(5:12) This clip tells the story of "The Miami River Murders," the case which exposed
widespread corruption in Miami's police force in the late 1980s.
Original Air Date: October 16, 1990
Produced by Charles C. Stuart and Marcia Vivancos
Written by Charles C. Stuart
In Los Angeles today, federal prosecutors introduced this videotape. It is
evidence, they say, of cops stealing drug money. Seven sheriffs deputies are
now on trial in Los Angeles, charged with stealing $1.4 million in drug money.
More than 30 narcotics officers here have been implicated in the largest
current police corruption scandal in the country.
Everybody must have known about it. Everybody must have been in on it. And you
can sure imagine that Sobel would like it to look that way, because he's so
dirty he wants everybody to be dirty.
Tonight on FRONTLINE, the story behind that L.A. scandal: how the war on drugs
is corrupting America's cops.
JIM WALSH, Federal Prosecutor:
Officers go into hotel rooms and find millions of dollars, literally. That's a
The FBI calls drugs and drug money "the number one threat to police
RICHARD WITT, Chief of Police, Hollywood, Florida:
Anyone who says, "I've never had that problem in my police department" should
add the operative word "yet."
Tonight, "When Cops Go Bad."
One summer day in 1985, a fishing boat called the Mary C slowly made its way up
the Miami River. It was loaded with $12 million worth of cocaine. In the 1970s,
the Miami River became a major port for smugglers importing large quantities of
cocaine and marijuana into the United States. From the Atlantic Ocean through
the city of Miami, the river is congested with boats from all over the world.
It is a natural place for smugglers to secretly unload illegal drugs.
Three miles up the river, the Mary C docked here at the Jones Boat Yard. That
night, six men started to offload the cocaine into a waiting van. At 2 o'clock
in the morning, something went wrong.
ALEX ALVAREZ, Metropolitan Police:
In July 29th, 1985, I was assigned to the homicide bureau on a special squad
known as "Centac 26." Our function was to investigate drug-related murders in
the Dade County area. On that afternoon, we were dispatched to the Miami River,
where three bodies were observed floating.
On the bodies detectives discovered beepers, money and guns. They suspected it
was just another drug deal gone bad, but the investigation quickly took an
unexpected turn. The night watchman told detectives that a dozen policemen had
raided the boat the night before and the smugglers had jumped overboard in a
They were afraid either from arrest or several of the witnesses--actually, one
witness even testified that the officers had their weapons drawn and were
yelling, "Kill them! Kill them!" as they approached. Fearing for their life and
their safety, they jumped into the water.
But when detectives went looking for a police report on the nighttime raid,
they couldn't find one. Then, a witness told them that 400 kilograms of cocaine
had been aboard. It was now missing. The suspects in the case were now the
It was obviously a very scary feeling to find out that there was police
officers involved. That was the last thing in any of us's mind when we started
investigating this case.
The officers under investigation were all recent recruits of the Miami Police
Department. Mike Exposito, head of internal affairs, worked with them.
MIKE EXPOSITO, Miami Police Department:
Well, you have all types. You have a person like Rudy Arias, you know, who was
a hard-working policeman. You know, Estrada was another one that was a
hard-working policeman. You had your others that weren't as hard-working and
were arrogant, your Oswaldo Coella's. Some of them are very nice people,
personally. I mean, you talk to them and you say, "Boy, this is an outstanding
young man," if you don't know them. And others are people that, you know, you
say, you know, "This person is a policeman?"
The way this group began was, first, they started by stopping people who looked
like drug dealers--stopping them in their police cars, pulling them over,
asking them for identification, searching their car for cash and--well, large
amounts of cash and drugs. And if they would find any of those two things, they
would eventually steal them and sell them or keep the cash.
The cops all worked the night shift in the Little Havana section of Miami. They
paid off the owner of a local bar to identify drug dealers for them to shake
down. But they wanted to make more money and so they went to the Miami River
and began to rip off entire boatloads of cocaine.
Depending on what activity or what incident they were involved in, we estimate
that the most that any of the officers made was $2 million, and the least that
any officer made was slightly over $100,000. So it varied between $100,000 and
$2 million per officer.
CLARENCE DON, Miami Chief of Police:
They got away with a lot, not just beginning in 1985, but from the time from
years back, starting from the early '80s this was going on.
Clarence Dixon had just been appointed chief of police.
But this time there was a slip-up. People got killed and they left shreddings
of evidence all over the place.
The case of the Miami River cops would quickly become one of the biggest and
most violent cases in the annals of police corruption. Fifteen officers were
initially arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison for up to 35 years. The
FBI entered the case. The investigation of corruption widened and eventually 80
police officers would be arrested, convicted or disciplined. At least 10
percent of the Miami police department was corrupt and one of the original
Miami River cops, Armando Garcia, is still at large today, one of the FBI's 10
most wanted fugitives.
You were not surprised?
RICHARD WITT, Chief of Police, Hollywood, Florida:
No one was surprised.
Richard Witt was director of training for the Miami Police.
We recognized that many of them lacked good, basic education. We recognized
that many of them lacked good, basic communication skills. We recognized that
few of them had any personal discipline. Our reference to them as time bombs
was exactly that. Sooner or later, they're going to go off. We just don't know
which of them are time bombs or when they're set to go off.
Most of the corrupt cops were among hundreds of new recruits who had been hired
to combat an astronomical increase in violent crime. By 1980, Miami had the
highest rates of drug traffic and murder in the nation, but the police had not
hired a new recruit in five years. So when the city finally decided to beef up
the department, 600 new officers were quickly hired, doubling the size of the
force in less than two years.
We ended up scraping the bottom of the barrel to do that, to accomplish what
our chief at that time committed us to.
More than one of them had backgrounds for having been gang members while in
high schools. More than one of them had been identified as a former, by a
former employer as having committed theft and other kinds of larceny.
It peaked and ripened and burst like a blister all over us. And it contaminated
everyone in the police department, the good guys and the bad.
The Miami River cops scandal also sounded an ominous warning for the rest of
the nation. As illegal drugs spread across the country, the potential for
police corruption would not be far behind.
DARYL GATES, Chief, Los Angeles Police:
Los Angeles, Southern California, is a distribution point for narcotics,
cocaine, in the United States. And Washington! Hey, Washington! Listen to us!
We need your help. We need your help.
In September of 1989, federal agents in Los Angeles seized 22 tons of cocaine
and more than $12 million in cash. It was the largest single drug seizure ever.
With this discovery, Los Angeles passed Miami and became the drug-trafficking
capital of the United States.
Daryl Gates is the chief of the Los Angeles police.
I look back 40 years ago and compare it to what we are faced with today, and
what the police officer's faced with today, and it's a total, complete change.
It's tougher out there, much more difficult, more crime, more violence, more
guns, more dope.
Sheriff's department, Sheriff's department, we have a search warrant! Open the
door! Get your hands up! Hey, they're heading for the bathroom! Get your hands
up. Get your hands up. Get your hands up.
We have two in the kitchen! Two in the kitchen. Hold on! Don't go in there.
Is there anybody outside we have to deal with? They're all pretty far away.
So what it means is that each year we're arresting over 50,000 people for drug
offenses. For years, we were seizing over seven to eight tons of cocaine in the
city, and large amounts of other kinds of narcotics. And that makes a lot of
work for a police department and a lot of social disintegration of a city that
should be, as its name implies, the "city of the angels."
Despite the record seizures of cocaine on the streets of Los Angeles, police
here estimate that they stop only 10 percent of the illegal drug traffic. Drugs
are the number one problem for the region's two main law enforcement agencies:
the Los Angeles Police and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. This is one of
20 squads of sheriff's deputies assigned full-time to stopping illegal drugs.
They routinely set up drug deals, often based on nothing more than a tip.
Eddie? You know what I need? I need a 20 black. OK. Bye.
Right now. Fernando. Whoever the hell he is. I mean, if he's as big sounding as
his voice is, man, this guy is going to be eight foot tall.
They work out of a trailer behind the Lennox station in south central Los
Angeles, the heart of gang territory. The squad concentrates on low-level
street dealers who sell small amounts of cocaine and heroin. Their strategy is
to demonstrate a commitment to the community by busting as many dealers as
possible in high visibility arrests. The pressure is never routine.
1st POLICE OFFICER:
You about ready?
2nd POLICE OFFICER:
I can't tell if he's got the hat off or not.
1st POLICE OFFICER:
Here's Chris walking. No, he hasn't got the hat. I'll give you the go. Go, go,
go, go, go!
2nd POLICE OFFICER:
Get your hands up! Get in the car! Get in the car! Get in the car!
1st POLICE OFFICER:
I couldn't see if you guys were going to see the high sign or not, man. I took
the hat off and put it on the car. Man, this guy's going, "No, something ain't
right, man." This guy knew what was up right away. There you go. [shows drugs]
You've got your 20 of heroin and your 20 of powder cocaine.
A second strategy developed in the mid-1980s as the Sheriff's Department began
discovering large amounts of drugs and money. Five hundred pounds of cocaine or
a half million dollars in cash were not uncommon seizures. So the Sheriff's
Department formed an elite squad of detectives to go after major drug dealers.
They called themselves "the Majors." They were the best of cops, cops like Dan
We were looking for certain cars coming out of certain areas, you know,
businesses that you know are associated with drug activity and profile those
people, follow them and do a work-up on them.
Garner's partner was Jim Bauder.
But after a period of time, I think most of us had a pretty good knack for, you
know, when the guy was up to something really wrong and when it was just
regular activity. That was kind of the trick, I would say, Dan, wouldn't
Dan Garner had been a deputy sheriff for more than a dozen years when he joined
the Majors squad. He is a Vietnam veteran and the father of two sons. For
deputies like Garner, the Majors was a prized job.
It's a little like hunting. I mean, you really, you bag your game on your
skill. I mean, you track it and you watch it. You've got to know when to pull
the trigger and when not to pull the trigger, and it's exciting.
Jim Bauder's father was also a cop. After seven years as a deputy, he joined
the Majors in 1987.
For me, I think it wasn't the same job every day. Every night, you'd get in a
radio car and you had no idea what was going to happen. And some nights were
kind of boring and other nights were really exciting, and I think that's the
lure for me more than anything else.
The Majors squads got results. This is one of their seizures. Finding half a
million dollars in a room was not unusual. Four million was their largest
single cash seizure.
What you'd do is, you'd find the money and, in our case, our sergeant, you'd
point the money out to him and he'd get the seizure bags that he had in his car
at all times, and we'd take that money and, it depended how he handled it.
Sometimes, we'd just throw the money in his car and he'd later bag it up and
sometimes he'd bag it right there. And so they'd take those bundles and they'd
throw them in the bag and they'd do what they call a "bundle count," just,
they'd guess, "This looks like $10,000 in hundreds." And we'd do a bundle count
and we'd seal that bag up and that money would be retained by our sergeant and
ultimately placed in the safe at our headquarters. And on some future day, a
forfeiture crew would count the money.
The counts were constantly off because if you count that large amount of money
five times in this room today, I bet we'll get five different counts. And we've
even taken money to the banks and they have to count it three and four times to
get it. So after a while, I mean, the discrepancy over or below doesn't
In 1987, the Sheriff's Department seized more than $26 million in drug money,
another $33 million in 1988. Cash seizures became the focus of Garner and
You see that there's big money out there, you want to seize the big money for
your department. For our unit, that was a sign of whether you were doing good
or poorly was how much money you seized and, you know, the kind of cases you
did. And my supervisor made it extremely clear that big money cases were a lot
more favorable for your overall evaluation than big dope cases.
Jim Walsh worked closely with the Majors. He is the chief federal prosecutor
for drug cases in Los Angeles.
JIM WALSH, Federal Prosecutor:
These people go out and they go into hotel rooms and find millions of dollars,
literally. I can think of a dozen occasions where officers have confronted, you
know, a million or more dollars. And who's going to miss it? That's tremendous
temptation. And it seems like everybody's making a lot of money except them,
and they're the guys who are taking the risks and chances. I don't offer any of
this by way of excuse or explanation for cops who yield to the temptation, but
it's part of the picture. You want to know about pressures, that's part of the
pressure, I think, the pressure of a guy trying to put a couple of kids through
college on a policeman's salary having to have his nose rubbed in it. It's a
dirty business all the way. It's a dirty and a corrupting business all the way
around. No matter who touches it, gets dirtied up a little bit by it.
One morning in September of last year in a suburban neighborhood an hour south
of Los Angeles, a dozen cars suddenly pulled up to this house. It was Dan
I'd gotten up and went to work that morning early. We were supposed to meet in
Downey on a surveillance and I was beeped by my wife. And she called me and
says, she was at work at that point in time, and says my son had called and
that the FBI and the IRS and all the cops in the world were at our house, had
surrounded our house.
Armed with a search warrant, the agents were looking for money, financial
records or anything else that might link Garner to the theft of over $1 million
in drug money.
Basically, you're numb. You don't know what's happening. And there was, by
conservative estimate, 10 to 12 people there and they're tearing everything out
of your drawers and out of your house and your clothes and your cars and
everything. And they took my work car, took everything out of it and spread it
up and down the street. And that's one thing that stands out in my mind. I was
standing in the hallway of my house and the FBI guy was telling me, he says,
"I'm going to put you away in prison for 50 years." And I looked at the
pictures of my kids on the wall and I remembered me lecturing them and I was
A stinging rebuke today for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. A long
investigation into drug money skimming culminated today in more than a dozen
Garner was not alone. In February, his entire squad was indicted on charges of
theft, conspiracy and the laundering of more than $1.4 million. According to
the indictment, the deputies skimmed large amounts of seized drug money before
turning it in to the department. Then they allegedly divided it among
themselves and bought boats, swimming pools, vacation homes and helicopter
lessons. Dan Garner is specifically accused of stealing more than $75,000. He
allegedly told another deputy, "I can make you rich." Jim Bauder is accused of
skimming almost $200,000, investing some of the money in a horse-racing
syndicate. According to the indictment, one deputy joked, "Here's your
Christmas bonus,)' and another said, "I stole so much, it scared me."
Since February, 16 more deputies have been suspended in the corruption
investigation. More indictments are expected soon. It is currently the largest
investigation of police corruption in the country.
They claim you were stealing money.
And were you?
Garner and Bauder maintain their innocence. They agreed to talk to FRONTLINE
only under conditions set by their lawyers. They would not answer any specific
questions about the case, but could talk about their work and the impact of the
And, of course, no information was really forthcoming other than you were
suspended and allegations of theft were in the air, and it was really tough.
And since that time, I still have bouts of, you know, being nervous and not
being able to sleep, but generally, I've just accepted my circumstances and
have resolved myself to fight, you know, fight my way out of them.
The government's chief witness against Bauder and Garner will be their
supervisor, Sergeant Robert Sobel. Sobel has already pled guilty to conspiracy
and tax evasion. In a statement, Sobel said currency skimming was the practice,
not a rarity. His lawyer told FRONTLINE that Sobel regrets his crimes and he
will cooperate fully with the prosecutors. After his arraignment, Garner said
no money was missing. If anything, it was simply miscounted, and he was just
doing his job.
That was our sole purpose, to seize money for Sherman Block. We went in and did
what we did many times, and now everybody's acting like it's a very unusual
Sherman Block is the sheriff of Los Angeles County.
SHERMAN BLOCK, Sheriff, Los Angeles County:
I think we had individuals who succumbed to temptation, who somehow, I'm sure,
in their own minds, they probably were able to rationalize what they were doing
was not really wrong, since the individuals who they were dealing with were not
honorable people in themself. If an individual is exposed to large amounts or
small amounts, should not cause them to suddenly become dishonest because the
price is right. I just can't accept that.
President GEORGE BUSH:
Now, I know there have been difficulties. I've read the papers and I've seen
the stories this past week about the indictments here. Some bad apple turns up,
an officer abuses your trust or ours by doing wrong--
Ten days after the indictments, President Bush spoke before an assembly of
sheriff's deputies and Los Angeles police.
Don't let it get you down. Keep your heads high.
Well, I personally don't care what George Bush says or Sherman Block says or
anybody says, for that matter. I know the kind of individual I am and the kind
of deputy sheriff I have been. I'm very proud of my participation on the
Sheriff's Department. I think, and I'm very proud of myself individually and I
don't have anything to be ashamed of.
All the Majors squads have now been disbanded and seizures of drug money by the
Sheriff's Department have dropped by 60 percent. Jim Bauder and Dan Garner were
dismissed from the force. Last week, they went to trial on charges that could
send them to prison for over 50 years. Part of their defense will focus on the
Sheriff's Department's drug money policy.
Harlan Braun is Dan Garner's attorney.
HARLAN BRAUN, Attorney:
Statistically, when you start parading officers through rooms of money, you're
asking for it. And a system that's been created this way with this type of laws
is asking for trouble.
The Sheriff's Department seized almost $100 million in drug money in the last
three years. Asset forfeiture laws allow the department to keep a percentage of
the cash for its own use. Critics argue that when narcotics officers become
revenue producers, the system itself becomes corrupt.
What they were doing was, was once you focus on cash as the goal for the
officers, the officers accept that and they therefore, what they do is, they
forget about the ultimate goal of eliminating dope dealers. So this was simply
a revenue-raising device for the Sheriff's Department and for law enforcement,
and it diverted the officers' attention to the real goal, which was stopping
At times, the Sheriff's Department chose not to arrest suspects who were caught
with large amounts of money.
We'd seize, you know, $400,000, $500,000, $600,000 from a guy, have sign a
disclaimer form that says he has no knowledge of that money, doesn't know how
he came into possession of it. You take some basic information from him and in
the wind he goes. You file that or return that money to the department. They
initiate a forfeiture action and then you go on to the next money case.
In the disclaimer form, the suspect states that he is not the owner of the
seized money and that he will not attempt to claim it. The forms were used by
the Sheriff's Department in investigations where money was seized but no drugs
were found. The purpose, according to this department memo, was "to assist the
department in gaining permanent legal possession of the money."
You know, if I've told my neighbors, I says, "Yeah, we follow guys around all
the time, seize $500,000 from them in cash, they sign a waiver that says it's
not their money and we let them go and take less information than we'd put on a
regular traffic ticket, and don't arrest them and don't prosecute them," most
people would go, "No, that's not true. You're kidding. That doesn't happen."
But that's what we routinely did.
They rationalize it by saying, "Taking money away from the dope dealers is
hurting the dope dealers," but all it is taxing them. It's just a tax. The
money that they seize may be a lot of money, but it's certainly not putting
dope dealers out of business.
The department no longer uses the disclaimer forms, but the sheriff defends
their original purpose.
The more of their profit that you can take away, either in seizure of currency
or other assets that they've gained, the more you're going to hurt them. So if
we, as an organization, benefit in the process because we get some of that
money to assist us with our own budgetary needs, well, then, that's kind of
icing on the cake.
Well, I don't want to criticize the Sheriff's Department but I think all of us
had a weak point. My--you know, the administration of the city decided to put
asset forfeiture seizures in our budget, of all things. That meant we're
supposed to make a certain level of cash seizures in order to make our budget.
That's crazy. I objected to that right from the very beginning. I still object
to it. I think it's almost, it's close to being as unethical and as immoral as
you can get. But I think a lot of people were faced with that. Clearly, to the
extent the sheriff or any of us emphasized it, it was wrong and could have had
a great deal of--really, it could have been a big part of the reason why what
happened, happened. But you still get back to the fundamental issue, you had a
crooked cop that made a decision to go crooked.
Police corruption in Los Angeles has spread beyond the Sheriffs Department. The
investigation has widened, and is now expected to include members of the Los
Angeles Police Department and another investigation in Los Angeles has focused
on federal drug agents.
This is the view from Darnell Garcia's house. For 10 years, Garcia was an agent
for the Drug Enforcement Administration. He allegedly spent millions of dollars
traveling around the world first class and living in this exclusive suburb of
Los Angeles. Garcia worked with another DEA agent, Wayne Countryman, who lived
here. Along with a third agent, John Jackson, they are accused of stealing
hundreds of kilograms of cocaine and heroin and then laundering their profits
through two local banks and transferring millions of dollars to secret accounts
in Switzerland. According to the indictment, they stole 150 kilograms of heroin
from DEA headquarters in Los Angeles and sent the drugs to dealers in New York
by Federal Express.
This summer in Los Angeles, two of the agents pled guilty to drug trafficking
and money-laundering. The third will go on trial next week in the same
courthouse where the trial of the sheriff's deputies is already under way.
It was the most depressing thing that I have had to deal with since I've been
here. I knew, know, a number of, I don't know all the sheriffs of officers. I
know some of them. I've worked with some of them. I've worked cases with them.
With the DEA agents, I worked with all three of them and put them on the
witness stand. I've taken testimony from them. I've offered their testimony as
true and credible in courts. And to find out that some of the people that you
spent that kind of time with have, according to the allegations, they're
unproven at this point, that they may have been involved in other activities,
breaks your heart.
Good cops, these guys?
So everybody thought.
In Washington, the FBI tracks police corruption cases nationwide and have found
that 59 percent of them are drug-related. They also see a pattern in how good
cops go bad.
TOM KNEIR, FBI Corruption Unit:
A lot of them tell a story that's somewhat shocking, that they came in to be a
law enforcement officer with the best of intentions and that they saw the world
as right and wrong. And then they became part of a system that they saw those
around them bending the rules, taking money. And then after a while, they found
themselves--at first, they tried to buck the system, and then all of a sudden
they were part of the system.
ED DeLATTRE, FBI Consultant:
There is nothing in the world that's incorruptible except personal character
that will not be corrupted.
Ed DeLattre consults with the FBI about ethics and policing.
It is a slippery slope. Once you put yourself outside the law, it tends to be
corrosive of your respect for the law. So today, it's a search that goes a
little too far. Then it's a false report to cover up the fact that the search
went a little too far. Then it's perjured testimony in a trial in order to get
the conviction and to safeguard the false report and to protect yourself from
the fact that you went farther than you had any right to in the first place.
And then, perhaps, it becomes a case of skimming a little of the drug dealer's
money in order to buy something that the department needs. And once you begin
to skim the money, it's not hard to go from there to where we'll take a few
dollars just for us.
This is the training facility at Quantico, Virginia, for DEA and FBI agents.
Before they get here, background checks by the FBI are intended to weed out any
recruits who might become corrupt, but a few slip through. The DEA, which has
3,000 agents, has started 32 internal corruption investigations this year. In
fact, every federal law enforcement agency has had agents involved in drug
related corruption. Of the more than 400 cases of police corruption the FBI is
currently tracking nationwide, 54 involve federal agents, 49 state police, and
327 local cops.
My point is that there are lots and lots of people in policing who deserve to
be trusted and who will be trustworthy until the end, for whom it is
commonplace to say of these excesses you and I are discussing, "We don't do
that here." Does that mean that there's not a problem to worry about? No. There
is a very serious problem to worry about. The temptations toward wrong-doing,
either for personal gain or for some real or imagined noble cause, are very
While experts are concerned about the growing national problem of police
corruption, they are particularly worried about its impact in the small towns
of America. Richard Witt, who worked for the Miami Police Department during its
corruption scandal, is now chief of police in Hollywood, Florida. But even here
he has had to deal with corruption on his force.
Anyone who says, "I've never had that problem in my police department" should
add the operative word "yet," because it is a matter of "when."
Sea Girt is a resort town on the New Jersey shore whose population of 2,500
doubles in the summertime. Sea Girt is small, just one square mile. It is
affluent, quiet, respectable and proud. There is a close relationship between
the people of Sea Girt and its 12-member police department. Almost all the
residents know the officers personally. The chief is Robert Joule. Everybody
calls him "Biff." He personally responds to traffic accidents and drives patrol
through the town. His is one of 17,000 local police departments in the United
States. This past spring, Chief Joule received a phone call early one
ROBERT JOULE, Chief of Police, Sea Girt, New Jersey:
I got a call from one of the fellows up at the prosecutor's office to come on
over to the camp. They were holding a sting operation there. So I go on over to
the camp and I've seen sting operations before. I figured, "Well, it's in Sea
Girt, maybe they want us over there to back up or help them." So I go in there
and I talk to my friend over there and he says, "No, we just arrested two of
your people, the lieutenant and the sergeant." I said, "Oh, geez!" "They got
them on the drug sting operation and we're investigating another one, your
captain." So that's how I found out about it.
State police arrested more than 20 local people for allegedly operating a
half-million-dollar drug ring which was distributing cocaine and marijuana. The
three Sea Girt police officers were accused of selling drugs and protecting the
ring. Arrested were Joseph Beaumont, a sergeant with 12 years' experience with
the department; Lieutenant Robert Hindman, a 13-year veteran; and Captain Guy
Cavalieri, 11 years on the force and the father of three children. The
accusations include charges that the ring brought a pound of cocaine into Sea
Girt each week and that the police were selling drugs out of their squad
I was shocked. Unbelievable! I mean, I felt as though the whole world was
[unintelligible] what can you say? It's beyond words. Unbelievable.
At the town hall, residents crowded into an emergency meeting to discuss the
WILLIAM McGUINNESS, Mayor, Sea Girt, New Jersey:
Unfortunately, it looks like we had some trusted members of our department who
violated their oath, violated their badge, and certainly violated your
confidence in them.
William McGuinness is the mayor of Sea Girt.
I was absolutely shocked. I couldn't believe that this was going to happen
here. I had never dreamed of such a thing occurring and I was speechless. I was
dumbfounded. I thought they were really, somebody was pulling some sort of a
very warped joke.
The town was particularly worried about the impact of the scandal on its
children. Two of the officers regularly spoke to classes about the dangers of
JOAN CALHOUN, President, Sea Girt School Board:
The one question that did come up in every classroom was, you know, "Who do we
Joan Calhoun is the mother of two, and president of the school board.
It's sad, more than anything else, to watch the children's reaction, because
they do believe that the policeman were someone that you could trust.
All of a sudden, the curtain opened up and there was the big picture staring
them in the face. Men who they had great respect for were all of a sudden
fallen, and were no better than the people that they had heard about getting
involved in this terrible thing. And there it was, right in front of them.
Their own heroes, in some cases, their own friends, the people they had respect
for, these people who they never, never would have expected this from--I think
it shocked a lot of young people into realizing, "Oh, this is something that I
have to think more about."
Most people here were close to the arrested officers and trusted them not only
as cops, but as friends. Many people were reluctant to talk with us about the
scandal, afraid that something they might say would hurt their town even
This particular thing, this drug, this insidious disease called "narcotics," no
one thought it would reach into this town and just tear its police department
apart. No one thought that.
It has now been five years since the Miami River cops scandal broke. With the
years of arrests and trials now behind them, Miami's confidence in its police
has grown. For the department, the lessons were hard-earned but clear: Good
cops must have the right values.
Well, you've got to believe in something. You've got to believe that this job
is sacred, that people has placed their trust in me, they depend upon, they
depend on me, honest people depend on me to get a job done, and no one else can
do that but me. I'm the one of a billion people on Earth. I'm here in this
little spot, and I'm responsible for these people.
Give me the bag!
MAN IN STREET:
This person came up, and they said they wanted to see my bag and they grabbed
it from me, said he had a knife. And then he took my stuff and then he took a
bunch of brand-new stuff [unintelligible].
Where's the knife? Where's the knife?
I ain't got a knife, sir. I never had no knife, sir.
"This is my responsibility because people have given me this responsibility.
They trust me. This is the faith that they have put in me and this badge."
Those things have to be reinforced. There's nothing to replace that.
In the wake of the Miami scandal, the Justice Department commissioned a
nationwide study which concluded that tougher recruitment standards and
reinforcing values were the keys to stopping police corruption.
FRANK MONASTERO, Corruption Study Director:
If you have corruption, a basic part of your system, your organizational
system, has already failed. We think, when we ferret out corruption that we are
doing a good thing. Well, we are certainly doing a good thing but we've missed
the boat in the first two areas. We haven't recruited good people or if we
have, we haven't sustained high integrity in those people. We've helped them to
We are reminded, as law enforcement officers, we must be constantly--
In Miami, the officers themselves joined the drive for higher standards by
voluntarily submitting to random drug tests. So far this year, no Miami police
officer has tested positive. The department credits its tough recruiting
Just in our hiring process, we have a zero tolerance, which is unheard-of
around the country--zero tolerance. If you smoked one marijuana cigarette
before you came here and applied for a job, you're not going to get on with
this police department.
Despite their tough stand on drug use, the department can only remain hopeful
that these new standards will actually stop police corruption. For the Los
Angeles Sheriff's Department, the recruitment challenge is even greater. They
hire new deputies from across the United States by advertising their strong
reputation and the lure of Southern California.
Three times each month, all year long, hundreds of applicants arrive in Los
Angeles to take the written intelligence test. The Sheriff's Department says it
is looking for high school graduates who want to help people and put something
of themselves back into the community. Starting pay is $28,000. Last year,
despite the corruption scandal, the department had more than 30,000 applicants
for under 1,000 deputy sheriff positions. Ten thousand actually showed up to
take the exam. Half of them failed.
You all failed the written portion of the examination. On top of this card,
here, you will see the number one or the number two.
Next, a short personal interview weeds out another 1,000 applicants. The
questions here focus on any past criminal activity, especially drug use.
As far as your narcotic use, you've got down one time marijuana use.
How about cocaine?
Most police recruiters see any past drug use as a serious problem. They say it
represents a flagrant disregard for the law, so hiring former drug users as
cops is risky. Captain Michael Nagaoka was in charge of recruiting.
How many applicants do you find who've experimented with drugs?
MICHAEL NAGAOKA, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department:
I think if I were to give a percentage, it would be much better, because what
we're probably talking about is, for the calendar year of 1989, we processed
over 32,000 applicants. We were probably looking at probably 60 to 65 percent
that have had some use or experimentation with drugs to some degree.
Then where do you draw the line?
The line is drawn, and it's a determination that is made by the department in
regards to we do allow a certain amount of experimentation.
The Justice Department study of police corruption calculated that nationwide,
64 percent of police applicants admitted to experimenting with drugs, primarily
marijuana and cocaine. The study concluded that many agencies had no choice but
to hire former drug abusers.
I think that you can hire, and I don't recommend this, don't misunderstand, I
don't recommend hiring prior drug abusers. But I think there are certain
categories of prior drug abusers that can be hired with a reduced risk if a
department has the time to pay attention to building and reinforcing values.
Once again, we, this has been a perilous period, because we've had to recruit
from this group of young people who grew up in a nation that had not said "No"
to drugs, as a matter of fact, had tacitly said 'Yes" to drugs. And that has
made our job even more difficult, not just in finding the right individuals,
but then after getting them, making sure that they understood that they were in
a different environment, no longer in the environment of other people. They
were Los Angeles police officers, and that's a different environment. And as a
Los Angeles police officer, you simply don't do the things that you might have
done as a private citizen out there. You wear a badge and it's the LAPD badge
and that's got to mean something to you. And if it doesn't, then get the hell
out of here.
Any member of your immediate family ever been arrested on a felony charge?
No, not that I know of.
The biggest challenge for recruiters is how to determine which applicants have
the character and integrity to become good cops. At the Sheriff's Department,
investigators probe for any signs of dishonesty.
Your honesty is going to be of the utmost importance here, OK? Because if you
are in any way deceptive on the polygraph, it will greatly harm your chances of
becoming a deputy sheriff. You know, a lot of kids come in here and they think
that they can bluff their way through this whole thing. At one time, they
could, but now that we are giving polygraphs to everyone, it's very difficult
to beat the system.
To double check his honesty, a lie-detector test is now mandatory for each
--something that bothers him.
It's maybe [unintelligible]
I was--yeah. I was kind of thinking when I came out of there that I thought he
was going to--when I asked him what question bothered him the most, I was
thinking he was going to say, "the drinking." We'll see.
When you think about policing, what do you need? You need people who have very
good judgment, who can respond to situations of great need, can respond to
cataclysm, accident, disaster, as well as predatory threats to the public
safety from criminals or would-be criminals You also need people of extremely
good character, people who can be trusted when the chips are down, trusted not
only in terms of honesty but in terms of fortitude, restraint, respect for the
law, and a sense of justice toward the public.
After a process that lasts more than six months, less than 3 percent of the
original 30,000 applicants are finally selected as cadets. The department hopes
that their system of interrogation, polygraphs and extensive background checks
has isolated those men and women who are competent to hold the public trust.
Ladies and gentlemen, you rose as cadets. You may now be seated as peace
officers of the state of California.
Your recruiting is never going to be perfect. You're going to get people who
are essentially sound, whose character is basically good, whose judgment is
pretty good and who, yet, in the face of all the demands of policing over time,
are going to go wrong for one reason or another.
By summer, the turmoil over the police scandal in Sea Girt, New Jersey, had
begun to ease and the town started to rebuild its police department.
POLICE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:
Once again, welcome on board.
Thank you, very much.
POLICE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:
We'll proceed with the official swearing-in. As you know, patrolman Nesbit is
one of the bright, young policemen that we've brought on board to help upgrade
This July, the town hired its first new officer and promoted a patrolman to
sergeant. The police chief says he has tried to improve the background checks
of new recruits and the mayor says he now expects each officer to voluntarily
submit to drug testing once a year.
In August, Lieutenant Hindman pled guilty to distributing drugs and described
in court how he had bought marijuana from his captain.
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Tell the court about it, please.
The last time that I bought some from him, he brought around a quarter pound of
marijuana into headquarters and used the headquarters scale and right then, in
our office, it was his and mine combined, I purchased one ounce of marijuana
from him in March '90.
You purchased one ounce of marijuana out of the quarter pound of marijuana that
Captain Cavalieri handled?
Were you on duty at that time?
I believe I was.
Hindman could receive a prison sentence of up to five years. Sergeant Beaumont
and Captain Cavalieri are both out on bail. They are expected to be formally
indicted soon for conspiracy to distribute drugs.
Well, this town, surprisingly enough, and the council, got behind the men here
100 percent. We had hundreds of letters saying, "We know it's not your fault.
We have faith in the men still here. We're all behind you. Anything you need,
you let us know." It's been very good.
It's more open, now. It's, people are willing to talk about it. People are
willing to say that Sea Girt does not sit there-- just because this little
one-square-mile town, who's blocked off by a highway and the ocean on one side,
you know, life does not go in the fast lane past us. We are part of it. It's
here. Don't deny it.
Only after such a situation occurs does the community become aware that police
corruption and police integrity are important to the community. These are
things that people don't pay attention to until something adverse occurs and
that, to me, is really extraordinary. If the criminal justice system doesn't
work effectively, then no other system of government can work effectively.
It can be anywhere in the world. Just change the address. They're all the same
and I think if anything, it's taught the people in the town that what we
thought was once just a quiet, secure little oceanfront community, we're part
of the big world now. It's here and you'd better accept that.
Next time on FRONTLINE, the story of a manhunt. The target: Howard Marks, an
Oxford-educated drug dealer who eluded police around the world. The hunter: an
obsessed DEA agent who refused to give up.
Listening to these voices was like listening to the heart of organized
FRONTLINE investigates the dark world of an international drug ring in "The
Hunt for Howard Marks."
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