By Wanda J. DeMarzo and Dan Christensen, Broward Bulldog.org
Altered police reports and a controversial off-duty employment policy for sheriff’s deputies chase the Police Women of Broward County.
For two seasons, the Broward Sheriff’s Office has thrown its support behind the gritty reality television show which features four deputies on the job while video cameras whir documentary-style to capture their work. With the cooperation of the agency, the women have become television stars working under privately paid media contracts while also carrying out their official duties.
One of those deputies, Detective Julianne “Julie” Bower, was chosen for the role despite her involvement in a departmental scandal in which crime statistics were falsified to make the department and its deputies look good during the administration of former Sheriff Ken Jenne.
Broward Bulldog has obtained BSO Internal Affairs records stating that in May 2004 an internal BSO audit found that two years before Bower had “exceptionally cleared” 10 car burglaries by reporting that an unidentified juvenile suspect had confessed to committing those crimes.
“The audit however revealed that [the youth] was incarcerated in the Broward County Juvenile Detention Center when one of these cases was reported to have occurred and therefore he could not have committed this crime,” the report said.
The internal investigation took nearly three years to resolve. Bower told investigators under oath she’d made a mistake. In 2007, the agency sustained a charge that Bower had failed to meet BSO standards but decided that another charge of untruthfulness was unfounded.
In excess of 10,000 BSO cases were “cleared by exception” between 2001 and 2003. More than 30 detectives were transferred to road patrol as a result of the scandal. Six deputies were prosecuted for falsifying reports or concocting confessions, but no one went to jail.
Bower, who declined comment for this article through an office spokesman, received a one-day loss of pay.
Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti said he believes that BSO’s internal affairs case against Bower was presented to the State Attorney’s Office before he became sheriff in October 2007 and that prosecutors “declined to do anything.”
COURTROOM TUSSLE OVER CONTRACTS
Lamberti and BSO have been at odds with the Public Defender’s Office throughout the summer about the “talent” contracts signed by Bower and fellow Police Women Andrea Penoyer, Erika Huerta and Shelunda Cooper with Relativity Real LLC, the California producer of Police Women of Broward County.
The defense lawyers say they need to see the contracts to determine whether there are any hidden conflicts of interest that could taint police testimony against clients arrested on the show. Lamberti says he can’t turn over the contracts because he doesn’t have them, hasn’t seen them and has no idea how much his deputies are being paid.
“We don’t ask them,” Lamberti said. “We just look at what their duties are going to be. What they make – that’s between them.”
A source familiar with the contracts said the deputies are paid $12,000 a year.
Assistant Broward Public Defender Gordon Weekes Jr. has subpoenaed the contracts. Attorneys for the TLC channel’s parent, Discovery Communications, are seeking to quash the subpoena, contending they contain trade secrets. A judge is reviewing the contracts. A hearing is set for Thursday.
Plot lines for the 24 episodes of Police Women aired to date describe a show that is virtually all about busting crack dealers, pill-pushers, prostitutes, johns, drunk drivers and burglars. Scenes have also showed the deputies at home and lying on the beach.
The Police Women – Bower, Penoyer, Cooper and Huerta – each signed BSO forms declaring their “outside employment” on the show would be confined to off-duty hours. That’s the basis for Lamberti’s assertion that his deputies are paid strictly for their off-duty performances, not their on-duty work. He told Broward Bulldog he insisted on that arrangement to keep Broward taxpayers off the hook from having to pay overtime to deputies moonlighting for the show.
Producers and film crew are simply allowed to “tag along” during on-duty shoots, Lamberti said.
But that’s not the contractual relationship that a lawyer for the TLC channel’s parent network, Discovery Communications, described to a judge at a July 25 hearing, according to a transcript of the proceedings.
WHAT THE CONTRACT COVERS
“There is some notion that it only covers on-duty. The contract, to be clear, covers the appearance on the show. And that’s what it covers. It really doesn’t specify,” said a Fort Lauderdale attorney Dana McElroy.
“The show originally was conceived as an off-duty idea. But…it does include footage from when they are on duty. So I just don’t want the court to have a misunderstanding,” McElroy said.
The distinction is important. Police officers are not allowed to accept pay from a second employer for work performed while they are also being paid by their department.
Robert Breeden, Assistant-Special-Agent-In-Charge with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said he was not aware of the situation at BSO. He did, however, say that such payments are “considered theft, plain and simple.”
Nonetheless, the arrangement by which uniformed deputies in BSO patrol cars ferry their private paymasters to film at crime scenes and police traffic stops for profit has blurred the lines between police work and entertainment, between off-duty and on-duty.
“The sheriff is trying to draw this line that doesn’t exist,” said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, himself a longtime television presence on WSVN-Channel 7’s “Help Me Howard” legal advice segment. “But for the producers of the show being able to go along and video the arrests, would they even care about videoing the private lives of these deputies? It’s a silly distinction that doesn’t pass the giggle test.”
“Why is BSO allowing this show to be on TV? What good is it doing the agency or the residents of the county?’’ asked Nova Southeastern University Law Center Professor Robert M. Jarvis, co-author of Out of the Muck, a history of the Broward Sheriff’s Office published last year.
Lamberti says he supports Police Women, which debuted in August 2009, because it offers a unique take on police life – showing officers not just on the job, but as regular people at home and at leisure with their families.
HUMAN SIDE OF DEPUTIES
“The human side is what attracted me,” Lamberti said. “I didn’t want another COPS.”
Police Women, however, also offers a political benefit for a Republican sheriff facing a tough re-election fight next year in a Democratic stronghold.
Lamberti harnessed his deputies’ star power at recent public appearances before voters and shoppers in stores and supermarkets around the county. Here’s a link to a sheriff’s video about a “Coffee with the Sheriff” in June at the Super Target in Davie.
One of those deputies is Julie Bower, a veteran sex crimes detective who tells her TV fans she goes to church twice a week and loves boating and traveling.
BSO records show that in 2008 Bower was investigated by Internal Affairs for allegedly failing to show good judgment when she conducted a private inquiry into allegations of child-on-child sex involving relatives. The charge was not sustained and the matter closed last year.
Still, the records raise troubling questions about Bower’s conduct. They show she waited a day before calling the Boca Raton Police to report the incident. They document how she conducted her own taped “forensic interviews” with the two juveniles in Boca Raton, outside her jurisdiction in Broward County.