Standards and Training Commission will soon formalize its decision to revoke Jones's certification. But he remains annoyed at Reno's inaction: "Janet Reno's office has failed to follow up on this, and that's put a definite dent in my faith in the system. Ms. Reno may have sent a couple of her guys over here to ask some questions, but she never called me back after she reopened the case. Never ever. And I'm the guy with the evidence."

Reno's response: "I'll have someone see what Dennis's concern is and follow up on that."

Within minutes, the FDLE panel ruled there was probable cause to revoke Jones's certification to be a police officer.