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Also had the department conducted an internal-affairs investigation, it is likely the matter would have been reviewed earlier by the State Attorney's Office, which routinely examines completed internal-affairs cases.

Following McCue's administrative review, Chief Hood issued a written reprimand of St. Amand on June 9, 1998. The reprimand states that "the employee is inefficient in the performance of his assigned tasks or duties, to wit: employee repeatedly failed to complete work accurately and in a timely manner."

None of the information surrounding St. Amand's failure to contact victims was included in the reprimand or placed in his personnel file. He was neither suspended nor fined; in fact he was allowed to remain a detective in the domestic-violence unit.

Last week Julia Dawson, president of the North Miami chapter of the National Organization for Women, wrote a letter to the city manager. She said she was "extremely concerned" about the city's unwillingness to deal with St. Amand more decisively, and she noted that domestic-violence cases are highly sensitive. "Only specially trained individuals with the highest level of professionalism should be entrusted with this work," she wrote. "In this case it is appalling to find out that even after receiving a written reprimand for failing to properly pursue domestic-violence cases assigned to him, Detective St. Amand was still allowed to continue working in that area. That fact alone made public will undoubtedly impact the public's trust in the North Miami Police Department's judgment and ability to properly address domestic violence and sexual-assault cases."

Chief Hood will not discuss why he felt only a reprimand was warranted or why he allowed St. Amand to remain in the domestic-violence unit. And because there is no written documentation of the department's administrative review, it remains unclear whether an exhaustive examination of all cases assigned to St. Amand was undertaken to determine if there were other victims he failed to contact.

North Miami City Manager Lee Feldman says he was not involved in the decision to reprimand St. Amand. Determining how to discipline police officers, he asserts, is Chief Hood's responsibility. "If the chief felt a reprimand was warranted, then I would back him on that," Feldman says.

Interviews with city officials and police officers suggest that a number of factors may have influenced Chief Hood's approach to dealing with St. Amand. First, the informal nature of an administrative review may have shielded the department from scandal. Hood also may have felt a measure of loyalty to St. Amand, who in January 1998 helped secure the release of four children who were being held hostage. That incident ended in a shootout that left one of the kidnappers dead. The chief may have believed the stress from the event adversely affected St. Amand's later performance.

Another possible concern for the chief: In recent years his department has been rife with allegations of racial discrimination. Disciplining St. Amand more severely might have exacerbated the problem. Last year, for instance, seven black police officers (St. Amand was not among them) filed a complaint against the department with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In addition it is no secret that St. Amand comes from a wealthy and politically influential South Florida Haitian family. Suspending or firing him could have sparked turmoil within North Miami's growing Haitian community. (St. Amand's father, Fred St. Amand, Sr., claims that the allegations against his son are politically motivated. The elder St. Amand, who says he plans to run for a seat on the North Miami City Council in two years, believes city officials are trying to ruin his candidacy by embarrassing his family and destroying his son's reputation.)

If the reprimand was intended to serve as a warning to St. Amand that his conduct was being scrutinized, it didn't work. In August 1998, two months after receiving the rebuke, he allegedly began exposing himself and masturbating in front of one of his co-workers. The woman says she tried to ignore the detective, who would make lewd comments to her while he masturbated. She says she was afraid to report the incidents because she didn't believe the department would support her. Only after confiding in another officer, who encouraged her to report the incidents, did she speak with the State Attorney's Office this past May.

"I believed her," says Assistant State Attorney Ruth Solley, referring to the victim. The prosecutor adds that the four other women who complained of sexual harassment were also very credible.

It was during the course of investigating the sexual-harassment allegations that prosecutors first discovered the discrepancies in St. Amand's handling of domestic-violence cases. Solley declined to comment on that ongoing phase of the investigation.

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede