FORT LAUDERDALE — A police officer who forged a panhandling suspect’s name on a court citation has been suspended without pay and is slated to be fired.
Daniel Zavadil, a four-year veteran who is also a licensed attorney, is scheduled for termination effective Nov. 24. Zavadil admitted to investigators that he signed the suspect’s name on a notice-to-appear document. A review by the Broward State Attorney’s Office found that Zavadil’s actions did not constitute a crime. A police department internal affairs investigation, however, determined that Zavadil did violate city policy.
“You are hereby notified that you are being suspended and dismissed from City employment as a Police Officer in the Police Department,” Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Franklin C. Adderley wrote in an Oct. 27 internal memorandum issued to Zavadil. “Your suspension, without pay, for (20) twenty days is effective immediately and your dismissal from City service will be effective at the close of business on November 24, 2009.”
Adderley’s notice further states, “Your conduct not only demonstrated a lack of integrity and poor judgment, it also confirmed a flagrant disregard for Department rules and regulations and violated the basic trust placed in you as a Police Officer.”
The suspension notice was issued nearly seven months after Zavadil was placed on paid administrative leave on March 30, 2009. That’s when supervisors initially discovered the forged signature.
Zavadil could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Michael E. Dutko, said he represented Zavadil in the criminal investigation conducted by the State Attorney’s Office, but that Zavadil’s union is handling the employment case.
Union officials say they are vigorously challenging the suspension and pending termination.
“It’s an ongoing case, so we’re not commenting,” said Jack Lokiensky, president of the Fraternal Order of Police union, which represents sworn officers in the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. “It’s in the first step of the process and we are fighting it.”
The incident in question concerns Daniel Lee Roberts, who on Tuesday, March 17 was panhandling [begging for money] in the roadway at the intersection of the Southeast 17th Street Causeway and South Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale.
NOTICE TO APPEAR
In a drizzling rain, Zavadil saw this activity from his squad car, pulled over, and issued Roberts the notice to appear citation.
A notice to appear, also known as an NTA, is a citation, similar to a traffic ticket. It technically means that the person receiving it has been arrested. The document lists a court appearance date, and is issued in lieu of taking a suspect into custody.
Suspects are required by law to sign the citation, which basically acknowledges receipt and awareness of the court date. Failing to appear in court on the date specified on an NTA can result in an arrest warrant being issued for the suspect.
According to the investigative files, Officer Paul Maniates arrived on the scene to provide back up. Zavadil told him that the situation was under control, so Maniates left the scene without exiting his patrol car. Zavadil handed Roberts the citation, with instructions for him to press his thumb print on it, and to sign the citation.
At the end of his shift, Zavadil turned in the police report and the duplicate copy of the citation for processing. But when a supervisor, Sgt. Steven Greenlaw, reviewed the citation, he noticed that it did not contain the required signature from Roberts. Greenlaw put the paperwork back into Zavadil’s mailbox, with a note about the missing signature.
On Sunday, March 29, Greenlaw noticed that the paperwork had been resubmitted, and it was now signed. Suspicious, he called Zavadil into his office to discuss the matter. Zavadil admitted signing the NTA himself.
The internal investigation report states that Greenlaw was “stunned” by Zavadil’s admission.
“I advised him this is a legal document and you can’t do that,” Greenlaw said while giving a statement to internal affairs investigators the next day, on Monday, March 30. “He came back to me maybe a half hour later on and said that he would fix it, what can I do. I’ll, I’ll, just write something next to the signature. I said, ‘Do not touch it,’” according to the report.
PLACED ON LEAVE
Zavadil was placed on paid administrative leave later that day. The internal affairs division began an exhaustive investigation. In a sworn statement that Roberts, the suspect, provided on April 6, he told investigators that the signature on the NTA was not his, and that he never authorized Zavadil to sign his name.
After taking statements from other officers, the internal affairs division turned the case over to the Broward State Attorney’s Office for criminal investigation. Roberts failed to show up after being subpoenaed, and refused to cooperate with prosecutors.
Through his attorney, Zavadil issued a statement to prosecutors indicating that obtaining Robert’s signature on the NTA was only an administrative issue and not a requirement, since his thumb print was better, and already on it.
In an Aug. 27, 2009 close-out memorandum, prosecutors determined that Zavadil’s actions did not constitute a crime.
“The charge of forgery requires a person to falsely alter or forge a public document with the specific intent to injure or defraud an individual, in this case there is insufficient evidence that Officer Zavadil had the intent to injure or defraud anyone at the time he signed the notice to appear,” Asst. State Attorney Michael Horowitz wrote in his memo, closing out the case.
“Based on the totality of the facts in this case and the lack of cooperation of Daniel Roberts, there is little likelihood of conviction. This matter will be closed and referred back to the Fort Lauderdale Police Department to take whatever administrative action they deem appropriate.”
Zavadil was placed on unpaid administrative leave Oct. 27.
“HIS CONDUCT WAS UNACCEPTABLE”
Still, he insisted that the thumb print was better than a signature, and that he had done nothing wrong. After determining that Zavadil never attempted to locate Roberts at his address, the internal affairs investigation reached different conclusion.
“Through a proffer authored to the State Attorney’s Office, which Officer Zavadil testified was factual, and again during his compelled statement to the Office of Internal Affairs, Officer Zavadil’s justification for having signed the official document was that the defendant’s signature was only needed for administrative purposes,” Internal Affairs Director Capt. Rick Maglione wrote in an Oct. 6, 2009 case summary.
“In summary, I found that Officer Zavadil falsified an official document. Officer Zavadil inscribed Mr. Roberts’ signature on the Notice to Appear without Mr. Roberts’ knowledge or permission and his conduct was unacceptable, demonstrated a complete lack of integrity and was unbecoming that of a Police Officer,” Maglione wrote.
Fort Lauderdale police have not said whether Zavadil has any past personnel or disciplinary issues.
But his pending termination notice also includes the fact that, while he was on administrative leave, he was seen giving an interview on an unrelated subject, wearing a department-issued shirt with the word “police” on the back. That action violates the conditions of his leave.