FORT LAUDERDALE — A former Fort Lauderdale police officer picked up prostitutes and forced them — at least once at gunpoint — to perform oral sex on him, while he was in uniform and in a marked police car, according to police records.
Gerome Steven Wright, 26, of Sunrise, was officially fired from the department on Sept. 21, 2007 after little more than a year on the force.
He could not be reached for comment.
Fort Lauderdale police have issued a probable-cause affidavit, charging Wright with armed sexual battery on Lauren Kalb, a 30-year-old admitted prostitute, and accusing him of engaging in sex acts with at least two other street walkers: Heather Harris, 37, and Rhonda Francois, 45.
Wright was terminated not for his alleged interactions with prostitutes, but for failing to adequately perform his job duties — including failure to fill out police reports completely and accurately, lack of knowledge about the law, driving outside his assigned jurisdiction while on duty, and sleeping on the job. He did not satisfactorily complete his probation, police said.
Before taking the job with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department on June 5, 2006, Wright applied to become a deputy with the Broward Sheriff's Office.
BSO rejected him after he admitted using the services of a prostitute in the past, and stealing from his then-current employer. He also failed a BSO polygraph test on Feb. 3, 2006. The polygraph examiner said Wright showed unexplained reactions when asked about whether he had used illegal drugs.
The Fort Lauderdale Police Department was aware of Wright's failed BSO polygraph test, but hired him anyway, even after he failed another polygraph test with that department. The Fort Lauderdale polygraph examiner found that Wright showed deception when asked if he had ever committed a sex act for which he could be arrested.
Asked if he had ever used the services of a prostitute, he answered "no" to Fort Lauderdale police, records show, contradicting what he told BSO.
Fort Lauderdale police have not explained their reasons for hiring Wright.
"The involved police officer has got to be extremely concerned right now. Given the fact that there is more than one victim, in separate incidents, is problematic," said John Contini, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor in the Broward State Attorney's Office.
"It doesn't matter that these victims are prostitutes and have criminal histories," he said. "Their statements will be impeached, and that has to be taken into consideration, but the officer's past will be examined as well, and it doesn't sound like a stellar one."
Wright faces possible criminal charges from the Broward State Attorney's Office.
A spokesman for the State Attorney's Office confirmed the allegations against Wright, but said no decision has been reached on whether prosecutors will file criminal charges.
"Tim [Donnelly, head of the agency's Special Investigation Unit] tells me we're still reviewing the case," said Ron Ishoy, the Broward State Attorney's Office spokesman, in an email to the South Florida Times on Tuesday, Sept. 1.
Fort Lauderdale police, however, said prosecutors notified them that no charges would be filed against Wright.
Police released copies of their investigative file on Wright to the newspaper.
FORCED SEX AT GUNPOINT ALLEGED
"Officer Wright told [Kalb] that if she did not perform oral sex on him that he would arrest her. When she still hesitated, he removed his service weapon and pointed it at her head and said that he would kill her if she did not do it. [Kalb] then performed oral sex on Officer Wright," reads one section of a probable cause affidavit filed against Wright by Fort Lauderdale police with the Broward State Attorney's Office on Aug. 15, 2008.
That affidavit recommends charging Wright with one count of armed sexual battery and two counts of unlawful compensation.
In a separate incident, the affidavit states, "Between those dates [July 27, 2007 to August 3, 2007] Officer Wright picked up 3 separate female prostitutes. One woman, Heather Harris, was driven to the above address [400 block of NE 5 Terrace] by Officer Wright in his marked patrol car. Officer Wright told Harris that he knew she was a prostitute and that he wanted her to perform oral sex on him. Harris at first said no because she thought Officer Wright would arrest her and she did not want to return to jail. Officer Wright told her if she did not perform oral sex on him that he would take her to jail."
The sex allegations against Wright first came to light in August 2007 after Harris, another admitted prostitute who frequented the 400 block of North Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, told an undercover vice detective that she was forced to perform sex acts on a uniformed police officer, according to police.
A criminal investigation followed. Harris gave a statement to Brice Brittenum, a detective in the special victims unit of the criminal investigations division of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, on Sept. 21, 2007. Harris picked Wright's photo out of a lineup. She also told police about his involvement with Kalb and Francois; two other admitted prostitutes who worked in the same area, investigators said.
In addition to other work issues, personnel records show that Wright was counseled for leaving his assigned work area. He told the department that he transported a female to the beach. He told them that she said she needed a ride because she locked her keys in her car. Supervisors were not able to locate or identify the female to substantiate the claim.
Jack Lokiensky, president of the Fraternal Order of Police union that represents sworn officers in the city, said union officials were not aware of the case until a reporter contacted them.
"We didn't know anything about him, or this case, until you told us, but the FOP will not be representing him," Lokiensky said.
The investigative files contain statements from all three women with explicit, graphic and detailed descriptions about the sexual acts they allegedly performed on Wright in his squad car.
All the women said they did so out of fear of arrest. Kalb told investigators that during one incident, she was given $40, but Wright took the money back after she had serviced him.
Harris told investigators that sometimes he would pay her $20 for sex, and at other times he would not pay her at all. In one incident, she said, he paid her $9 instead of the $20 he had promised.
On another occasion, Harris told investigators, Wright drove her into an alley and made her sit on the front passenger seat of his squad car. She said the officer stood in front of her with the door open, and forced her to perform a sex act on him.
Experts say the case would present problems for prosecutors and the defense, in the event that charges are filed.
All three of Wright's accusers have criminal histories for drug possession and other offenses. Francois and Harris have served time in state prison in the past, and Francois is currently incarcerated for violating probation for possession of crack cocaine.
Harris is currently serving time in the Homestead Correctional Institution for cocaine possession. She also has an extensive arrest record, including multiple convictions on grand theft, burglary, auto theft, check fraud and drug possession charges. She also served a 12-year sentence for a 1991 conviction on armed robbery in Highlands County, Florida.
The sworn statements of both Kalb and Francois were taken by police on Dec. 17, 2007, while the women were serving time in the North Broward Detention Facility in Pompano Beach.
Kalb, who served time for violation of probation on a drug possession conviction, entered a rehabilitation center in 2008, according to police records. She told investigators she was trying to get her life back on track. Her current whereabouts are unknown.
Prosecutors have not said when they expect to make a final decision on charges in the case, or what charges, if any, they are considering.
Contini said it could be a difficult case for all sides.
"The State Attorney's Office will have problems with the case for the same reasons as the defense," Contini cautioned. "Anyone can be a victim of sexual battery, and these women's pasts are known, but the officer's past is an unknown, and there is no telling what else could be out there."
Pictured at the top of the story is Gerome Steven Wright. Pictured beneath Wright are Lauren Kalb, left, Heather Harris, right, and Rhonda Francois, below.