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Apr 25th
Juriga Takes Revenge PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
April 2018

Police chief purges staff, rewards loyalists

LPix_MarkSell_4-18arry Juriga Jr. got his longtime wish March 13, when he was sworn in as North Miami’s police chief in a ceremony at Barry University.

“We’re going to respect our co-workers,” the 46-year-old Juriga told 250 friends, family, colleagues, and civic worthies. “We’re going to respect our community and everyone in our community. We’re not right simply because we wear the badge. We must be right because we wear the badge.”

The 24-year veteran of the force pledged transparency, to give kids a second chance, and instill a culture of professionalism.

Motto: “Making a positive impact.”

The Miami Dolphins unveiled Chief Juriga Jersey No. 25. Dan Marino was there. Juriga’s dad, Larry Juriga, who retired as the city’s deputy chief in 1996 and has run security for the Dolphins, pinned the chief’s insignia.  

Beware answered prayers.

The ceremonial smoke and mirrors hid cloaks and daggers. Just the week before, on March 7, Juriga completed a massive purge and shakeup, packed the command staff with cronies, and reversed June 2016 promotions by former chief Gary Eugene.

With all the subtlety of a mugging, Juriga demoted the city’s most decorated and experienced officer, 64-year-old assistant chief Neal Cuevas, down three ranks, to sergeant. Cuevas has served on the force for 43 years.

Cuevas is also the city’s first Hispanic officer, a one-time target of racist hazing, and the sole recipient of the police department Medal of Honor. He is independent, meticulous, and an occasional irritant. He now reports to newly promoted Commander Joseph Kissel, a 34-year veteran and a virulent Juriga loyalist with a troubled history of complaints over workplace bullying and sexual harassment.

Council members Alix Desulme and Philippe Bien-Aime skipped the ceremony. That night at the city council meeting, they questioned city manager Larry Spring about the Cuevas demotion. Spring tap-danced, saying the department was Juriga’s to run. Mayor Smith Joseph sounded doubtful.

Cuevas’s cardinal sin: He refused to discredit Commander Emile Hollant, age 55, shift supervisor during the July 18, 2016, shooting of behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey. Kinsey was trying to calm his autistic client, Arnaldo Eliud Rios, who was holding a toy truck police mistook for a gun. Officer Jonathan Aledda shot Kinsey with an AR-15 30 seconds after a stand-down order. Kinsey was injured in the leg but has recovered.

Hollant, who was fired late last year, testified that he was running to get his binoculars at that moment. The State Attorney believed him and issued a statement that “Hollant did not lie” or try to mislead. The NMPD, however, undertook a six-month internal affairs investigation, with key witnesses able to describe split-second memories about Hollant’s binoculars seven months after the fact. The IA concluded that Hollant wasn’t telling the full truth. The State Attorney, presented with the fresh testimony, declined to alter its opinion.

Cuevas wrote a dissenting memo on June 2, 2017, to then Chief Gary Eugene, whose position was fast getting wobbly, calling the IA findings, which recommended Hollant’s dismissal, “replete with misinformation, half-truths and blatant inconsistencies” -- an “unmitigated miscarriage of justice.”

The city never released his memo in its online IA file of 72 documents and 1000 pages. Spring gave Eugene the choice to resign or be fired. Eugene provided the memo to blogger Stephanie Kienzle, an NMPD critic, who posted it to votersopinion.com.

It wasn’t the first time Cuevas stood alone against his bosses. In 1999, then Police Chief Tom Hood slapped then Sergeant Cuevas and Officer Christine Casas with an internal investigation for bypassing the chain of command. A civilian city employee had sought their advice over a sex-harassment complaint against Detective Fred St. Amand, believing that the police department would cover it up. They advised her to try the State Attorney’s Office.

Her complaint leaked, and reporter Jim DeFede wrote a three-part series on St. Amand in New Times. Ensuing public embarrassment forced Hood to fire St. Amand. Cuevas was reprimanded but rose through the ranks. Now he faces another IA inquisition, this time over his Hollant memo.

Let’s stop right here.

This isn’t just about Cuevas or Hollant, or even the NMPD.

In a normal change of leadership, the boss might say the company is changing direction and offer an exit package after 43 years’ service -- not commit a publiic humiliation at roll call.

Cuevas wasn’t the only casualty. Juriga also demoted highly decorated Commander Rafael Estrugo, another Eugene promotion and Officer of the Year for 2011, to sergeant on the midnight shift.

What message does this send to potential recruits and officers on how to get ahead? Does one make detective, get promoted, receive advanced training, or transfer to a more desired unit on the basis of…merit?

How does this make a positive impact, protect the public, or help morale and performance? Does it serve taxpayers or raise litigation costs?

Juriga -- at the center of an informal fraternal network of current and retired South Florida police officers popularly called the Illuminati -- has been a command presence over eight years of revolving-door police chiefs, influencing hours, assignments, and promotions, with a direct pipeline to deputy city manager Arthur “Duke” Sorey III, son of the city’s first African-American councilman.

Jurgia’s grip is now absolute. Other promotions: from major to assistant chief, Franzia Brea, former wife of Adam Burden, the part-time, $113,000-a-year police consultant and former City of Miami and Opa-locka assistant chief whom Spring hired in September 2016. Burden had helped steer the Internal Affairs investigation into Hollant, which was conducted by Diana Roman, then a sergeant and now promoted to commander.

Promoted from commander to major: Angel Rivera, Aledda’s SWAT team commander and a close Juriga ally. From sergeant to commander: James Mesidor, son of Andre Mesidor, NMPD’s first Haitian officer; Patrick McNally; and Ransom Carter.

Eugene testified that he had repeatedly rebuffed the efforts of Juriga to visit the State Attorney’s Office with Rivera and Mesidor to strip Hollant of his police certification in exchange for not prosecuting.

McNally sued the city in December 2017 for reverse discrimination for getting passed over for Estrugo in 2016. Juriga filed his own reverse-discrimination EEOC complaint, for overhearing his boss, former city manager Aleem Ghany, call him a “redneck.” Sorey brokered a settlement package in late 2015 worth a quarter million dollars over time.

Carter was Juriga’s Barry University basketball teammate and recent representative to the Police Benevolent Association, whose president, Steadman Stahl, urged the city to hire Juriga.

Federal lawsuits are pending by Eugene, Hollant, and soon, by Cuevas. Juriga, a defendant, may be deposed. Civil discovery may offer the very transparency he pledges -- with a laser.


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