Underwriting Key West’s Police Brutality

by Martha K. Huggins, Ph.D.*
Tulane University Emerita………….

hgwQmOY4_400x400The Key West Citizen wrote on January 30—after The Blue Paper had broken this news many hours before—that a $900,000 settlement had been “hammered out” in the Charles Eimers’ wrongful death suit against the City of Key West. Key West’s Police Chief Donie Lee finds the payout a “difficult decision to accept” but understands that the city’s insurer made a “business decision.” Spokeswoman Allison Crean claims that, “No taxpayer dollars are involved in the settlement.” She adds that, “Mounting legal costs were the reason the city’s insurance carrier ‘made a business decision to settle’.” Chief Lee and his police will not have to assume responsibility for the deadly outcome of Eimers’ police Taser take-down and death-by-smothering. Who’s left to clean up this civil rights case? The taxpayers!

Taxpayer monies absolutely are part of Eimers’ wrongful death settlement. Between 2011 and 2013 Key West City government used our taxes to pay Preferred Government Insurance Trust $142,118 for law enforcement-related liability insurance policies. This insurance does not cover rank-and-file police; it protects only Key West government and its officials–and very likely Chief Donie Lee as well—against police brutality’s possibly expensive economic blow-back. The combined annual cost of the city’s four police liability policies increased just a little over $2K between 2011 and 2012, but the total cost shot up $15K between 2012 and 2013, in other words, by more than 11% in one year. One can expect a similar or even larger escalation for 2015 and thereafter due to the Eimers’ settlement and any other police abuse suits the city loses or mediates away.

But not all Key West taxpayers bear an equal economic burden. As in other US cities, it is Key West’s poorer and struggling middle class families who pay disproportionately the taxes–excise, food, rental, property—that protect Key West government against known police lawlessness. The Conch Republic’s richer residents have a lower proportion of their family incomes burdened by such taxes. Historically, nationally and in Key West wealthier Americans are proportionally much less likely to be victims of police brutality while poorer and middle-class people are far more likely to be such victims.

An additional cost of police misconduct results from the fact that most liability insurers stipulate (and state law usually requires) that an insured state, county, or municipal government must also set aside each year a mandated amount–often between one-third and two-thirds of the previous two- or three-year’s real or expected police brutality payouts–to cover the next year’s potential losses. This self-insured retention (SIR), as insurers call it, goes into the insured government’s ‘reserve’ fund to pay possible court judgments, settlements, and legal fees related to police violations of civil rights, up to the amount at which a government’s insurance policy kicks in above the SIR (‘deductable’). All of Key West’s law enforcement liability policies have such a SIR, hence the city must use its taxpayer-fed reserve to pay part of the Eimers’ lawsuit indemnification.

While writing a book, Underwriting Police Brutality, I’ve plodded through US city, county, and state laws, struggled with opaque and misleading municipal and state budgets, and pestered large corporate insurers to release some well-guarded facts. Through a public records request last April I learned of Key West government’s four law enforcement-related insurance policies: General Liability and Law Enforcement Liability, and Public Officials’ Errors and Omissions (E&O), and Directors’ and Officers’ (D&O) insurance. Key West thus insures against its executives against its cops’ expected lawlessness.

The cops themselves have to purchase their own costly liability insurance—although most do not. When a suit is brought against police they either hire their own attorney or they get one from their powerful Police Benevolent Association (PBA)—as Key West’s Officer Lovette is reported to have done. Some US law enforcement officers have let themselves be represented by one of their state or local government’s own attorneys, only to realize too late that this is a serious conflict of interests. A government’s interests are usually at odds with those of its defendant cop, whose illegalities–if well-documented– could bring down political and police superiors. Someone’s got to take the fall and in the Eimers case, Officer Lovell is doing that. This ‘one bad cop’s’ ultimately well documented actions could well divert public attention from the real foundations of police lawlessness—powerful exclusionist real estate and tourism pressure groups and the politicians, government officials who work for them, and the voters who support this faction—leaving police with the onerous task of controlling at any expense those excluded from civil society.

‘Avoid a trial at any cost,’ is the mantra of police brutality insurers and their government clients. Therefore, they assign to law enforcement the initial work of covering up evidence. Clearly Charles Eimers’ death by Key West police was quickly (and literally) “slabbed”—laid to rest—when his body was taken to a mortuary rather than for forensic evidence collection . Thereafter, evidence that came to light was ignored or hidden in bureaucratic finagling, crucial facts were denied, and other alleged facts were cooked up. If Key West’s Blue Paper had not short-circuited media, police, state, and Key West city government efforts to kill serious investigations into Eimers’ slaying, his death by police would have remained, at best, a mystery. Key West’s Blue Paper acted as a free and critical press which is our best asset for holding local governments to a democratic standard.

Yet why wouldn’t a city’s executives want police brutality law suits to disappear? Payouts, a volatile expense for state and local governments and their taxpayers, can quickly devolve into new expenses. In most US municipalities if the government cannot disperse its part of a lump-sum settlement it is required to pay the awardee annual interest on the settlements remaining debt. Cities with lawsuit payouts that exceed their ability to pay issue bonds to cover the exponentially higher settlement costs and interest attached to them—Chicago, no stranger to police violations of civilians’ civil rights, recently sold almost $1 billion in general obligation bonds—these and other such bonds are usually backed by property tax payments–just to pay the law suits resulting from Chicago’s ‘finest’ torturing largely poor, often older, black men. Los Angeles officials tried unsuccessfully to divert federal funds slated for a ‘No Smoking’ campaign to cover the city’s police violence lawsuits. And in 2013, Fullerton, California, with a predominately urban population of almost 139,000, had to sell over $7 million in bonds to cover two liability suits–one of these a $1 million settlement involving police brutality. Issuing such bonds to pay settlements and court judgments resulting from police violations of civil rights, locks a city’s taxpayers into decades of debt service payments. Fullerton City’s bonds, with an interest rate of up to 6% to be paid over a 20 year period, left that city’s taxpayers forking out $550,000 in debt service annually. Police brutality creates the pounding headache that that never goes away: As taxpayers foot the bill for old settlements and court judgments, new police brutality suits are added and these along with older ones often come with interest payments.

Using tax dollars to pay police brutality settlements and judgments turns Key West’s taxpayers into police brutality underwriters. In my opinion, we should instead be dedicating tax monies to Key West’s underfunded and racially segregated schools and toward creating adequate public workforce housing. The next time Key West claims it is without funds to invest in the improvements you want, ask what portion of your taxes go instead toward paying expected and actual local police brutality’s costs.

Insuring Key West against the economic costs of police brutality is predicated upon the actuarial assumption that police civil rights violations are inevitable. Indeed, Eugene O’Donnell, former NYPD officer and prosecutor, who is a professor at New York City’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, argues that “Brutality is part of the police job.” Yet by buying into this mind-set taxpayers become partners in allowing and hiding police violations of civil rights: Impunity, fed by a lack of consequences for police brutality, breeds more police lawlessness. And while it seems–as liability insurers and city managers often claim–that lawsuits have become a US “cottage industry,” in fact only a small fraction of police brutality’s aggrieved victims even file a suit, with few of these suits ever becoming viable, and then only a small portion of these receive a court-mandated judgment or settlement. Meanwhile, those risk-managing public images of blame for lawsuit costs promote the claim that, ‘Everyone wants to sue and predatory lawyers reap the gains.’

In fact, insurers and their actuaries know that police civil rights violations occur regularly in the US. Corporate liability insurers recognize that police lawlessness is institutionally rooted in what some criminologists call a “defensive bureaucracy,” which is why police organizations do not yield to transparency. This protects illegal police actions which often emanate from the implicit and explicit commands of higher-ups. If police brutality were merely an unusual, atypical action of ‘a few bad cops,’ as we are regularly told, then there would be no need for corporate insurers and their agents to develop new police liability insurance lines, or to tweak existing ones to enhance client affordability, or to–as insurers say– “prospect” for new government clients. Police liability insurers need police lawlessness, or at least a government’s fear of its consequences, to grow their client liability insurance base. In turn, police liability insurers protect themselves against catastrophic losses—as these are defined by the profit/loss expectations of their boards of directors—by taking out a “reinsurance” policy that transfers some of their risk to other insurers or alternative institutions. And of course police liability insurers also off-set risk by wagering on the stock market to (hopefully) fatten their holdings against multiple insurers’ catastrophic disasters.

Key West’s Citizen Review Board (CRB) is right to finally request an FBI investigation into Charles Eimers’ death. The Monroe County Commissioners should support this initiative; it might uncover and disclose new information for the CRB, the latter is yet another, albeit small, taxpayer cost generated by the past police lawlessness in Key West. All Keywesters will continue paying the moral costs of Eimers’ death. Lawless police, with their Superintendents, Chiefs, and Commanders, and the other public officials who enable and hide police lawlessness, as well as bystander taxpayers who fail to question where their taxes are going, weaken the quality of America’s already very imperfect democracy.

Using city revenues to manage and thus hide, rather than eliminate, police lawlessness is one of the greatest threats to democracy on streets, parks, and beaches where most Keywesters live. Public police actions powerfully communicate for all to see, which people have rights—“good citizens”– and which people do not—the apparent and actual homeless, the assumed and actually mentally ill, and poor people of color whose status as ‘matter out of place’ offends business and public consciousness.

*Martha K Huggins’ 8 books and numerous articles have been published in the US and internationally. Writing on human rights, her 40-year research and college and university career (Union College, Schenectady, NY and Tulane University, (New Orleans, LA) have focused on police violence in the US and Brazil.



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22 thoughts on “Underwriting Key West’s Police Brutality

  1. excellent summary of information and I for one thank you m k huggins for your research, knowledge, deduction and insight.
    one observation though…as in the next to last para “weaken the quality of America’s already very imperfect democracy” I would proffer that this nation was not founded on ‘democracy’ but as a ‘constitutional republic’ that is being dramatically weakened with all its participants originally mandated equal under the law unlike today whereas the ‘elites’ get a free pass and a get out of jail free card. this eimers case is no different in what officials do and have done up and down the line from the police chief to fdle to the state attorney in their immoral and unethical cover up and sidestepping dance designed to avoid the prosecution of the guilty. a pathetic stain on the scales of justice.

    1. wankajam, thanks for your penetrating thoughts, I appreciate them. Yes, elites get a free pass, yes democracy is incomplete and flawed, yes justice is fractured. I guess that is my next subject? Why don’t you instead write on it for me? Regards, Martha

      1. ‘write of it for you’? oh no martha I would never be that presumptuous and furthermore I’m a weak writer to boot. but I do tend to comment on subjects near and dear to me as in the eimers case. best of cheers dear lady. wjm

  2. Thank you, Martha, for weighing in on the details and big picture regarding the Eimers settlement. Really, stunning in its implications. Police brutality in my country has been successfully institutionalized as another big business.

    Fellow readers, this is a NYT-level analysis. Thanks to Blue Paper for getting Dr. Huggins on board.

    1. Mr. Boettger, I am overwhelmed by your kindness. As for the NYT, they have rejected my submissions for 35 years–I’m just not sufficiently conservative for them I have admired your work for so long and plan to use (with attribution to you) a phrase that you use in your comment: “Police brutality in my country has been successfully institutionalized as another big business.”

      Below is my recent piece to the NYT that was not published. It was published in an important Brazilian newspaper, after I translated it to Portuguese

      Thinly Veiled Anti-Communism Will Back-Fire in Brazil

      On Sunday 12/28/2014 the New York Times Published an Editorial, “Shifting Dynamics for Cuba’s Dissidents.”http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/28/opinion/sunday/shifting-dynamics-for-cubas-dissidents.html?_r=0


      Thinly Veiled Anti-Communism Will Back-Fire in Brazil

      Martha K. Huggins,
      Member, University of Sao Paulo’s Cold War Research Group

      The New York Times (Editorial 12/28/2014: 18) urges Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff to “speak up unequivocally for democratic values that are embraced by most nations in the Americas…and be [a] strong champion…of Cuba’s opposition leaders….” After all, “as a former political prisoner, a leftist and the leader of one of Cuba’s main trading allies,” President Dilma would “arguably carry the most weight” in supporting Cuban dissidents who want political change in their country. Isn’t there a contradiction between Brazil’s (and the rest of Latin America’s) awful experience with US interference into their internal affairs and asking them to do likewise in Cuba?

      The NYT’s editorial declares pontifically that, in Cuba, “State surveillance is widely assumed to be so pervasive that…wary Cubans pop out the batteries of their cell phones if they want to speak privately, fearing that the state’s extensive armies of domestic spies can listen in on virtually anyone at any time.” One can be sure that Brazil’s president has not forgotten that the US National Security Agency (NSA) tapped into her personal phone conversations. NSA’s spying on President Dilma, not to speak of US citizens in North America, may have left her inured to the New York Times’ self-serving images of Cuban government surveillance.

      Brazil knows all too well the dangers from Cold War thinking about politics. Brazilian General Carlos Brilhante Ustra, who headed Sao Paulo’s murderous DOI/CODI—an organization with which the US had interactions including during the period that its agents were torturing Dilma–was out to cleanse his country of political enemies—-communists, ‘rebels,’ and students labeled ‘leftists.’ The NYT goads those Latin American governments that it says have previously “coddled, or appeased, the Castro regime” to become “strong champions of Cuba’s opposition leaders….” This seems to assume that naive Latin American leaders living under the overarching might of the US never had any politically-reasoned strategies for their geo-political actions. Hardly the way in the 21st century to get Latin American leaders to do US bidding. President Dilma, the Brazilian Congress, and the people of Latin America’s biggest democracy will surely see through the NY Times’ condescending invitation.
      Identifying Brazil as among the countries that have shown a “traditional reluctance to meddle in other countries’ internal affairs,” Brazil is asked to do just that. Yet many Brazilians–especially after release of Camillo Tavares’ film, “The Day That Lasted 21 Years,” remember with great caution US having assisted elements within Brazil’s military in toppling their country’s democratically-elected President João Goulart. That 1964 golpe began a US-supported internal war against Brazilian citizens that lasted over two decades; the military regime’s human rights abuses are systematically documented in a report recently released by Brazil’s National Truth Commission. Something tells me that President Dilma will not fall for the NYT’s trap: She’s too smart to do such a thing and her country is too politically savvy to let her.

      Martha K. Huggins, living 90 miles from Cuba, is a researcher with the Universidade de São Paulo’s Cold War Group. Having written extensively for 40 years on human rights in Brazil, two of her 7 books focus specifically on torture and killing of assumed dissidents there, Political Policing: The US and Latin America (Duke, 1998) and Violence Workers: Brazilian Torturers and Murders Reconstruct Brazilian Atrocities (U of California Press, 2002).

  3. “Taxpayers money is not used to pay off police brutality law suits.” Just another misleading lie from our Key West police. I am so sorry for Chief Donnie Lee having to struggle with his “difficult decision to accept” ($900 large payout) and subsequent capitulation as a “business decision” by the insurers. DOJ, where are you?

    Ms. Huggins, thank you for this well researched and clear journalistic analysis of the police brutality business. It would appear business in good! Right here in our “One Human Family” of Key West and all over our fading republic. I find it utterly repulsive that Charles Eimers’ death at the hands of the KWPD is treated as nothing more than damage control and business as usual. Disgusting.

    1. Dear Mr. Symington, Alex, Your observations on my piece are invaluable, thank you. I am energized every time I read your rich contributions to The Blue Paper. Thank you for keeping the fires of change burning. Martha (I use your statement, with attribution, “Charles Eimers’ death…is treated as nothing more than damage control and business as usual.” Yes, indeed it is and must be for business-as-usual governments to run and fool the public Martha

  4. I wonder how long Lovette will remain on the KWPD . Just maybe Capt. Lee is scared to fire him or been told not to untill the FBI is done. Firing the thug is about the same as saying he is guilty. Do hope come election day the voters remember what it cost them. Will any company insure KW after this case ? Tax payers get ready for huge increase in your taxes. I will not be happy untill Lovette is in prison with bubba. How can KW even thing of letting this thug walk the streets of KW with a loaded gun. The purjury cases are enough to fire many of the officers that were involved. Key West had better wake up fast. Your an easy target for a con artist to set you up for a lawsuit. They will have plenty of quality cams recording everything. WOW , taze a man on a bike if he runs a stop sign. Cavity search in public. I hope they read this and get a lawyer. Are the people of KW safe with a murderer walking the streets.

  5. Jiminkeywest your thoughts are compelling. Just some random speculations from me. I suspect that Lovette will not be fired, are there civil service rules in Fla? Usually a case must be heard by that Commission. This can take years to happen.

    I do not expect huge increases in insurance now. Key West is part of an “insurance pool” managed by Preferred Trust. This settlement could impact other member cities and entities of the trust first. I’m working on that angle still.

    Yes. Tax payers must speak up. Good for you for reminder. Thx for comments. Mh

  6. I would like to second Mr. Boettger’s praise of Martha K. Huggins’ writing skills and journalistic prowess. The Blue Paper and the reader at large are fortunate recipients of her vast experience and knowledge in matters of police misdeeds and violations of human rights. I hope this is only the first of many of her contributions to Blue. Thanks!

  7. You are likely correct on Lovette not going away soon and when he does he will resign so the KW tax payers can keep paying him. Any arrests he makes will be easy to beat in court as it is clear he will lie. The only hope KW has of ever regaining trust is to vote the problem makers out of office. They need someone alot better than Lee. He knows his department is corrupt and does not care. This case of murder is gaining attention fast and will start costing tourist dollars and then property values drop. The future of Key West is not looking bright. Up till now we loved KW and were thinking of buying a home. Those plans are on hold till we see how this ends. I trust the FBI if it looks into this case will bring Lovette to justice. They are dam lucky Eimers family settled so cheap. Think what would happen if awarded 10 mil. They better find the funds to buy better coverage before Lovette kills another. And had Eimers been black they would had a much bigger problem.

  8. This is an excellent and well researched article which totally lays to rest the fantasy floated by city officials that the $900,000 settlement in the Eimers’ case will not affect the taxpayers of Key West, and I thank Dr. Huggins for her insightful and well researched submission. However, to those people who seem to be relying on the FBI to achieve a level of justice in the case, I wish to differ, unless the current incarnation of the FBI is a much improved version of the FBI than the one that teamed with the U.S. Justice Department in the early 1980’s on the so-called “Bubba Bust” of then Deputy Chief of Police Raymond Casmayor and 21 other defendants, involving a massive cocaine distribution network run by Casamayor. For those readers unfamiliar with the case, the FBI and Justice Department flipped a prolific drug smuggler and CIA informant named Hector Serrano, set him up in business at the top of the drug trade in Key West, and then conspired with him to distribute more than 2,000 kilograms of cocaine through Casamayor for a two-year period, in what was reputed to be a sting operation to stem the flow of drugs into America and finally bring the deputy chief to justice. As the court and crime reporter for the Key West Citizen at the time, I heard it all in the 1985 trial in the U.S. District Court Building on Simonton Street. And it was a sordid tale indeed, with testimony that not only did Serrano have a direct link in the Reagan White House, but also with testimony that all the while he was working hand in hand with law enforcement to get the evidence needed to convict Casamayor, Serrano, who was living directly across the street from the school at the corner of Margaret and Southard Streets at the time, was also luring 12- and 13-year old boys and girls into his apartment and having sex with them in exchange for drugs, a situation of which the esteemed FBI and Justice Department were aware. The Casamayor case also speaks volumes to the rampant and pervasive corruption and cronyism that existed in the Key West Police Department for many years. I could go on and on with the many examples of the FBI and Justice Department taking great liberties with the law in order to gain convictions in this case, but I will spare you all the details and close with the thought that the people of Key West should not be getting their hopes up too high that the FBI will actually get to the bottom of the Eimers tragedy.

  9. Thanks for the kind words, Mr. Brownell. I appreciate your information and sadly I am well aware of the FBI’s failings nationally. I still think that some new facts may come out in an FBI investigation, which for me, is in itself a valid reason for their becoming involved in Key West Secondly, there could be a public spanking of local law enforcement and its ‘Brass’ for their illegal actions to reshape the Eimers’ case. May I be an informed dreamer?

    I wish I had been at the trial that you attended. I will try to access your news pieces from the day.

    I was stunned at what came out in the two trials that I attended in New Orleans–Henry Glover and Danziger Bridge. New Orleans cops (NOPD), as you know killed unarmed civilians in first the days after Katrina. In the end, after finally being found guilty in a federal civil rights trial, all but one of these cops got off on a technicality. Of course, if it hadn’t been for the investigative Journalism group, Pro Publica, and the work of outraged families of the dead and their allies in New Orleans and beyond, there would not have been an FBI investigation or a second trial. Power to investigative journalism (the Blue Paper in Key West) and to the people Martha

  10. while the topic of who bears the financial burden of police misconduct has relevancy, its salience is another question. pragmatically speaking, what is the direct effect of any police settlement on the individual taxpayer? we can all collectively be outraged at the $900,000 payout, and the possible premium increases the city may countenance, but the individual Key West citizen will be inconvenienced not a wit, nor encounter a financial fleecing any greater than a glass of beer at the Conch Republic during Happy Hour. The same can said for New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or any place else.

    Shaquille Boettger almost had it right when he said that police misconduct has been institutionalized as big business. police misconduct has been institutionalized to PROTECT big business. for those who do not know, police departments as we know them did not exist until the beginning of the industrial revolution. it was then, when the industrial class began to evolve, and the wage-labor dynamic of the economy began to develop, that the industrialists themselves began to finance police departments to protect their interests from the rabble they were economically leaving behind. it was true then, and it remains the purpose of police to this day.

    do you think it coincidence that the militarization of police has coincided with the deconstruction of america’s industrial base and its middle class? do you think it a coincidence that the brutality of police across the nation has been so endemic? do you think it a coincidence that the State has indemnified these murderous thugs?

    the mission of police departments across the nation is to protect and serve. but who??

    worrying about a few taxpayer dollars should be the least of our worries.

  11. Mr. Detorez, I know your site–I use it often for research. I have just added you to my twitter account @mdkhuggins. Thanks for replying. I am confused by your statement (referring to a cop shooting at a pet and killing a woman). Nice info is that what you refer to as “going all over the country ? Good work. Martha

  12. Frank, Thanks for the memories. It puts me right back in the good old Full Moon Saloon at United and Simonton. And just think … that was the Key West we loved. I wish we could have it back, minus the FBI informer … or maybe it is just my youth I’d like to have back. Good stuff Frank, and thanks.

  13. Frank, Your comment took me back to those days at the old Full Moon Saloon at United and Simonton … and, believe it or not, I feel nostalgic for those days. Corruption aside, nothing can replace one’s youth. Even if every bartender in town was selling blow in cahoots with the Chief of Police, it beats being an old fart.

  14. To all of you that have commented and patted each other on the back for all you inciteful comments. Who cares? The KWPD (and the city commission and mayor) are thugs on the level with Hitler’s Gestapo. It only takes being homeless for two weeks to realize this. I challenge any of you to live on the streets for even one week! Sleep at KOTS. Spend your days at Higg’s Beach or Bayfield Park, or at Mallory Square. Start the week with not a dime in your pocket. Only the clothes on your back or what you can carry. Then tell me about police brutality. I’ve lived in my Van until it was stolen then lived on the street until I left Key West because of the KWPD. Who will take this challenge? I know Sloan Bashinsky has made this challenge before and NO ONE took him up on it. The Mayor and the commissioners DO NOT care about the homeless!!! They want us to leave Key West.

    They want Key West to be the destination of the “Rich and Famous” We can only hope the “Rich and Famous” go swimming on the beach and contact MRSA and tell the world how dangerous Key West beaches are.

    No matter what the problems, Key West calls to me. I first visited Key West in the late 60’s A relative of mine lived in a condo across from Smathers. He ran drugs, he had his own twin engine plane, his fast boat, He knows the history of the “elite” in Key West. He’s 97 and not much longer to live. So all you high and mighty in Key West better hope he cashes it in before I have a chance to hear the rest of his truths. I original talked to him for a paper for my doctorate. Now I can’t use it. I have many recordings of our conversations. Be afraid commission, be very afraid! Maybe the current commission didn’t brake any laws, but their family did. I challenge any one of the commission to debate me on this. Have a Good Day!!!!!

  15. This is a very well written piece and extremely thought provoking. I bet very few property owners in Key West or in fact most of America know how police brutality and the judgement from lawsuits affect them.

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