Oct 232015
 

crb

by Dennis Reeves Cooper…….

The Citizen Review Board (CRB) is a big deal. Now 13 years old, the CRB is an independent city agency with the authority to investigate complaints involving Key West police officers. The reason this is a big deal is that, before 2002, there was no such agency here. Citizen complaints often just disappeared into a black hole inside the Key West Police Department (KWPD). What you may not know about the CRB is that it is unique among City departments, boards and agencies in that it was not created by the City government. It was created by the the people– the voters. Not only was the CRB not created by the government, it was created over the almost-hysterical opposition of then-Mayor Jimmy Weekley, then-City Manager Julio Avael and then-Police Chief Buz Dillon. When a citizen committee was formed to push for the creation of a civilian police oversight board, Weekley, Avael and Dillion responded loudly and often, saying, in essence, “We don’t need no stinkin’ oversight board made up of a bunch of know-nothing civilians!”

But the reality, back in 2002, was that the KWPD was virtually out of control. Then-State Attorney Mark Kohl was in the midst of a sweeping investigation of the KWPD. Four officers had been arrested or forced to resign and another officer was trying to cut a probation deal to avoid charges. During a street brawl in front of Sloppy Joe’s in July 2000, witnesses said that several tourists were allegedly beaten up by police officers, but none of the cops on the scene could remember anything about any brawl. So Kohl, fed up with “blue amnesia,” charged a number of officers with knowingly falsifying arrest affidavits. Lying on official police documents. Sound familiar.

In March 2000, the Lt. Al Flowers, after 18 years on the force, resigned and gave up his law enforcement credentials to avoid charges of official misconduct. A few years earlier, Lt. Flowers had ordered a subordinate to falsify an arrest affidavit charging a suspect with a felony that Flowers knew he didn’t commit. The incident had been reported to Internal Affairs by another police officer at the time, but was ignored. Flowers’ long history of rough arrests was well known within the police department. Over the years, Flowers had developed a reputation of piling on charges that sometimes resulted in those being stopped for routine traffic checks being roughed up and jailed. At one time, department supervisors called him into a special meeting to warn him that his over-the-top behavior had to stop or they would take action that could have him removed from the force. But, at that time, Chief Dillon defended Flowers, saying that he wished he had another dozen officers just like him.

Also in March of 2002, Officer Michael Beerbower was charged with three counts of battery. Back in July 2000, Beerbower had repeatedly punched and pepper-sprayed two handcuffed suspects in the face while other officers watched and reportedly cheered. The incident was reported to Internal Affairs by another officer, but IA investigators found that other officers on the scene had contracted blue amnesia and couldn’t remember anything about anybody punching anybody in the face. So that investigation went nowhere. But that bird came back to roost when lawyers for the two suspects, getting ready for trial, conducted depositions. When the officer who originally reported the punching incident to IA was deposed, he testified to what he had seen. And an Assistant State Attorney who was sitting in on the deposition reported the allegation back to the State Attorney. Beerbower was able to keep his job by cutting a probation deal, but he was eventually forced to resign from the force for, you guessed it, punching other handcuffed suspect in the face.

In June of 2000, John Caris, 40, alleged that Beerbower had done exactly the same thing to him two months earlier. Caris, who had been arrested after a domestic dispute, said that Beerbower had punched him in the face while he sat handcuffed in the back seat of a patrol car. But that was only the beginning. He said he was pulled out of the car and hogtied and, while Officer Pablo Rodriguez was transporting him to jail, Rodriguez drove into an ally behind a closed gas station, where Caris said he was pulled out of the car and beaten by at least six officers. Caris filed a formal complaint– but none of the officers allegedly involved in the beating could remember anything about such an allegation. Rodriguez was also involved in another high-profile excessive force case the previous year. After being arrested on minor theft charges (that were later dropped) fourth-generation Conch John B. Knowles said that, after he was handcuffed, he was knocked down and beaten by Rodriguez while other officers watched. One officer at the scene later told investigators that he could hear bones breaking in Knowles’ face. Knowles sued the city and recovered a substantial settlement. The battery charge against Rodriguez was dropped.

Also in 2002, the City of Key West agreed to pay a Polish army major $80,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that he was crippled for life by Key West police officers who used excessive force during a wrongful arrest back in May 1996. No charges were ever filed against the victim. No internal investigation was ever conducted by the KWPD.

At this point, would it surprise you to learn that Key West police officers even beat up a blind man? Well, this headline appeared in the June 21, 2002, issue of the Blue Paper: “Blind Man Abused by Police May Sue.” Three Key West police officers were involved in slamming Robert Jacobs to the ground and carting him off to jail. Jacobs, 44, is blind. Jacobs’ companion said the altercation occurred after a police car almost ran them down and Jacobs became angry and hit the hood of the police car with his cane. Police charged Jacobs with criminal mischief and resisting arrest without violence. State Attorney Mark Kohl refused to prosecute, however. None of the officers involved were ever disciplined.

Finally, you certainly may not be surprised at the following headline that appeared in our October 25, 2002 issue: “Pattern & Practice Within the Police Department / Falsification, Coverup & Conspiracy.”

So, if there was ever a right time for Key Westers to demand the creation of an independent police oversight board, 2002 was that time. And the Key West City Charter provided a way to do it. You may or may not know that the City Charter includes a wondrous provision that allows citizens to make law. Here is how that works. A group of citizens can form a committee and simply ask the City Commission to pass a law. If the Commission agrees that such a law is needed and passes the law, that’s the end of the matter. But if the Commission fails to act, the citizen committee can launch a petition drive to try to get the question on the ballot for the next election..So a group of Key Westers formed a committee they called The Committee for a Citizen Review Board (CCRB). It was co-chaired by Attorney Sam Kaufman and black activist Peggy Grant. They asked the City Commission to create some kind of police oversight board to make sure that citizen complaints were given fair consideration. The committee would have probably been reasonably happy with almost anything– even something like a semi-toothless board controlled by City Manager Avael, known to be in the pocket of the police union. But Weekley, Avael and Dillon opposed even that– and the City Commission took no action.

At this point, the members of the CCRB could have just laid down and played dead. But they didn’t. With the help of several lawyers on the committee, they wrote a law that would create an independent CRB. Their proposed law would even give the CRB subpoena power. Then they attached the proposed law to petitions and began to collect signatures to try to get the question on the ballot for the next election– November 2002. Signatures were submitted to the office of the Supervisor of Elections weekly to ensure that those signing the petition were registered voters in Key West. A large percentage were rejected, however, often because they were unreadable. Committee members learned not to collect signatures in bars. In any event, when the deadline to qualify to get the CRB question on the ballot came and went, the CCRB was short by a hundred or so signatures. CCRB members were disappointed, but they vowed to try again the following year.

But wait! As it turned out, the members of the City Commission wanted to get a couple of questions on the ballot and they, too, had missed the deadline– so they asked then-Supervisor of Elections Harry Sawyer to extend the deadline. Harry told them that he would be glad to do that, but that he would also have to extend the deadline for the CCRB. Good golly, Miss Molly! Mayor Weekley protested, arguing that any deadline extension should be for the City Commission only. But Harry stood firm. As a result, it only took the CCRB a few days to collect the additional signatures needed.

But then came the real challenge for the members of the CCRB. They now had to figure out how to conduct a real election campaign to convince potential voters to vote “yes” to create a CRB. And they had virtually no budget for ads, yard signs and all the other stuff needed to run an election campaign. But the other side had no budget problem. The police union spent thousands on big ads telling voters to “Back the Blue” by voting “no” on a CRB. Some Key West police officers, on duty and in uniform, went door-to-door promoting a “no” vote. Mayor Weekley and Police Chief Dillon had weekly slots on Bill Becker’s morning radio show, and much of that time was spent promoting a “no” vote on the CRB issue. City Manager Avael also used his TV show to promote a “no” vote.

On the vote-yes side, the CCRB was able to raise enough money for a few ads in the daily paper and some small yard signs. And the Blue Paper donated one or two pages a week to the campaign. But as far as campaign visibility was concerned, the no-vote people were stomping the CCRB into the ground. But a funny thing happened on election day 2002. More than 60 percent of the voters who went to the polls voted “yes” to create a CRB! A landslide victory!

Another funny thing happened when members of the CCRB took a copy of the law they had written into then-City Attorney Bob Tischenkel’s office on the morning after the election. As background, you need to know that the City Charter provision that allows citizens to make law spells out two forms of law that can be made– a simple ordinance and an amendment to the Charter. There’s a lot of difference between the two. The City Commission can gut an ordinance at will. But to change any part of an amendment to the Charter requires another vote of the people. So, when the members of the CCRB handed Tischenkel a copy of the law recently approved by the voters, they emphasized to him that it was an amendment to the Charter. “No it’s not,” he responded. “It’s an ordinance.”

“Look at the title at the top of the petition signed by the voters,” members of the CCRB pointed out. “It says ‘Amendment to the City Charter.” They said later that they could see the blood seem to drain out of Tischenkel’s face.

How did the law to create a CRB turn out to be an amendment to the City Charter rather than a simple ordinance? Here’s the inside skinny. The Charter says that, when a citizen committee wants to launch a petition drive to try to create a new law, the City Clerk must write the petition language and provide the petitions. But back in 2002, City Clerk Cheri Smith said she was too busy to do that and, instead, simply provided samples of previous petitions. And it just so happens that all of the samples she provided were headlined “Amendment to the City Charter.” So the members of the CCRB who were writing the proposed law simply copied the headline from the sample petitions provided by City Clerk Smith.

NOTE: Although this is a history story dating back 13 years, a couple of the players are still active in City government. Jimmy Weekley is no longer mayor but he is still on the City Commission and Cheri Smith is still City Clerk. And if you are keeping up with current news, you know that they were both members of the Canvassing Board who voted, after the City elections two weeks ago that Bob Dean lives in that little apartment on Bahama Street in Key West and not with his wife in that big house in Key Haven, which is outside the Key West city limits. I’m just sayin’ . . .

Because the Key West CRB was created by the people and not the government, it is often used as a model for police oversight boards being created in cities all around the country. In addition to reviewing and investigating complaints, the board also has the authority to make recommendations concerning police policy. Also, CRB rules have recently been amended to give the board the authority to investigate certain events without a citizen complaint.

But some critics of the CRB here have alleged that the CRB is weak–virtually toothless– because members can only make recommendations to the police chief, rather than implement punitive action against rogue police officers. But keep in mind that the findings and recommendations that come out of the CRB are public. And that the police chief has to respond to these recommendations within 30 days. And his response is also public. And transparency is power. Also keep in mind that the CRB’s recommendations can also be forwarded to other law enforcement agencies, such as the State Attorney’s office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and even the U.S,Department of Justice (DOJ). In fact, the DOJ is currently investigating the Charles Eimers case after receiving a complaint from the Key West CRB. Eimers died while being arrested by KWPD officers on Thanksgiving Day 2013. Subsequently, the City of Key West paid the Eimers family $900,000.

But even fans of the CRB are sometimes critical of the fact that the members of the board dismiss more citizen complaints than they sustain. Just last June, many Key Westers were aghast when the CRB voted 4-2 to exonerate the officer who tased Matthew Murphy back in 2011. Murphy remains in a Jacksonville hospital in a vegetative state. A federal lawsuit is reportedly pending. But the CRB was not created to simply “get” cops. It was created to give citizens a place to go if they feel that they have been treated unfairly by the KWPD. But complaints are often insufficient and/or there may simply not be enough evidence to prove anything. And, of course, most cops flatly refuse to cooperate with the CRB, on advice of the police union. Add to this the fact that the CRB is hardly one of the City’s big-budget departments. The board’s $77,000 budget barely covers the salary of the Executive Director, basic attorney’s fees and other basic expenses. The CRB simply does not have the money to finance complicated independent investigations.

But the Key West CRB is still a big deal! Just ask any of the “founders”– the members of the Committee for a Citizen Review Board (CCRB)– one of which has just been elected to the City Commission. They will simply remind you of how it was back in 2002, when citizen complaints often just disappeared into a black hole inside the police department. And there is one more fact. According to NACOLE, the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, the mere existence of a civilian police oversight board changes police behavior.

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Dennis Reeves Cooper
IN THE PHOTO: DENNIS REEVES COOPER PH.D AND BILL O'REILLY. Dr. Cooper founded Key West The Newspaper in 1994 and published the paper for 18 years, until he retired in 2012. In 2001, Key West Police Chief Buz Dillon had Cooper arrested and jailed, alleging that Cooper had violated an obscure state gag law when writing about a police investigation. The journalist-arrested story hit the national news and Bill O'reilly called and invited Cooper to appear on his show on Fox News. Dillon was also invited to appear, but refused the invitation. O'Reilly suggested that Dillon was "hiding under his desk." The ACLU also called and offered to sue the City of Key West on Cooper's behalf. Subsequently, the gag law was declared unconstitutional and the City settled out of court for $240,000. Also, the arrest was a factor in the creation of an independent police oversight board-- the Citizen Review Board (CRB)-- by Key West voters in November 2002. By that time, Buz Dillon had been unceremoniously fired.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------More Articles By Dennis Reeves Cooper prior to November, 2014.
 October 23, 2015  Posted by at 12:36 am * Featured Story *, Issue #137  Add comments

  17 Responses to “What You May Not Know About the Citizen Review Board”

  1. This has to be one of the most informative articles the Blue Paper has written. Not only does it explain the courageous formation of the CRB and how they were able to overcome those challenges but it gives an insight as to how KW law enforcement existed only a little over a decade ago, for those who may not have lived here at that time.
    Such drama for such a small community!

  2. Great history lesson, Thank you. Pleased as punch we have a CRB at all, but when a member says things like, “We shouldn’t be second guessing officers reactions to events on the street” in defense of tasering a person into a vegetative state, what IS their purpose?

  3. Thank you, Dennis, for this fun remembrance, I think you understate, a bit, just how much you personally contributed to the CRB referendum passing. It indeed was a WAR, City Hall, KWPD and the police union were really upset about the CRB getting on the ballot, and did not surrender quietly after the referendum passed. I find myself wondering now, if it was during that Category 5 hurricane that the blue paper’s slogan, WHERE JOURNALISM IS A CONTACT SPORT, came into being? There was plenty of contact back then, and it continued with you at the helm, and continues today under Arnaud and Naja Girard’s stewardship of what you started, Dennis, and you are still pounding away when the mood strikes you to come out of “retirement”.

  4. Looks like the “CULTURE OF CORRUPTION” has always been in Key West and really never broken.

  5. Excellent summation of the history and the players back then. Some are still around, like Weekly unfortunately ,but glad Sam Kaufman is there on the commission now to keep things honest. I wonder why neither he nor anyone else has said nothing about the recent canvassing board decision ‘re Bob Dean and the mess at FKAA.
    Somebody has to soon as it part and parcel of a City government gone bad. Thank goodness we have a good investigative Blue Paper. ” You know?”

  6. Invaluable history, thank you. Martha Huggins

  7. Have any of CRB votes had any effect? It seems CRB is made by commissioners. Commissioners dont want police in trouble. There is even police and retired police on CRB. How do they vote? CRB maybe better than nothing, but not much. And KWPD still corrupt.

    • Agreed, Contra Puncto…I believe it was the retired law enforcement officer that made the statement I referred to…“We shouldn’t be second guessing officers reactions to events on the street”. Then what in hell are you there for?

  8. It is needed but does not seem to control the major corruption of this city. Eimers is very dead and video leaves no question as to he was murdered.
    Dean ( jim bob ) has got away with fraud and nobody will go after him.

    The CRB seems to be a fox guarding the hen house. When will the people start demanding action ? Seems like this is a family of corruption in every department and they cover each other for everything.

  9. It’s a stretch for me to bang the CRB for the Dean case, although I suppose the CRB could, note I said could, not will, investigate why KWPD has not arrested Bob Dean, and the Canvassing Board (City Commissioners Jimmy Weekley and Clayton Lopez and City Clerk Cheryl Smith) for the local version of racketeering, criminal conspiracy, etc. Even if the CRB did that, it would have no power to make KWPD do anything, but at least KWPD and the Dean Machine would be put into the same bed together, in plain view. The only way I see for Key West residents to gain justice in Deangate, is to not reelect Jimmy Weekly and Clayton Lopez. However, and in the meanwhile, disgruntled Key West voters could attend city commission meetings, and during closing citizen comments, when citizens can speak for 3 minutes on any topic to the mayor and the city city commissioners, while their comments are being broadcast on the local TV station, and say just how disappointed they are in the mayor and the 6 now sitting commissioners, for not expressing their own official and personal outrage over Deangate and the need for Weekley and Lopez and Smith to resign immediately from the Canvassing Board, or be replaced at the next legal opportunity. I feel remiss in not already having run down how the Canvassing Board members are selected, and by whom, but it would seem it is done within the city government, and thus the mayor and city commissioners are where the buck finally stops. So that’s where people not happy with Deangate need to file their complaints, in public, on local TV, during closing citizen comments at a city commission meeting; and later at the polls.

  10. If you folks have not see it, you might wish to go to the Monroe County Sheriff Facebook page and read the post about Timothy Thomas, who shot a deputy and then was captured, and the many reader comments, many of which are unconditional praise for KWPD and the Sheriff. My comments praise the Sheriff, but wonder how the capture of Thomas might have gone, if the Sheriff had not been involved. I still say KWPD should be banned and the city should hire the Sheriff to provide the city’s law enforcement, like the Sheriff does everywhere else in the Florida Keys, including the incorporated cities of Marathon, Layton and Islamorada.

  11. While I do find the KWPD to be very corrupt and many need charged with felony and sent to prison it is important for such a party town to have it’s own PD. The problem is they are not getting prosecuted by Vogel.
    The real question is how the wrong people get voted into office. By letting Dean vote he has stole the strength of each qualified voter.
    Maybe the real issue is who is counting the votes and how many more non qualified voters like Dean are voting. This is going to take months and years to ever fix all of the corruption. If the feds get enough complaints then maybe it will come to and end.
    What Dean did is make a joke out of the system. Never any question as he does not live in KW.
    On an average I pay rent for about 30 days a year in oldtown and more qualified than Dean as a resident.

    • Jiminkeywest, why is it important for KW to have its own PD? Marathon, Layton and Islamorada, which are incorporated cities, don’t have their own PD. They pay the Sheriff to be their local PD. As does The Sheriff also is the PD inside the gated private city, Ocean Reef Club, on the northeast end of Key Largo. KW could do the same. And should, if it wants to have the kind of law enforcement the rest of the Florida Keys enjoy.
      You might turn blue holding your breath waiting on the feds to come in and straighten KWPD out. What needs to be straightened out is the people who run the city: the mayor and city commissioners, who hire the city manager, who hires the police chief, who hires the police officers. All the uproar the blue paper has caused with its reporting of KWPD wayward cowboy cops, and I have yet to see, or hear, of one person living in Key West, other than myself, tell the mayor and city commissioners at a city commission meeting, they all should resign for the way they held silent about KWPD killing Charles Eimers. What I come away from that with is, I’m the only person I know, or know of, who feels the mayor and city commissioners, who were in office when the blue paper broke the Charles Eimers story, should be voted out of office, who have not already left office.
      And they, and the three new commissioners, one of whom is my lawyer and a good friend, Sam Kaufman, should be voted out of office if they don’t remove commissioners Jimmy Weekley and Clayton Lopez, and City Clerk Cheryl Smith, from the city’s Canvassing Board, and appoint to it people who are not bought off, or loyal to Conch ways above all other ways, to be in the Canvassing Board.
      Some people who would make great Canvassing Board members are Tom Milone, Naja Girard and me. However, we three would make far better elected city officials. Tom probably is still crazy enough to want to be a city commissioner. Naja and I may not yet be crazy enough.
      I would have included Christine Russell, in that recommendation, but she is trying to move away from Key West, because she is fed up with its politics, she keeps telling me. She seems to be regaining her sanity, one step at a time, even though sometimes she seems to take a step backward, before taking to steps toward the exit door.

      • Jiminkeywest, why is it important for KW to have its own PD? Marathon, Layton and Islamorada, which are incorporated cities, don’t have their own PD. They pay the Sheriff to be their local PD. The Sheriff also is the PD inside the gated private city, Ocean Reef Club, on the northeast end of Key Largo. KW could do the same. And should, if it wants to have the kind of law enforcement the rest of the Florida Keys enjoy.
        You might turn blue holding your breath waiting on the feds to come in and straighten KWPD out. What needs to be straightened out is the people who run the city: the mayor and city commissioners, who hire the city manager, who hires the police chief, who hires the police officers. All the uproar the blue paper has caused with its reporting of KWPD wayward cowboy cops, and I have yet to see, or hear, of one person living in Key West, other than myself, tell the mayor and city commissioners at a city commission meeting, they all should resign for the way they held silent about KWPD killing Charles Eimers.
        What I come away from that with is, I’m the only person I know, or know of, who feels the mayor and city commissioners, who were in office when the blue paper broke the Charles Eimers story, should be voted out of office, who have not already left office.
        And they, and the three new commissioners, one of whom is my lawyer and good friend, Sam Kaufman, should be voted out of office, if they don’t remove commissioners Jimmy Weekley and Clayton Lopez, and City Clerk Cheryl Smith, from the city’s Canvassing Board, and appoint to it people who are not bought off, or loyal to conch ways above all other ways, to be in the Canvassing Board.
        Some people who would make great Canvassing Board members are Tom Milone, Naja Girard and me. However, we three would make far better elected city officials. Tom probably is still crazy enough to want to be a city commissioner. Naja and I may not yet be crazy enough.
        I would have included Christine Russell, in that recommendation, but she is trying to move away from Key West, because she is fed up with KW’s politics, she keeps telling me. She seems to be regaining her sanity, one step at a time, even though sometimes she seems to take a step backward, before taking two steps toward the exit door.

        • Check out how London cops subdued a crazed man wielding a machete on a city street:

          https://www.facebook.com/swaggajones/videos/10207974294937730/

          I wrote back to my Irish-American FB friend, a vicious van dweller criminal in Key West during the cooler months, who had provided the video:

          “What, Victor, you are trying to incite a riot in American police departments? Or heresy? or Sanity? Shamus on you. If that crazed fellow had done that on Duval Street, he would would have been tasered, if he was lucky. Unlucky, shot full of holes, and perhaps a few people near him, too. And where did the cops take him after they subdued him without killing or apparently even harming him? To jail? No. To a hospital? Yes.”

  12. Police receive promotions and pay raises based on their arrest/ conviction ratios. The more summonses and arrest they make,the higher propensity for them to make more money and promotions.

    If the police are called for a neighbor dispute,they are not going to be interested in making peace when they have a chance of making an arrest.