Politics: Stonewalling Proves MBPD Has Learned Little to Nothing

And, The Unfortunate, Incredibly Shrinking Mr. Kramer.

It was supposed to happen after Ray Martinez was promoted to the job of police chief in April 2012.

It was supposed to happen after the simultaneous naming of Mark Overton – Hialeah’s well-qualified former top cop – as deputy chief, Martinez’s right-hand man.

It was supposed to happen after then-city manager Jorge Gonzalez informed us that the selection of Martinez over 80 other applicants from around the region and nation “was based on who had the ability to best manage the necessary reforms” in the city’s 360-strong police force. And after it had been proven to Gonzalez that “the right leadership to effect change can, indeed, be found from within.”

It was supposed to happen after the new chief, at his swearing-in a year ago before city officials and the public, vowed to us to “reform the department and ensure greater accountability of our officers.”

It was supposed to happen after a series of bad apples on the force had either been suspended or fired, and others had been reprimanded and dressed down. This, for infractions ranging from the drunken ATV-crashing escapade on the beach to outright abuse of power cases like the wrongful arrest of Harold Strickland, a gay man walking home through Flamingo Park one night.

The reformation of a reputation-tarnished Miami Beach Police Department was supposed to happen after the alignment of these, and other, corrections within the department.

Now we realize reformation never came about.

And we’re still waiting for it.

With the exasperating revelations from the Miami Herald‘s stellar investigative report last weekend about the department’s two-year delay in completing its investigation into the 2011 Memorial Day shooting of Raymond Herisse on Collins Avenue – a textbook example of official pussyfooting if ever there was – we have been served up headshaking confirmation that a beleaguered police department we thought was on a beeline course to cleaning up its act hasn’t even made the initial step of filling up the wash bucket with soap and water, sticking the mop in, and getting the whole contraption wet, let alone begun to actually apply the mop to the dirty task before it.

To briefly recap: In the wee hours of Memorial Day 2011, a car went careening down Collins Avenue, sending pedestrians scattering, spurring police to chase it down, guns blazing. The driver was shot dead in a hail, reports said, of a hundred bullets. (We now know there were 116 fired; 16 hitting their mark.) Amid the commotion, stray police bullets mowed down and seriously injured four innocent bystanders.

Those bystanders have been unable to resolve compensation claims against the city as long as the outcomes of the police and state attorney investigations are nowhere in sight.

The attorneys for some are concerned that the MBPD’s delay tactics may be subterfuge for covering up, altering, or destroying evidence in order to justify the use of force that was used in the shoot-out.

Now we come to learn, according to the Herald, that the department’s account of the event “began to unravel almost from day one,” leaving a trail of “inconsistencies, contradictions and omissions” in the police narrative of what occurred.

From the MBPD’s failure to offer up video evidence or witness testimony, to their withholding of information from the Herisse family, wounded bystanders, and their lawyers, this case is replete with example upon example of a law enforcement agency that has yet to get why so many in this town, from residents to city leaders alike, have a serious lack of confidence in the willingness and ability of the MBPD to reform its ways.

This is a department that has a serious public image problem: the city’s 2012 community satisfaction survey bears that out. It showed that residents gave the police a 66% rating (down from 84% in 2009). Business owners gave cops a 71% approval (down from 81%).

So what did we learn last weekend?

From the Herald report, we learned that it took a judge’s order to get the department to release security camera video from the vicinity of the shooting. From that video, we learned that Herisse – contrary to police reports that he had been speeding – may not have been speeding at all.

We learned that Herisse had been sprayed with gunfire after he had stopped his car, a contravention of police policy – and the law – that allows the use of lethal force only when the lives of cops or others are at risk.

We learned that gun shot residue tests conducted by the medical examiner prove that Herisse never fired a weapon, despite officers’ assertion that he fired a gun from his car, a gun which police didn’t discover until three days after the shooting. They claimed it took that long to discover it because they were preoccupied with the crime scenes and witness interviews.

We learned that the MBPD quickly trumpeted Herisse’s rap sheet in the aftermath of the shooting in order to boost their contention that he was a violent thug, despite that most of his crimes were for nonviolent motor vehicle violations.

We learned that an MBPD sergeant who was an on-the-scene supervisor at the shooting site is also one of the investigators conducting the department’s inquiry, which one outside police expert and consultant termed “a clear conflict of interest.”

We learned that a final report of the investigation has been “languishing on a supervisor’s desk” since last year.

Incredibly, astoundingly, we learned that the dozen cops who were involved in the shooting have not even provided statements yet on the incident.

We learned that despite a judge’s order that the MBPD release case-related records to plaintiffs’ families, the department has shown contempt for her order by its failure to release the radio calls from that night.

Rod Vereen, who ran unsuccessfully for Miami-Dade state attorney, explained to a Miami Beach Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club audience last summer that “in regard to police shootings, they take a while because crime scene investigators have to come out and collect all of the evidence. Witnesses have to be questioned. And when you have hundreds of people out there, there will be a lot of witnesses.

Then internal affairs has to conduct their investigation. After internal affairs, they have to turn the case file over to the state attorney who then has to go through the entire file and may have to question witnesses again” before making a determination of whether or not to file charges.

But what happens in any police shooting is that a family that has lost a loved one needs closure, a law enforcement officer and/or his family need closure, and you have a community that needs closure. And depending on where it happened, it can have an effect on tourism in those particular areas.

Vereen, who has represented plaintiffs in lawsuits against police as well as served as a prosecutor, added that law enforcement agencies have “an obligation to try to close these cases out as expeditiously as possible.”

In my three years of producing this column, I’ve written about the transgressions and abuses of power of the MBPD no less than half a dozen times, and expended nearly 5,000 words on the subject.

And you, no doubt, have read not only what has been published in this paper but also what has been reported within the pages of other publications, as well as viewed what has been broadcast by local TV news teams.

It’s all getting to be a broken record.

I once wrote here that the MBPD had “increasingly, distressingly become the Shame of the City.”

Two years ago after a different incident, I called for the creation of a civilian review board, akin to the one the City of Miami and other cities across the state and nation have:

In the end, it isn’t the police but rather their superiors at City Hall who should accept and install appropriate civilian oversight.

More is at stake than law and order, or the preservation of civil liberties, or avoiding costly lawsuits. No less than the city’s reputation is at stake, particularly its status as a world-class tourist destination.

 “Best to avoid future embarrassments – as well as lawsuits – by empaneling a civilian review board now, not after the fact. Ensuring that good cops are recognized and rewarded and bad ones – and policies – are repudiated and replaced is what such oversight can foster.”

And then there was this prophetic paragraph, which I wrote in another 2011 column:

It’s only a matter of time before an uglier, more incendiary, incident occurs here, the type which drags reluctant Miami Beach officials, kicking and screaming, to the inevitable acceptance that a CIP [civilian investigative panel] is necessary. These recent disturbing incidents involving the MBPD strenuously demonstrate that civilian oversight is long overdue.”

That appeared in these pages just weeks before the Memorial Day 2011 shooting.

In a letter he wrote to city commissioners last November, asking them to consider hiring him to be the Beach’s next city manager, Jimmy Morales wrote this:

“I think you will agree how important it is at this time for the City of Miami Beach to demonstrate and reassert its commitment to ethics, integrity and accountability in government and the effective and transparent administration of government services.”

Mr. Manager, we take it that when you wrote this you also meant that such ethics, integrity, and accountability needs to emanate from the MBPD.

You also told us that as manager your job would “not be to protect the bureaucracy.” It is essential that you and the Commission now demand and ensure that the Herisse investigation be finally wrapped up and that the overall goal of reforming the MBPD will actually happen, in earnest.

One way both you and the Commission could do this is by empaneling a blue-ribbon panel commission of citizens and former police officials, or police officials from outside the city, to review existing policies and procedures, and formulate proposals for the reform of the department, with special attention paid to how the department polices and investigates itself.

Surely a reform of investigative policies and procedures is in order. Reports should not be languishing on desks. Officers involved in an incident should not be permitted to participate in the investigation or internal review of that incident. Procedures that allow for the untimely delay of investigations should be examined and overhauled.

I am reminded of the stern rebuke Ed Tobin gave Martinez just before voting not to make him chief. “I am not prepared to endorse what I consider to be a mantra of government that typically does not hold people accountable,” the commissioner said adamantly.

Accountability. It’s long past time to demand and expect this from the MBPD. Its civilian overseers at City Hall need to take up that responsibility now, seeing that the department can’t seem to get it started on its own. It’s not going to fix itself, obviously, and it shouldn’t be entrusted to do so.

I’m tired of having to revisit the topic of a city police department that can’t seem to get its act together.

Tired of writing about the “Shame of the City” and yearning to write of the department as the city’s pride.

I leave you with this, which I wrote in a column a little more than a week after the 2011 shooting:

We have the right to be free of the kind of excesses that overran the city Memorial Day weekend. On the same token, we have the right to be free of the excesses from police abuse and misconduct that are diametrically opposite to everything we hold to be American.”

ARE THOSE BUZZARDS THAT ARE CIRCLING ABOVE THOMAS KRAMER?

Last week’s illuminating New Times cover exposé on the Billion-Dollar Sandbar’s one-time Mr. Big Shot seems to suggest that the carrion pickers and pluckers sniff a whiff of impending doom about to rise from the soon-to-be rotting carcass that is the success story (and incredibly shrinking fortune) of the unfortunate Mr. Kramer.

Who had a clue he was this down on his luck? Lera Gavin, a one-time aide to the mercurial German transplant who at one time possessed as much as a $200 million-fattened bank account, expertly weaves a chronology of his successes – and now his downfall – beginning with his origins in Europe, followed by his genesis two decades ago as a “South Beach icon.”

Gavin fills in many of the holes and mysteries that have surrounded the man. He comes off as having been rather all flash, but little if any skilled talent. The successes he racked up seem to have evolved more from luck than from cogitative endeavor.

She has pulled back the curtain shrouding her former boss and revealed to the world the wizard, warts and all. Turns out the wizard was more like the scarecrow, all hollow and stuffed with straw.

Kind of like so many of the fakers, posers, and plastic people with whom SoBe – fairly or not – has come to be associated.

Turns out he had everybody fooled about his financial state of affairs. Turns out the money wasn’t really his; it was loaned to him (by a rich German who had a lucrative contract to print German currency).

Now a Swiss court has ordered the Pope of Portofino to relinquish what he’s got left and repay the loot, which was ill-gotten to begin with.

We learned that far from being that of a financially stable and prosperous real estate development tycoon, the Kramer empire – what’s left of it – is on the brink of collapse, its “red-eyed,” exhausted emperor reduced to clearing out his closets, auctioning off his prized possessions and collectibles (including a taxidermied giraffe), laying off staff members, popping pills, working the paper shredder overtime, all while tottering on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Worse, his would-be biographer feared – his state of mind being such that it is – that “one morning I might hear a shot coming from the walk-in safe upstairs where he stored his guns.”

This is all beginning to eerily, macabrely resemble aspects of the last days and downfall of another mood-swinging, temper-tantrum-flaunting German megalomaniac. But I digress…

Yes, there’s a fire sale at the Kramer mansion on Star Island. The emperor, it would appear, is nearly without his clothes – literally. They might be the next to go on the auction block.

 The flamboyant developer who used to make headlines for all of the wrong reasons (public brawls in clubs and restaurants, alleged rapes, a girlfriend’s suicide, and rambunctious partying) is now staking his hopes and last shekels on the creation of a $20 billion island city in, of all places, Karachi, Pakistan.

But who in his right mind would erect even a Porta Potty in Pakistan right now? Ya gotta be crazy! It’s the most god-awful, politically-unstable, violent place on the planet. Well, that and Mess-ico.

This rash roll of the dice by the now hapless Kramer suggests how very little he seems to have understood about true real estate development. He lacks the insight and analysis that others more experienced and learned possess. Otherwise, good sense and judgment might have convinced him to ditch this scheme – and the dubious Pakistani bankrolling it.

I can’t imagine the deal will succeed. Sounds like a lot of hocus to me.

Anyone in danger of forgetting who he was and what he meant to South Beach in its ’90s heyday,” the piece concludes, “has only to look at the skyline of contemporary Miami Beach, where Portofino still looms as the tallest building in South Beach, a monument to one man’s arrogance and perseverance.”

Neisen Kasdin, minimizing Kramer’s role, is quoted describing him as not a developer, “just a trader.”

I suspect many of the city’s preservationist-minded, angered by what Kramer did to their skyline and cursing the name and legacy of the tycoon who made it so, might replace that last word with the homophonic “traitor.”

So maybe the ’90s are, at long last, over.

There will never be another Thomas Kramer. Perhaps that is for the best. Miami Beach could weather only one in its century-long lifetime.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR

MIAMI BEACH – Volunteers can help in a dune restoration event to remove non-native invasive vegetation. 9 a.m. to noon, Sat., June 1 (Pancoast Park; meet west of the dunes near 36th St.).

KEY BISCAYNE & MIAMI BEACH – Junior Lifeguards tryouts for ages 9-17, Sat., June 1, 10 a.m. (Haulover Beach and Crandon Park).

MIAMI – Zoo Miami and the South Florida chapter of the American Association of Zookeepers (SFAAZK) present “Savage,” an exhibit of art made by animals for the benefit of animals. 7 to 10 p.m., Sat., June 1 (Bakehouse Art Complex, 561 NW 32 St.) Enjoy and purchase art made by tigers, giraffes, elephants, birds, reptiles, and more to make a difference in animal conservation projects. Paintings will be available through silent auction and raffle and will be hosted by Ron Magill. Meet zoo animals. Free admission.

MIAMI – Marlins Adopt-O-Mania. Over 150 pets will be on-site and available for adoption. The first 100 guests to adopt a cat or dog will receive 2 free tickets to any Marlins regular season home game in July. Co-sponsored by Miami-Dade Animal Services, Humane Society of Greater Miami, and The Cat Network. Sun., June 2, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Marlins Park)

COCONUT GROVE – Shake-A-Leg Miami invites the public to its Community Bay Day, featuring food, music, sailing, kayaking, and bay cruises. Noon to 4 p.m., Sun., June 2 (2620 S. Bayshore Dr.).

MIAMI BEACH – City Commission meeting. Wed., June 5, 9 a.m. (City Hall)

CORAL GABLES – Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s first of a series of monthly free days this year – the first Wednesday of every month from June to November – will be Wed., June 5 (9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.). Spend a day exploring 83 acres of tropical palms, flowering trees, and breathtaking vistas. Free tram tours available (10901 Old Cutler Rd.).

MIAMI BEACH – UM’s Pediatric Mobile Clinic (by appointment; call 305-243-6407). Free health care services for youth with no access or limited access to health care/medical insurance. Wed., June 5 (North Shore Park and Youth Center, 501 72 St.).

CORAL GABLES – 6th Annual Taste of the Gables. Thurs., June 6, 6:30 p.m. (The Westin Colonnade Hotel, 180 Aragon Ave.)

MIAMI BEACH – Free condominium workshop for residents and boards. 3 to 7 p.m., Fri., June 7 (City Hall).

MIAMI BEACH – City staff and the project contractor will brief residents about this summer’s neighborhood improvement project in the Venetian Islands. Tues., June 11, 6 p.m. (Miami Beach Golf Club, 2301 Alton)

SURFSIDE – Town Commission meeting. Tues., June 11, 7 p.m. (9293 Harding)

The author is an independent columnist. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and not those of the publication or its editors and owners.

About Charles Branham-Bailey

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