FORT LAUDERDALE — A police union has revoked the membership of a retired detective with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department who erroneously accused two former colleagues of racial profiling.
Al Smith, now an investigator with the Broward Public Defender’s Office, was targeted by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) following complaints from members.
Smith retired as a detective with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department prior to working in the public defender’s office. He has led a series of novel investigations into the arrests of people the office represents, employing data from global positioning systems installed in patrol vehicles and other high-tech data rarely used by defense attorneys.
FOP president Jack Lokiensky sent a letter to Smith informing him that the executive board of FOP had brought charges against him “regarding certain deceitful and dishonest actions” in his capacity as chief investigator for the Broward Public Defender’s Office.
Smith’s efforts have resulted in numerous investigations, some ongoing, and suspensions and criminal charges being filed against some officers when the information they include in reports or their testimony is contradicted by the data.
Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein has presented a list of such cases to the state attorney’s office, calling for investigations to determine whether the arresting officers from agencies around the county may have perjured themselves and falsified records. He has also accused some officers of targeting minorities and racial profiling.
“Your deliberately deceitful and deceptive actions ultimately harmed the professional reputation and economic well-being of two brother FOP member police officers, while further discrediting the professional standing of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department and, in turn, the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 31,” Lokiensky said in his letter.
Smith denies the allegations and was not present for the vote, which took place Tues., Feb 28. Smith said he is not concerned about being kicked out of the union.
“They really don’t provide me with any representation or benefits,” he said. “I would have to take the FOP emblem off my (license) tag but, other than that, there would be no impact.”
The FOP’s move against Smith is related to Fort Lauderdale police officers Jose Dejo and Ian Sandman, who were suspended and placed under criminal investigation based on Smith’s investigation. They were later exonerated, but union officials accused Smith of deliberately submitting false information and being untruthful.
Union officials point to a Nov. 28 email Smith sent to state officials in which Smith acknowledged submitting the wrong license plate number for the vehicle Sandman and Dejo had pulled over during a traffic stop.
“It was a typographical error,” Smith said. “I made a mistake and it was addressed and I’m sorry for it. But they did give false testimony about the owner’s (driver) license being suspended.”
Smith’s cutting-edge investigations have led to heightened tensions among law enforcement agencies, the Broward State Attorney’s Office, police unions and the public defender’s office.
In a letter to the state attorney’s office, Finkelstein raised the question of possible racial profiling and accused Sandman and Dejo of providing false information related to their arrest of Lee Gemelus, based on Smith’s investigation.
On May 15, 2010, Gemelus, 24, was pulled over while driving a friend’s car and was arrested for driving with a suspended license. In their report, the officers said he was stopped after a check of the vehicle’s tag came back showing no information on file.
In separate depositions, Dejo and Sandman testified that Gemelus fit the description of the owner of the vehicle whose driver license came back as being suspended as the reason for the traffic stop.
Smith’s investigation used information from a statewide crime database and concluded the officers did not run a check of the license plate and that the driver license of the vehicle owner had never been suspended.
Gemelus complained that he was targeted because he is black and prosecutors dismissed the charge against him. Prosecutors also opened a criminal investigation and Sandman and Dejo were put on administrative leave.
Prosecutors determined that the officers had run a check on the tag and Smith had made a mistake by checking the wrong tag number. Union officials allege Smith’s Nov. 28 email to state officials proves he never ran the correct license plate number, as indicated in his report.
Dejo and Sandman told prosecutors they confused Gemelus’ case with another traffic stop and that that was the reason for their erroneous testimony. They were reinstated to their jobs and later cleared in the criminal investigation, but did receive letters of counseling for not being prepared for the depositions.
“Based on my review of this matter and the taking of the voluntary sworn statements for Officers Sandman and Dejo, there is no evidence to warrant the filing of the charge of Falsifying Records against either Officer Sandman or Dejo,” wrote Assistant State Attorney David Schulson in a Jan. 4 closeout memo.
*Pictured above is Public Defender Office investigator Al Smith, left and FOP union president Jack Lokiensky, right.