By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org
One evening in mid-summer 2010, the 13-year-old niece of Fort Lauderdale Police Maj. Eric Brogna fell asleep in the bedroom of his six-year-old daughter, whom she was babysitting.
Around 2:30 a.m., male hands pressing on her breasts jolted the adolescent girl awake. She quickly shifted her body and saw the silhouette of a tall man. “I turned on the TV because I was like freaked out,” the girl recalled three years later during a police interview. “So then I just stayed up the rest of the night.”
She identified Brogna, who was the only male in the house that night, as her attacker, according to an Aug. 29, 2013 sworn statement the teen gave to Detective Jeff Payne of the Coral Springs Police special victims unit.
“He touched me inappropriately,” she said.
Even though Detective Payne believed the teenager was telling the truth, the Broward State Attorney’s Office declined in October 2013 to prosecute Brogna for lewd and lascivious behavior, citing a lack of physical evidence.
Last year, Fort Lauderdale police internal affairs investigators probed Brogna for alleged conduct unbecoming a police officer. But after Brogna denied under oath any wrongdoing and accused his ex-wife, the girl’s aunt, of lying to get back at him, the charge was not sustained.
The city’s Citizens Police Review Board, whose members included several current and former police officers, later accepted that finding despite hearing from the girl’s aunt that the family had “text messages, emails and photographs that contradicted the officer’s statements” and had not been given “an opportunity to provide this evidence,” according to the board’s April 2014 meeting minutes.
Brogna, who heads the department’s administrative support division, did not return two phone messages and emails seeking comment. His boss, Police Chief Frank Adderley declined to comment, as did Brogna’s ex-wife Lynn Michelle Brogna and her two sisters, including the victim’s mother.
DIFFICULT FOR VICTIMS TO COME FORWARD
The criminal and internal affairs investigative files in Brogna’s case illustrate how uncomfortable it is for victims of sex crimes to come forward.
Consider the case of Fort Lauderdale Detective Tim Shields, who is still with the department. On July 7, 2004, two women accused him of exposing himself and demanding sex from one of them, according to the minutes of a 2005 meeting of the Citizens Police Review Board and a 2006 Sun-Sentinel article.
Shields denied the allegations even though a tracking device in his cruiser revealed he was at their house that day for 28 minutes. He claimed he was reading a magazine while conducting surveillance of a stolen car, but investigators turned up evidence that Shields wasn’t part of the surveillance detail.
Broward prosecutors nevertheless cited insufficient evidence in declining to file criminal charges against him. Internal affairs investigators also cleared Shields in January 2005 of a conduct-becoming charge, recommending a one-day suspension for not telling dispatchers he’d gone back on duty at the time of the alleged incident.
The review board, however, was troubled by the case and issued an opinion that the unbecoming conduct charge against Shields should have been sustained. “It doesn’t make any sense to me,” said then-board member Ted Fling, questioning Shields’ story. “It’s just insane.”
Further, the board found that Internal Affairs detectives had violated the city disciplinary code by withholding the Shields case from it, the city manager and the public for nearly a year – long enough that its outcome, and Shields’ light punishment, could not be changed.
The case against Brogna traveled along a similar path. His family troubles began shortly before the alleged groping incident in 2010.
Lynne Brogna was married to Maj. Brogna at the time. Her twin sister, Dana Calvo, her other sister Jodi Hansen and their mother Linda Robinson later provided sworn statements that they caught Brogna masturbating at the dining room table after Thanksgiving dinner in 2009.
According to her Aug. 30, 2013 sworn statement to Detective Payne, Robinson said: “I looked under the table, and he was masturbating and you could see the top of his penis.”
On Oct. 10, 2013, Calvo relayed a similar account to Detective Payne: “I could see right under the table and he had his penis out. And I could see he had it in his hands.”
When contacted by FloridaBulldog.org, Calvo and her twin Dana did not want to comment, stating they wished to move on from the ugliest chapter in their lives. They said Robinson and Hansen also did not want to talk about it.
WIFE CONFRONTS HUSBAND
Lynne Brogna told Coral Springs and Fort Lauderdale police she confronted her then-husband after being informed of the incident. She said in her Aug. 29, 2013 statement to Detective Payne that Brogna blamed his behavior on a combination of medications he was taking and beer he consumed during and after the holiday dinner. Lynne Brogna also retold her account to Internal Affairs investigators on Jan. 17, 2014.
Lynne Brogna told investigators their marriage quickly fell apart after her niece told her mom and her about what she said had happened in 2010. In both of her sworn statements, Lynne Brogna claimed her husband never denied groping the girl.
“Of course he cried and he begged,” Lynne Brogna said during her interview with Internal Affairs detectives last year. “I told him he needed to move out and told him he needed to get help.”
Lynne Brogna and her relatives said fear, shock and embarrassment prevented them from immediately reporting him to law enforcement. They also told investigators that Brogna agreed to seek counseling if they didn’t report him.
“There are a lot of reasons I didn’t,” Lynne told IA investigators. “I didn’t want to be embarrassed. I didn’t want my kids to be embarrassed.”
Hansen, the victim’s mother, said she initially wanted to turn Brogna in as soon as she found out, according to her Aug. 29, 2013 sworn statement to Detective Payne. “Shame on me, I waited,” Hansen said. “I was thinking about my sister and my nieces. I didn’t want them to have to deal with any burdens.”
Part of her also wanted to protect Brogna, Hansen conceded. “I was also thinking of my brother-in-law,” she said. “He’s a police officer. I didn’t want him to have any consequences. Maybe I could just quiet things down and pretend it didn’t happen, but it did.”
By the time Brogna’s ex-wife and her family finally decided to file a police report, the divorce had been finalized and he had remarried. Brogna also told Payne and internal affairs investigators that her ex-husband lied to her about getting therapy and not drinking alcohol.
DELAYS IN REPORTING ABUSE
Delays in reporting sexual abuse are common due to embarrassment or fear.
“It can take decades for some people to come forward,” said Jeff Dion, deputy director with the Washington D.C.-based National Center for Victims of Crime. “Victims feel no one will believe them especially when the perpetrator is someone in the family.”
Still, while Detective Payne believed the now 18-year-old victim, he informed her mother that the delay was a problem.
“The biggest thing that’s gonna raise a flag for everyone is why a three-year delay in reporting,” Payne told Hansen, according to her Aug. 29, 2013 sworn statement.
Indeed, Brogna’s Fort Lauderdale defense attorney Mitchell Polay called the timing of the allegations against his client “highly suspect,” according to Payne’s narrative report.
Polay provided Kristin Kanner, then the Broward assistant state prosecutor assigned to the case, with text messages and witnesses that purportedly supported Brogna’s claim that his ex-wife and her family were making up stories to get back at him.
However, in her Oct. 31, 2013 closeout memo, written as she was leaving to take a new job as director of the state’s Sexually Violent Predator Program, Kanner wrote that Brogna “had to walk around the bed to [the victim’s] side of the room, so it couldn’t have been an accidental brushing while he was checking on his daughter (which is the first defense).”
Still, Kanner identified several difficulties with the case, specifically noting that any admissions Brogna made to Lynne would be subject to marital privilege. The prosecutor also cited Polay’s argument that Brogna’s former wife was motivated by jealousy over his recent nuptials.
“Again, another hard to surmount defense hurdle,” Kanner opined. “There is no physical evidence and no admissible admissions of any kind,” she added. “As such, there is no reasonable likelihood of conviction.”
BROGNA VEHEMENTLY DENIES WRONGDOING
The internal affairs probe, completed on March 31, 2014, was even more favorable to Brogna. Unlike the criminal case, he provided a sworn statement for IA investigators.
Brogna vehemently denied masturbating in the presence of his in-laws as well as fondling his then-niece’s breasts. Brogna claimed the allegations were part of his ex-wife’s “methodology and an attempt to control him.”
“It was a blackmail tool that she attempted to tell me how I was gonna live my life,” Brogna said. “And I lived like that for three years until I couldn’t live with it anymore.”
Lynne Brogna told IA investigators that she had proof Brogna was being untruthful. “It’s all in text messages,” she said in her sworn statement. “He can lie all he wants.”
Backing Brogna up were Chief Adderley and Thomas Harrington, an assistant chief under Adderley who joined the Broward Sheriff’s Office in 2013.
An Internal Affairs summary report says that on March 11, 2014, Harrington told investigators, “Brogna expressed his belief that his ex-wife was trying to make his life miserable by making some allegation about him touching his ex-wife’s niece.”
Adderley recalled the same day Brogna telling him that Lynne had sent him text messages threatening to file a “criminal allegation against him if he did not sever his relationship with Eric’s now wife.” The chief said he advised Brogna to file an incident report with the Coral Springs Police that Lynne was trying to extort him.
Adderley declined through a spokesman to talk about his statement or say why he gave Brogna personal advice about how to handle the situation.