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A Visitor's Guide to Florida's Most Notorious Law Enforcement Agencies

Florida criminals have a well-earned reputation as some of the strangest in the country, possibly the world. But as the Escambia County Sheriff's Department demonstrated late last month, when it shot an unarmed man in his own driveway, it's not just Florida perps who are out of line. A number of the state's police and sheriff's departments are every bit as notorious for employing weird, backwards, and even criminal Floridians. 


Mark Byrnes

1) Escambia County Sheriff’s Department
Two Escambia County Sheriff’s deputies made headlines late last month when they fired 15 rounds at an unarmed man in his own driveway. Roy Middleton, 60, was looking for a cigarette in his mother’s car when the deputies asked him to turn around, then unloaded their weapons when he did so (hitting him twice in the leg). A week later, as Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick notes, Escambia deputies climbed through the window of a couple’s home, cuffed them, and killed their dogs. They were looking for a suspect, didn’t have a warrant, but saw an overturned bucket and assumed the suspect used it to the enter home. (He hadn’t.) While such abuses are not that uncommon, the reaction of Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan is. In the wake of Middleton’s shooting, Morgan said that “the tragedy of this is the noncompliance to the directions of law enforcement officers.” A week later, before a Rotary Club audience, Morgan suggested that the bigger problem is that whites are not allowed to talk about how inherently violent black people are. With leadership like that, it’s no wonder Escambia deputies feel empowered to shoot black people who turn around too quickly. And dogs.

2) Lakeland Police Department
Saying that the Lakeland Police Department is “facing a sex scandal” is sort of like saying the Titanic “faced an iceberg.” An investigation that started earlier this summer after someone saw a Lakeland PD cop having sex with a colleague at a Lakeland church, has expanded to include 10 officers total, nine of whom are now out of a job. The woman with whom the officers stand accused of having on-the-job-sex, Sue Eberle, says she consented because she felt her career was on the line, and also because she’d been sexually abused as a child. The long-time Lakeland PD captain put in charge of investigating the network of consensual-or-maybe-not trysts “retired” after he was found to have used Eberle’s phone to take a picture of his genitals. As if the department’s internal affairs weren’t bad enough, a dashcam video was recently released showing a Lakeland PD officer forcing a Lakeland resident to expose her breasts during a traffic stop.

3) Crestview Police Department
The trial of former Crestview PD Major Joseph Floyd began August 12, and the prosecution “spent about 40 minutes reciting for jurors the long list of crimes” Floyd is accused of committing. From 2007-2012, Floyd basically had the run of Crestview, whose police chief hired him despite Floyd’s long history of getting fired and/or investigated while employed by other Florida law enforcement agencies. The grand jury indictment of Floyd listed every imaginable kind of crime: falsifying reports and records, abusing suspects, sexual assault, intimidating co-workers and other city employees, extortion, and even forcing a pregnant woman to miscarry when he intentionally rammed and flipped her car. The March 2012 indictment, which forced the resignation of Crestview Police Chief Brian Mitchell, led to Mitchell being arrested and charged last month for helping Floyd cover up his employment history as a dirty cop. While technically only Floyd is only trial, Tom McLaughlin of the Northwest Florida Daily News says the rest of the department will "literally and figuratively, be tried with him," as 90 percent of the department has been subpoenaed. 

4) Miami Police Department
Any big city police department is going to have its fair share of bad apples, but the Miami PD's problems transcend rotten fruit. A July report from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division found that in recent years the Miami PD “engaged in a pattern of excessive force that led to a high number of shootings by officers”; and, that there were “delays in completing investigations of officer-involved shootings, questionable police tactics and a lack of adequate supervision.” Speaking of delays: The Justice Department says its report took longer than expected due exclusively to the Miami PD’s “frequent inability to produce necessary documents in a timely fashion.” How bad, exactly, is Miami’s trigger-happy cop problem? “In 2010...there was one fatal shooting for every 4,300 officers in New York, compared with one for every 220 in Miami.”

5) Lee County Sheriff's Department
In March 2012, after a journalist called him on his cell phone to ask about a federal lawsuit pending against the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Mike Scott announced new rules for local media in and around Fort Myers, Florida. Scott suspended morning press briefings with the department’s public information official, where local reporters asked questions about burgeoning cases, and instituted a new policy requiring every media outlet to make an appointment to review publicly available logs, then submit a written request for information, which would be personally reviewed by Scott. In addition, Scott’s officers were to have no contact whatsoever with The News-Press, Southwest Florida’s largest and most widely read newspaper. But the department’s shortcomings don’t stop there. In 2009, a year after Scott was elected, employees at the Lee County jail tortured a mentally ill man to death, then cleared themselves of wrongdoing. In 2010, the National Police Misconduct Reporting Project determined that the Lee County Sheriff’s Department had the highest misconduct rating among law enforcement departments its size—meaning Lee County beat out the Pittsburgh and Oakland PDs, as well as Joe Arpaio’s Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department.

6) Orange County Sheriff’s Department
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department declaration that it is a “paramilitary organization,” made last week by the department’s recruiting manager, would be slightly less chilling if the Orange County Sheriff’s Department didn’t have a history of indiscriminately treating their territory like an actual battleground. In fact it was just last year, in March 2012, that the department announced “deputies will now be trained to weigh the risk to the public before opening fire.” That recommendation came from a citizen review board convened after the very high profile 2010 shooting of suspected car thief Torey Breedlove. Orange County deputies fired more than 130 rounds at Breedlove after he allegedly rammed a deputy’s vehicle. More troubling than the number of bullets? The deputies—nine of whom had fired on suspects before—decided to unleash this torrent of gunfire in the parking lot of an apartment complex, hitting a residential unit in the process. After the review board’s recommendations were made public, retired Boca Raton Police Chief Andrew J. Scott remarked that when it came to responsible policing, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department “seem[s] to be a little bit behind the eight ball."

7) Opa Locka Police Department
Over the course of two decades, Sergeant German Bosque of the Opa Locka Police Department survived 40 internal affairs investigations as well as six firings and five re-hirings, leading the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, at the start of a nine-part series on police accountablity, to declare that Bosque's personnel file “looks more like a rap sheet than a résumé.” While the Opa Locka PD fired Bosque in October 2012 for the sixth and (likely) final time, the incident that led to his firing—lending his department-issued AR-15 and bullet proof vest to his girlfriend's dad—suggests Bosque was fired for the bad publicity he generated. After all, prior to lending out his gear, Bosque got away with stealing drugs from evidence, beating suspects, assaulting a minor, and covering up a car accident. The implications of his arrest, which happened in June 2013, are even more damning. When Bosque turned himself in to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement earlier this summer, it was for a crime (kidnapping) he committed inside the physical confines of the Opa Locka Police Department in 2011. Bosque may finally be gone, but what about the culture that allowed him to thrive for two decades? Recent reports don’t bode well. Opa Locka’s new police chief (the son-in-law of the last one) is already under fire from local media.

Mike Riggs is a former staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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