Case Closed

When Sgt. Walter Clark strutted the stone-cold halls of the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, the keys clinked a little louder on his chain. In that big house, Clark was a big man, bigger than his rank of sergeant implied. Within the county's sprawling 2000-employee jail system, Clark had become a powerful force by carving an advocate's niche for himself. He founded the Organization of Minority Corrections Officers, OMCO for short, whose twenty years of firebrand activism helped shape the Miami-Dade Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation into what it is today, for better and worse. In the process, many complained he became untouchable.

Clark retired last year, just before he turned 60. But he didn't give up the fight. He formed an outfit called Special Consultant for African American Government Employees, where he continues the same work he did at OMCO, essentially pushing a race-based agenda down an often-cowed administration's throat. Retirement, it seems, hasn't come easy to him.

In fact when Clark submitted his resignation letter on April 18, 2002 (complete with an inspirational quote from Martin Luther King: "Remember! We all can be great, by helping others."), many were surprised at his sudden departure. Probably none were more shocked than the department's internal-affairs officers, who are charged with investigating corrections employees accused of crimes and violating department policy. They had scheduled a meeting with Clark that very day.

The investigators wanted to ask him about a former inmate named Monique Chester, specifically whether he had had a three-year relationship with her. But the questions about their relationship went beyond the impropriety of a jailer hitting on his charge, which is a firing offense. Chester claimed that Clark forced her to have sex with him, threatening to have her parole revoked if she resisted. And he wanted a lot of sex -- with her, with her and other women, with her in handcuffs. He had done this to other women in jail, Chester told investigators.

If her allegations were true, they would stand in shocking contrast to the man who preached solidarity and respect, especially among African Americans. Clark made a career out of quoting Dr. King and demanding justice. He'd even written letters to the Miami Herald complaining it was disrespectful to publish photos accompanying a Martin Luther King Day story that portrayed women dancing in the street.

Clark had already spoken once with investigators, answering their questions under oath, at the outset of their inquiry. Sure he knew Chester, he had told them. He was friendly with her family and he tried to help her when she landed in jail. But he had no contact with her outside jail, and he certainly did not have a sexual relationship with her.

After a painstaking probe that lasted a full year, investigators believed they had gathered enough evidence to prove he'd lied to them. That's perjury, a serious crime. In addition, they recognized that there could be charges related to Chester's claims of sexual assault or even forced prostitution.

But before he could be fired, Clark quit. It was a gamble. He may have believed that if he were no longer a corrections employee, there would no longer be a need to investigate him.

Turns out he knows his old department pretty well. The criminal case went nowhere. Clark's $55,404 annual pension remains intact. And Monique Chester has been forgotten, faded back into the streets.

Walter Clark agreed to meet at Denny's on NE 36th Street and Biscayne Boulevard. "I'll be the good-looking black guy," he chuckled over the phone. Clark's call was a coincidence. He had read a New Times article about problems in the corrections department's internal-affairs bureau and wanted to talk about it.

He arrived early, dressed in a pressed plaid shirt tucked neatly into chinos so sharply creased they could pass inspection. Thirty-two years of wearing a uniform will do that to a person. The only nonregulation items were the pirate-size gold studs he wore in each ear. Between bites of his eggs and grits he raised the same battle cries that have been his trademark for decades -- the need for blacks to fight racism and favoritism in the corrections department, in county government, in the community generally. "I'll never quit getting some justice," he said with a preacher's practiced flourish.

A tall man with an athletic build and a broad, deeply lined face, Clark is the grandson of a Georgia sharecropper ("Fancy word for slavery," he offered) who raised him. When the farm failed, a teenage Clark migrated to Miami in 1962 to live with his father. It was the dawning of the civil rights movement, which forever changed his country boy's worldview. In 1970 he joined the corrections department with an outsize Afro and an attitude to match.

It was the department's efforts to tame that Afro which ultimately led to the creation of OMCO. In 1979 jail administrators reprimanded Clark by handing him a three-day suspension for not trimming his hair, as regulations required. But Clark claimed they were harassing him for his outspoken advocacy, his burst of hair being a mere symbol of that. "If you wore an Afro, that was a sign of defiance," he recounted. So Clark fought them, claiming the real reason for the suspension was his vocal complaining that the department discriminated against blacks during the hiring process. And he won. A court reversed the department's reprimand. "From that point on I said, Okay, we got all these problems here, so I organized some folks and the rest is history."

OMCO's first order of business was to sue the county and the predominantly white department for discriminating in the promotion process, ultimately forcing the county to settle. Next it complained bitterly about the white jail director at the time, Pat Gallagher. In 1981 the county hired the first black corrections director, Fred Crawford. Every director since has been black. Clark's OMCO led the recruitment drive to hire more African Americans, and by the mid-Nineties the department was more than 60 percent black.

In the Eighties, Hispanics, fast finding their political voice in county government, took a cue from OMCO. Thus was born the Hispanic Association of Correctional Officers, HACO, whose members demanded the same thing for Hispanics that OMCO was demanding for blacks. This put the two groups in direct conflict, and they became bitter rivals. To this day they thrust and parry and inundate the director's office with complaints about discrimination and racism. The department is now indeed diverse, but the constant racial and ethnic tension gnaws away at morale.

As he finished breakfast, Clark mentioned that he was on his way to the internal-affairs bureau right then to follow up on complaints he'd made against a Hispanic supervisor on behalf of a black corrections officer. There wasn't a trace of irony in his voice. It was as if he didn't care that internal-affairs officers had spent a full year trying to nail him. Case closed. End of story.

But contained in more than 100 pages of sworn statements, police reports, and dozens of pieces of evidence there is a story. It's just never been told.

To the outside world Clark may have been a soul-powered reformer railing against the system, but to Kevin Pettigrew, also black, Clark became the embodiment of that system -- quite literally the Man himself. His common-law wife is Monique Chester.

It was Pettigrew, a 24-year-old ex-con with a penchant for heisting office equipment, who set the clock ticking on Clark's career at a meeting with two internal-affairs investigators in December 2001. Pettigrew is a con's con, his rap sheet peppered with burglary and grand-theft busts. In fact at the time of the meeting, he had only recently finished a prison stint for burglary.

The opening lines of his statement, as written by IA investigators, are cold and hard. "Sergeant Clark, badge #2566, has engaged in sexual harassment and sexual assault against his wife, beginning in 1997, that has lasted for over three years.

"Mr. Pettigrew stated that Sergeant Clark threatened Ms. Chester that if she did not do as he told her, he would do things to her, or to Mr. Pettigrew." Most prominent among the threats was Clark's claim he would have Chester sent back to jail on a probation violation. (Attempts by New Times to reach Pettigrew were unsuccessful.)

It was because of Pettigrew that Clark met his wife in the first place. On June 6, 1997, the couple broke into a Miami Beach office building and walked out with a rolling cart filled with two fax machines, a computer, and a set of tools. Fingerprints at the scene led police to the couple's Beach apartment, where they were arrested. Pettigrew pleaded guilty. Five months later, in November, he was sentenced as a habitual offender to four and a half years in state prison.

Monique Chester, whose criminal history was not as extensive as her husband's, got off with a sentence of five years' probation. But not before she sat for a few months in Turner Guilford Knight, the mammoth county jail on NW 41st Street -- where Clark was shift commander.

Transcript of Sergeant Clark's preliminary interview with internal-affairs Sgt. Steven Carter, November 27, 2001:

Carter: "When did you meet Ms. Chester?"

Clark: "Well, I have known the family for a long time, mother, father, for years. Probably fifteen, twenty years."

Efforts to contact Monique Chester and her mother, Lorraine Hunt, through the probation department, at three old addresses, and via her former attorney were unsuccessful. But on January 10 and 11 of 2002, Chester did talk to investigators. (Her mother refused.) The result was a 30-page summary that began, "Ms. Chester related the following: She met Sergeant Walter Clark, Badge #2566, in 1997, while she was incarcerated in Unit K2-1 at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center."

It was a chance meeting, perhaps unavoidable, but it marked the beginning of a long struggle to escape what she describes as a mental spider web woven by Clark. They met, she said, in the jail's infirmary while she was being patched up after a fight. Clark made small talk, asked how she was doing. Later she noticed him watching her women's unit as it rehearsed for a dance contest. When they held the contest, he was there taking pictures. When they canceled the contest because of a fight, he escorted her back to her cell. She was 21 years old.

Soon little favors were sneaking her way. He placed money in her commissary account, and sent money orders to her, along with unsigned, cologne-scented cards. All the while he never asked anything in return. A couple of times he got her alone in a room and they just talked. He asked if she was getting his money and cards. At the end of one conversation he patted her rump and said he liked her. He gave her his number and asked her to call him. She still has his card, with the handwritten "Sarge" and his cell-phone number on the back. And she did call, collect from the jail's phone.

Sergeant Carter: "I have a list of calls that were made from TGK to [your] telephone number. Do you know who accepted those calls?"

Clark: "I have two sons. When she was first there my oldest son would visit her. My other son lives with me ... and he would talk to her. So that's how the phone number came about. I didn't personally give her my phone and say 'call me.' Everybody got my number."

Soon the man with the badge, who sought out her friendship in that cavernous, hostile world, was promising to get her out.

Clark wrote to her judge, Richard Margolius, extolling her virtues, how she "cheerfully obeys Corrections rules and procedures" and takes part in activities. "I am writing this letter because I strongly believe that inmate Chester wants very much to turn her young life around." He signed it: "Sergeant Walter Clark."

Pettigrew told internal affairs that in June 1997, while he was still in TGK awaiting sentencing, Clark visited him. The officer wanted to know how long the couple had been together. Then Clark went to Chester and told her he had "a premonition" that Pettigrew wasn't right for her, she recounted for investigators.

A couple of corrections officers noticed Clark spending a lot of time with the young female inmate. They took her aside to ask her about it. She told them what Clark had instructed her to say, that she was related to him.

Sergeant Carter: "Did you also talk to Ms. Chester or inmate Chester after she got out?"

Clark: "No. While she was in. While she was incarcerated."

In her sworn statement to IA investigators, Chester related that the day she was released from jail, at the end of 1997, Clark waited outside to give her a ride to her aunt's house. With family at last, she thought the whole episode, like some bad dream, was now behind her. ("I don't recall giving her a ride to her aunt's house," Clark told New Times.)

But a month later Clark stopped by and asked why she hadn't called. From the IA report: "She told him that she did not want anything to do with him, and thought that the things that happened while she was in jail did not involve her now. Sergeant Clark stated: 'You know that you're on papers [probation], and if you end up back in jail, I would be able to see you then.' She felt she had no other choice but to associate with him."

That's when his visits began. For the next seven months, she said, he'd stop by about four times a month. He represented an overwhelming mix of power, protection, and threat, and it clouded her mind. Eventually he set her up in a $285-a-month apartment in a rundown stretch of west Coconut Grove, near her mother. Clark co-signed the lease. Chester said he also paid the phone, cable, electric, and water bills. But this time it wasn't generosity, she added. This time it was for sex. He'd make her strip for him, give him oral sex, and have intercourse. He asked her to perform sex with another man so he could watch, prompting her to burst out: "You must have bumped your skull!" -- meaning: No way.

To escape him, Chester said, she sometimes wouldn't answer her door. If he knew she was inside, he wouldn't leave until he saw her. He'd shout at her that he paid the bills around here. She'd shoot back that she never asked him to. Sometimes when she didn't return his calls, he canceled her phone service.

Clark in a June 20 interview with New Times: "Well, you see, she needed a place to stay. She had no job, so she couldn't put no money down. I never lived there. It was her apartment. I was trying to help."

NT: "Did you have your own key and enter her apartment whenever you wanted?"

Clark: "No, uh-uh, of course not."

Chester's neighbor Francis Stringer remembered the man everyone called "Sarge" visiting Chester often. She picked Clark from a photo lineup for investigators. She told them Clark had his own key to Chester's apartment and would wait for her if she wasn't in. She remembered one night in particular. He stopped by but Chester was out, so Clark sat in the kitchen all night waiting for her. Stringer said Chester described him as a friend who gave her money when she needed it. She also remembered Chester saying she did not want Clark around her.

Chester's problems did not begin and end with Walter Clark's presence in her life. Coping with limits on her freedom set her on a collision course with the system that was trying to give her a second chance. In 1998 her probation officer, Roger Pickles, ordered her to take a random drug test. Chester hit positive for marijuana and cocaine. She was jailed briefly before being routed to a drug program. Another time Pickles spot-checked her apartment and she was out in violation of her 6:00 p.m. curfew.

Clark rose to defend her, visiting the probation office in full uniform with Chester's mother. Pickles was out so he met instead with supervisor Maria DiBernardo. Clark complained that Pickles seemed more intent on harming Chester than helping her, so could she please have a new probation officer? Afterward Clark sent a note: "Our goal is to assist in helping Ms. Chester succeed in this time of need. We thank you for your help and consideration concerning this matter. With kind regards, Walter G. Clark."

Pickles did hand off Chester, though whether it was the result of Clark's visit isn't clear. "Subject has even convinced a family friend, who is a Dade County Correctional Sergeant, to advocate for her," Pickles warned in a memo. "Sergeant attempts to use his official title as a way of intimidating and influencing subject's probation officers. Caution should be used in supervising this case."

The probation violation did something else for Chester: It made her wonder if Clark was somehow behind it, as he had threatened before. Maybe, just maybe, she should do as he says.

Clark to New Times: "I don't want you to write a story saying I was holding probation over her head. It's not true. Why would I go before a judge to get her off probation? It doesn't make sense. That's all I want you to understand. She had to say this to save face with her friend [Pettigrew]. He's putting her up to these lies."

At one point, Chester told investigators, Clark threatened to have her probation revoked if she didn't participate in a threesome with Chester's female roommate, who had been flirting with Clark. This time Chester complied. But it disturbed her. Like a pimp, Clark was successfully turning her out. Afterward she told Clark to cut off the utilities, the phone -- she didn't care. Clark responded by canceling the lease on February 3, 1999: "I am requesting an immediate release of my legal obligation from my seven month contract. Enclosed are keys to apartment #14 & keys to the mailbox. ... THIS SITUATION IS URGENT! Sincerely, Walter Clark, tenant."

She was adrift again. Clark kept on her. Now she had to visit his house. At first she resisted, but said that Clark told her: "You know I'm the man. I can get you sent back to jail anytime." So she'd visit him a few times a month and don the little negligee he gave her and strip to music he played. Then they'd have sex. Other times, she said, they'd cruise Biscayne Boulevard looking for a woman he could pay to join them. She told investigators he liked handcuffs in bed. One time he had her locked up tight and lost the key. A cop friend had to stop by with an extra key. She kept the cuffs, marked TGK-42, and gave them to internal-affairs investigators.

Do me a favor? he asked one day. Run to the ATM and get some money, here's my card and PIN. She recounted this to show just how clever he was. She was no match. She hurried over to the machine and withdrew $400 cash. When she returned he told her he'd reported the card stolen. Why don't we go to the credit union together? he asked. A teller inquired if he wanted to press charges. No, no, he said. Not necessary. The point was made, she thought. One way or another, he controls her.

It was then, standing in the credit union thinking about her probation and feeling the panic creep up on her, that Chester had an epiphany. She would begin collecting information on Clark and wait until her husband got out of prison.

Sergeant Carter: "[Your] house is in ... your name."

Clark: "Yes."

Carter: "And did Ms. Chester live there?"

Clark: "No."

By November 2000, Chester said in her sworn statement, Clark had pressured her into living at his house. She stayed about nine months. As proof she told them she had given his address to a pharmacy when picking up medication for a sexually transmitted disease -- a disease she claimed Clark had given her. Her name and his address were stamped on the medication's prescription label. Investigators even rooted around Clark's garbage and retrieved one of the bottles.

Sometimes Clark had sex parties there with other corrections officers. The women were not officers, Chester said. He showed off Chester to the other women, telling them she's an example of what he can do for them, set them up in an apartment, pay for things. She called him a pervert. He agreed.

By this point in her story, investigators believed Chester may have been playing up the allegations of threat and coercion. They began to suspect she'd grown accustomed to the money she said Clark paid her for dancing and for sex. She stayed at his house for nine months, after all.

It happened again. In 2001 her probation officer yanked her probation for a series of transgressions, and Chester found herself back in TGK. Clark used it to his advantage, she said. He had her approach a female inmate he liked, Lakeshia Bynum.

Yeah, Bynum told investigators, she remembered Walter Clark. He asked her to put on an outfit and dance for him. He also asked her to call him when she got out. And Bynum remembered Chester and Clark spending so much time together that she asked around. An officer told her that Chester was Clark's "lady on the street."

Clark to Sergeant Carter: "No, no, I'm not her boyfriend. I'm 58 years old. I'm not a boyfriend to no one."

Chester's life was crazy mixed up. Pettigrew got out of prison in June 2001. She was scared to tell him anything, just plain scared of Clark, who was on her to dump her husband. He told her he was obsessed with her, wanted to marry her, have a child with her. Instead she stabbed him.

She didn't mean to, really, but he pushed her too hard. He came to her apartment to give her a ride to her brother's house on July 4, 2001. When he got there all he wanted was sex, she said. No, not now, she demurred. He refused to leave. She threatened to spray him with Mace. Then she grabbed a knife.

She told investigators it was as clear as yesterday: "Cut me," he taunted her. "Cut me if you want to. I'm not going nowhere." She lunged at his leg but didn't draw blood. "You think I'm scared? Cut me, I don't care," he yelled.

She jabbed his right hand, cutting an artery. He went to Deering Hospital and told the doctors he'd broken up a fight. Later he arrived at work with a bandage on his hand, duly noted on the staffing roster. ("I was working on my car, and my hand slipped. It slipped down and I cut my hand. It wasn't no major cut," Clark told New Times.)

Something had to happen or she'd go mad. So she began building her case. She took incriminating things from Clark, such as a roll of film he'd shot during an orgy. Clark was not in the pictures because he was behind the camera, but it was his house, and it was full-on group sex. She filched cassettes from his answering machine of women having phone sex with him.

Then she came clean to the recently sprung Pettigrew -- but not before Clark made her go on a little trip.

Clark to New Times: "I won those tickets through a NAACP fundraiser. I was going to go on the cruise with another friend, but Chester wanted to go. The other friend canceled. So she came along. I did that. Then her mom got ill, and we was able to get the Coast Guard to let us off."

Dolphins, daiquiris, deck chairs. In December 2001 Clark was playing big spender, taking Chester and another woman on a four-day cruise to the Bahamas on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Only days earlier he'd been interviewed by internal affairs and he wanted to party. At the last minute the other woman canceled, but Chester felt forced to go because, she told investigators, Clark had threatened to revoke Pettigrew's probation if she didn't. Plus he made her feel guilty for stabbing him.

But something happened at sea and she snapped. She had to get off that ship. Clark quieted her and then talked with the captain. The cruise ship docked at Key West to let the couple disembark. They told the Coast Guard that Chester's mother had suddenly taken ill at home.

Chester said she had a miscarriage from all the stress of being with Clark. But he wouldn't let her go. Finally she was ready to talk to internal affairs.

New Times: "Did you have a long-term relationship with her?"

Clark: "Well, relationship can mean anything."

NT: "Do you want to say whether you had sexual relations with this woman?"

Clark: "No, of course not."

NT: "No you didn't have sexual relations or no you don't want to say?"

Clark: "I don't want to go into it. What I want to say is she is successfully out of the system, and I helped. That's my main goal."

After Chester finished her tale, internal-affairs investigators went about corroborating it. They retrieved the lease for the Coconut Grove apartment with his name on it. They got a passenger manifest from Royal Caribbean with his name and her name on it and a log from the Coast Guard of the ship's emergency docking. They linked Chester's name to Clark's address through a public records database. They obtained bank records showing Clark paid for Chester's medicine at the Walgreens near his house. (And they fished the prescription bottle from his trash.) Chester handed over a personal check Clark gave her, as well as the handcuffs she said Clark used during sex. They talked to former inmates, guards, and neighbors.

By the time they concluded, a year after launching the probe, the street girl's story was looking pretty solid. But she told them Clark knew what they were up to. He could tell they were after him and were eager to "put him away," she said. Clark warned her not to say anything and to stick to their cover story -- that he knows her family and that's how he met her.

At last the investigators were ready. On April 9 they sent Clark a notice to come in for another interview, scheduled for April 18. Then, on April 18, as they sat waiting for him, Clark handed in his letter of resignation.

Walter Clark is right about one thing: Internal affairs wanted him badly. And they thought Monique Chester was their best chance. But when assistant State Attorney Sandra Miller reviewed the case, she was less than impressed. "There was nothing to corroborate the fact that the complainant was forced to have sex with the officer," Miller wrote in her March 27, 2002, memorandum closing the case. "While it is against Corrections policy for an officer to have sexual relations with an ex-inmate, it is not a criminal violation." Miller declined comment for this story.

But there were other avenues the State Attorney's Office could have taken: potential perjury charges against Clark for his sworn statements to investigators that were later contradicted; witness tampering for allegedly instructing Chester not to talk to internal affairs; even soliciting prostitution arising from Chester's assertion that Clark sometimes paid her for sex. It's not clear whether internal affairs proposed these possibilities to Miller. But whatever the case, Miller would have been relying on the word of a convicted criminal, an unsympathetic witness should the case go to trial. Miller did mention in her memo that the matter could be handled by the corrections department.

And indeed it was. Corrections administrators sustained 17 of 56 violations against Clark after he'd resigned. They sent their findings to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which certifies law-enforcement officers. The FDLE examined the case but declined to revoke Clark's certification. Not that any of this mattered to Clark, who managed to retire in safety and comfort.

Recently he agreed to meet at Denny's again, but this time he didn't eat. He was too busy denying he'd had a sexual relationship with Chester, much less that he'd threatened her. "You've got to understand internal affairs," he said. "They've been after me forever. They'd do anything to get me. I'm lucky to be alive. Of course that's what they're going to say -- that I threatened or coerced this girl. Whatever dirt they can pile on Walter Clark they will. They get inmates to make complaints against corrections officers all the time.... Fortunately I'm still alive. They've murdered black folks in this town for exposing injustice for years."

Over the course of three interviews with New Times, Clark went from saying he didn't have contact with Chester outside of jail to saying he didn't have much contact with her to conceding that he rented an apartment for her and took her on a cruise. By the end he seemed to acknowledge that, word for word, her story was going to appear more credible than his. With that in mind, he wanted one thing on the record: He never forced anyone to do anything.

"Look here," he said, "with that cruise, we was all friends, we were all going to have a little fun. Is that against the law? All I want you to see is that there was no coercion.

"Whatever you write, I just want it perfectly clear there was no coercion on my part."

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Tristram Korten
Contact: Tristram Korten