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Reporters love stories about bad cops. Cops on the take. Cops on the make. Cops who beat up civilians and then lie about it. Because cops are supposed to protect us from evil, not succumb to it, a bad cop story packs a heavy payload of irony. And because reporters are suckers for irony, lots of bad cop stories get written. Here in Dade County, where allegations of police misconduct are capable of sparking riots, examples abound. Sharpshooter William Lozano. Convicted wife murderer Ted McArthur. The drug-happy Miami River Cops.

The result is an understandable grudge. Ask a police officer about the media and he's likely to look at you as if he's just bitten into a lemon. The media only write negative stories, he'll grouse.

One striking exception to this axiom was Tropic magazine's September 29, 1985, cover story, "The Rapist and the Cop." The piece chronicled the remarkable efforts of one Metro-Dade police detective in pursuing the notorious Pillow Case Rapist, who victimized at least 43 women during a five-year spree that ended in 1986 after police released a composite of the suspect.

"In recent months, police have not been relying on legions of cops to solve the case. They have been relying on just one man, one extraordinarily meticulous cop," author Joel Achenbach noted. "He arrives for work an hour before midnight, neatly barbered, in a European-cut three-piece Yves Saint Laurent suit, silk tie, and carefully polished Florsheims. He looks more like a doctor than a cop, he's so clean and solid and calm. He is not a big man, but the jaw is strong, the chin jutting, the blue eyes confident. He is fastidiously square, radiating rectitude. His name is Spiffy, except to strangers and criminals, who know him as Sgt. David Simmons."

The story painted Simmons as a paragon of investigative acumen. "Best detective I've ever seen," one of his colleagues stated flatly.

"It would be hard for any man to stare into the glare of such honesty and not want to confess," Achenbach seconded.

In the decade since the Tropic story appeared, David Simmons has handled dozens of high-profile cases. Now 45 years old, he has been lionized by Edna Buchanan in her true crime paperbacks. And as a sergeant in Metro-Dade's child-exploitation unit, he has been lauded by superiors and subordinates alike.

These days, though, the man whose dapper dress earned him the nickname Spiffy is keeping a lower profile. He spends his weekdays cruising the streets of Liberty City in a marked police car, supervising a squad of six patrolmen. The Yves Saint Laurent suits are stowed away in his closet, replaced by the drab brown of a patrol uniform. The big name cases are gone, too, given way to a blur of domestic disputes, the occasional stabbing.

Curiously, Simmons's personnel file contains virtually nothing that would indicate why one of Metro-Dade's finest investigators is no longer an investigator, only notations reflecting that he was transferred to a patrol unit sixteen months ago at the behest of Cmdr. Antonio Prieto, chief of the Juvenile Investigations Bureau. But the transfer has become the subject of a lengthy legal squabble. Simmons, who filed a grievance seeking reassignment to an investigative post, claims he was exiled because he alleged that Prieto had committed administrative misdeeds. The commander counters that Simmons is a troublemaker whose love affair with the media merited his transfer. The matter was arbitrated in January, and a verdict is expected within days.

What is already apparent from the voluminous testimony is the astonishingly childish nature of the conflict -- how miscommunication allowed it to fester, how protocol ultimately took precedence over police work.

"Just a total waste of talent," mutters one detective who worked under Simmons. "He wrote the book when it comes to interviews and interrogation. Here's a guy capable of handling any case that comes into the department. And there he is in uniform. What a joke."

Simmons himself declined to be interviewed for this article. He did agree to provide access to the exhibits and transcripts of his arbitration hearing, but stressed that he was only doing so because his lawyer told him they were public record. He refused to turn over the material in person, opting instead to leave photocopies of the documents at the attorney's office. "It's only going to hurt me if I say anything," Simmons contends. "Just put 'No comment,' okay?"

Antonio Prieto and Lt. Randy Heller, one of his two chief assistants, also refused to comment, as did Denis Morales, a detective who was transferred out of Simmons's squad along with his boss. The half-dozen police officers who agreed to speak about Simmons's dispute did so only after assurances that their names would not be used. Any disclosure of their identities, they say, would amount to "career suicide."

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Steven Almond