Case Closed

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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."

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Tristram Korten
Contact: Tristram Korten