When Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators began probing North Miami Police's disastrous shooting of Charles Kinsey — an unarmed behavioral specialist trying to help a patient — Chief Gary Eugene described a force in turmoil and torn apart by infighting.
Among his most surprising accusations in the under-oath interview: His assistant chief, Larry Juriga, had tried to frame Commander Emile Hollant by claiming Hollant had had given false statements to investigators. When Eugene actually reviewed the evidence, he told FDLE, he realized that Hollant hadn't given any false statements and that Juriga was actually the one who had lied.
Internal affairs investigators at the department have spent months trying to sort out the mess, which already led to manslaughter charges against the officer who pulled the trigger, Jonathan Aledda.
But in a bizarre twist, Chief Eugene has been out of work on preapproved medical leave for the past two weeks to undergo surgery. During his absence, Juriga was placed in charge of the department — and in just those two weeks closed an IA probe into Hollant's conduct and then moved to fire the commander.
In light of the chief's accusations that Juriga tried to frame Hollant, it's curious the department would allow the assistant chief to dispose of the investigation and then move to ax Hollant. In a close-out memorandum issued last August, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's office said Hollant had not lied to investigators; the internal affairs finding today directly contradicts the State Attorney's Office.
"Dear Commander Hollant," reads the letter, issued today and obtained by New Times. "Based on the findings of IA 16-06... as set forth below, I am hereby notifying you of my intent to terminate your city employment."
The letter was signed "Larry Juriga, Acting Chief of Police."
Hollant's lawyer, Michael Joseph, tells New Times that the firing letter shows Juriga is "continuing to double down" on a falsehood already called out by the chief.
"It's pretty obvious they're hiding something," Joseph says.
The letter says North Miami Police sustained complaints of "Obstruction of a Law Enforcement Investigation by Way of False Statements" against Hollant, as well as other departmental rules and regulations. In the internal affairs file, Eugene said, "[Hollant] lied to me. The commander completely lied to me."
But the findings directly contradict sworn statements Chief Eugene gave FDLE investigators in August, raising the possibility that the chief perjured himself or gave conflicting statements to investigators from two separate departments.
Under oath, Eugene told FDLE that Juriga and Hollant had a long-running feud. Hollant had been on the scene during the shooting but told Eugene that he had run to his car to get binoculars and thus had missed witnessing the gunfire.
Several days after the shooting, Eugene told investigators, Juriga told him: "We found out he had a radio transmission that [Hollant] actually gave the order, that he made a statement that caused the shooter to open fire. I was fuming when I heard that... I made a comment, 'Fuck... I'm going to suspend him.'"
But after Eugene listened to audio of the police radio transmission, he said he realized Juriga had lied to him.
"I heard the sergeant, who advised earlier that it was a toy, say, 'Hold fire! Hold fire! It was a toy,' trying to stop whoever was doing the shooting," Eugene told FDLE. "I said, 'Oh Lord.'"
Eugene said that he then went to City Manager Larry Spring's office to ask him not to suspend Hollant but that Spring refused to back down.
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"I said, 'City Manager, I'm telling you, listen to this CD and make a decision based on this CD,'" Eugene said. "[Spring] slapped his hand on the desk and said, 'You don't understand what I'm telling you. Get control of your people!'"
Now it appears that with the chief out on medical leave, Juriga was able to sign off on an internal affairs case in which he is directly involved as a witness.
"Based on the panel's findings, I intend to proceed with terminating your employment with the City," Juriga wrote to Hollant today.
The chief is expected to return to work Monday. Juriga didn't immediately respond to a message left on his voicemail.