Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Double Standards do not help our justice system. Double Standards weaken our justice system and undermine the credibility of law enforcement agencies.

Inside the Hollywood Florida Police Department scandal.

Did Former FDLE
Commissioner, Tim Moore and others, give an abusive officer a pass after he lost it and broke the jaw of a 9-year-old kid?

Earlier this year, four Hollywood Florida police detectives were indicted for crimes, including running heroin, protecting gambling operations and smuggling stolen diamonds. The indicted officers were placed under surveillance after federal investigators learned that they were taking bribes and willing to provide protection to organized crime. The FBI charged Kevin Companion, Thomas Simcox, Steve Harrison, and Sgt. Jeff Courtney with escorting drug shipments, laundering stolen jewelry, and protecting criminal suspects. A grand jury was empanelled last month to examine the role of Hollywood police administrators in leaking word of the investigation to the targeted officers. The hot tip afforded the corrupt officers, prematurely interrupted an ongoing FBI probe. And, last week New Times published an article detailing how Hollywood police officers bury complaints and provide cover for family members accused of breaking the law.

The indictments are hardly remarkable for a department that has been embroiled in scandal for decades. We have been tracking Hollywood PD for several years. No police agency its size in Florida has received more complaints through our organization. Our complaint files put Hollywood on our sights long before today’s corruption scandal headlined south Florida papers.

Our first encounter began when we received a call from a Hollywood resident, David Bosky. Mr. Bosky told us that Hollywood Police Department had come to his residence in response to a disturbance call. According to Mr. Bosky, he was attacked by an HPD officer without any reason. According to Bosky before striking him, the officer would say into a tape recorder, “Stop resisting”. He would then punch or kick Bosky. Bosky told us that no one would take his complaint seriously at the Hollywood police department. We were concerned.

Our investigative staff approved placing the accused officer under observation for several months. Bosky filed a complaint and a civil lawsuit. Neither claim was successful. We were unable to document any violations by the officer.

A year later, Hollywood Police Department returned to our sights after one of our staff, Ritchie Rivera drove to Hollywood on business. Ritchie was pulled over by two Hollywood police officers in what seemed a clear case of profiling. The HPD officer making the stop demanded to know why a Latino was driving in a black neighborhood. When Ritchie (a Latino) explained that he might be there to purchase a home or conduct other business, the officers scoffed at his explanation, telling him that was impossible. According to the officers, the only reason Latinos came to that neighborhood was to buy drugs.

We filed a complaint and provided Hollywood Police Department with a copy of a videotape supporting our account of the encounter. No action was taken against the officer. Subsequently, we received two additional complaints of excessive force against Hollywood officers. Both alleged victims were credible, but said they had no confidence in HPD internal affairs. We filed complaints on their behalf. Both were classified ‘unfounded.’

Our most recent incident involving Hollywood police department involved former Hollywood officer, now police union boss, “Big Daddy” Dick Brickman. After we conducted an investigation with CBS4 Miami news called “Police Station IntimidationBrickman became irate over the news story. In what we view as an effort to intimidate the CBS reporter, Brickman solicited police officers to take note of the reporter’s home address and personal information, which he had posted on the police union website as a BOLO (Be On The Look Out). The posting could be interpreted as encouraging police officers to go after the reporter.

Shameful as they are, such tactics are not foreign to Brickman. Several years ago, the chief of HPD sued the police union, Brickman and others for a lurid prank. The chief’s wife was dying of cancer. Someone contacted friends and family of the dying woman in another state informing them that she had already passed away before the cancer had actually killed her. The beleaguered chief blamed Brickman and others for the prank.

When we contacted Brickman to ask about his current activities and to request that he remove the Bolo, he refused to take the information down from the PBA website until he was threatened with legal action by CBS attorneys. We called Brickman at his home. This is what he told us, "You Scumbags".

Hollywood FL, police have a long and frightful history of rogue conduct by officers resistant to the authority of their own police administration. We wanted to know why. We decided to look at the history of one of the accused officers in the current scandal to explore this issue. We have included documents taken directly from Hollywood Police Department’s internal records for this story. It seems that part of the problem in Hollywood stems from an overactive, confrontational police union. There is also evidence that the police administration routinely fails to discipline serious offences when they occur, creating an "above the law" attitude within HPD culture.

In the case of one of the recently convicted officers, Tom Simcox, there is no doubt that if he had been punished years ago for violations of law and policy, he would not be in prison today, for a brazen string of felonies committed under the cloak of his police uniform. The following story is an example of how bending the rules to save a corrupt cop have long-term implications for the credibility of a law enforcement agency.

9 years ago on a Wednesday afternoon, now indicted Hollywood Officer, Tom Simcox, went to “The Little Dude Ranch” to pick up his son for baseball practice. According to Officer Simcox, when he arrived at the Little Dude Ranch, he was met by 9-year-old Nicholas D’ Andrea. According to Officer Simcox, the 9-year-old Nicholas would not stop teasing him. In response, Simcox says he picked the boy up, gently sat him down on a chair, and grabbed his face to ensure that the boy was looking at him while he admonished him not to be disrespectful.

Unfortunately, Simcox’s story was not consistent with that of the day care center staff, the other kids on the playground or injuries Nicholas suffered. When Nicholas arrived home with a broken jaw, his mother was infuriated. She demanded to know what schoolyard bully had broken her son’s jaw. His mother was shocked when she learned that it was not another child who was responsible for breaking her son’s jaw on the playground, but rather 40-year-old off duty officer, Tom Simcox.

Attempts to conceal Officer Simcox’s actions were quickly undertaken by the Boynton Beach Police Department, whose jurisdiction included the school where the assault occurred. Boynton Beach Police Department tried to conceal public records from the press by marking the case files confidential and keeping the entire matter on the down low. The investigating detective, Dan Griswold, quickly downplayed the seriousness of the incident. Griswold told reporters that the beating Simcox gave a nine-year- old “…was not really a big deal.” Griswold said that he had much more important cases to work and that the story was getting attention because it involved a cop.

Despite all the maneuvering, excuses, and police officials throwing themselves in front of the bus for a bad cop, Simcox was eventually brought to trial and convicted for assault and battery. Notwithstanding his criminal conviction, the forces of incompetence, favortism and nepotism at the Hollywood Police Department would not be deterred. Before this recent FBI investigation, Simcox would hold the dubious title of being one of the few police officers in Florida with full police powers restored after he had been convicted of a violent crime. The Hollywood police chief publicly supported Simcox. Instead of being kicked off the force for his assault and battery of a nine-year-old child, he was returned to work where we now find him several years later breaking the law again by making deliveries for FBI agents posing as drug dealers.

Judge Barry M. Cohen

“Officer Simcox did not violate the public trust…..He is a devoted father, husband and son in law”

When the case made it to trial, Judge, Barry M. Cohen, sat on the bench. Simcox was accused of assault and battery. Cohen went out of his way to see that Simcox had a soft landing after the jury convicted him of assault and battery. Judge Cohen claimed that though Simcox beat up a nine-year-old kid, he did not violate the public trust as a police officer because he was “off duty”. Though several child witnesses testified that Simcox slapped the child and knocked him down, the judge took Simcox’ word that it was unintentional and that he was actually performing a slapping technique he regularly used on one of his own children who suffers from ADD. According to Simcox, he simply grabbed the kids face and squeezed it. No doubt, he squeezed sufficiently to break the kid’s jaw. As for the rest of the allegations, Simcox said he never struck the kid nor threw him to the ground as witnesses stated.

More than 126 letters were written by fellow Hollywood police officers, FBI agents, and prosecutors on behalf of Simcox. Each attested to his fine character and community service. Even FDLE, the state agency charged with keeping criminal cops off the street, caved in. FDLE waved (gave him a pass) the Simcox conviction, allowing him to return to work. The Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission under Commissioner Tim Moore admonished Simcox but took no serious action. Instead he passed off the matter to HPD returning Simcox to the streets where he would commit crimes later, that were far more serious.

A Broward county prosecutor pointed out that the Simcox abuse of the nine-year-old was an error in judgment, but not a statement of bad character. The prosecutor went on to point out that, Simcox had no record of disciplinary action against him before this incident. The judge pointed out, in his sentencing letter, that punishment was not necessary because Simcox was already being punished by the news reports and negative media attention. Quoting Judge Barry Cohen, “There is not even the slightest indication that the defendant’s conduct was any more than an isolated incident.” FDLE standards and training commission cleared Simcox, stating that serious disciplinary action was being undertaken by his own department obviating any further need for action on their part. And, with that, Simcox strolled back to work without as much as a glove being laid on him.

Would this crime have been taken more seriously if Nicolas had been someone else's child? We believe that if Nicolas had come from privilege and influence the outrage meter might have pushed back in another direction against allowing an abusive off-duty cop a free pass to break a kid's jaw. Had the victim of this attack been the child of Judge Cohen it is likely Simcox would have lost his job as a minimum punishment. However, it appears power and influence were considerable elements in assessing the propriety of punishment in this case, only because the suspect was a cop.

Unfortunately, saving officer Simcox from the consequences of his bad judgment did not serve as a favor. It undoubtedly left Simcox with the impression that the justice system had holes in it. Simcox learned that he could traverse back and forth through those holes, sometimes as a cop, other times as a criminal.

Perhaps, had Simcox lost his job or even faced a stiff penalty nine years later, he would not be shuttling drugs and providing protection for organized crime. According to the Sun Sentinel, Simcox finished his police career working as an undercover informant, identifying other suspects/officers in his department for the FBI.

According to news accounts of the ongoing investigation, one of the most troubling aspects of this case came when the targeted officers bragged that they could get out of any trouble they might get into because they have friends in high places both inside and outside of the police department. The officers named several high-ranking Hollywood police officials who would help them if they got in trouble. According to the police chief none of the officers identified as potential accomplices could be connected to any criminal activity.