Enitire South Florida SWAT Team Resigns After Police Chief Denounces Racism
A south Florida police department's entire SWAT team resigned Friday, citing the chief of police's decision to take a knee with protesters calling for an investigation into a 2014 raid in which a black man was fatally shot.
The ten-person team handed over an angry letter of resignation to the Hallandale Beach police chief in which they took aim at Vice Mayor Sabrina Javellana for comparing them to the Minneapolis Police Department that killed George Floyd.
The letter also cited safety concerns over a lack of equipment and claimed that the 'disdain' of local officials meant the safety of police dogs was taken more seriously than the unit's safety.
The eight officers and two sergeants resigned from the team but not from the Hallandale Beach Police Department.
Among them was the newly elected president of the International Union of Police Associations.
Police Chief Sonia Quinones received a memo from the SWAT team Friday morning, City Manager Greg Chavarria said in a statement.
The officers said they were 'minimally equipped' and had been 'disrespected' by city officials who refused to address equipment and training concerns.
'The risk of carrying out our duties in this capacity is no longer acceptable to us and our families,' the officers wrote in the memo, dated Tuesday.
'The anguish and stress of knowing that what we may be lawfully called upon to do in today's political climate combined with the team's current situation and several recent local events, leave us in a position that is untenable.
'The team is minimally equipped, under trained and oftentimes restrained by the politicization of our tactics to the extent of placing the safety of dogs over the safety of the team members,' it added.
The SWAT team officers were particularly vexed by the recent actions of Chief of Police Quinones who they claimed had supported Vice Mayor Sabrina Javellana in kneeling with protesters.
Quinones and Javellana were among several other local officials and activists to take a knee as demonstrators called for the case of Howard Bowe to be reopened.
'This lack of support by members of the Command Staff is crippling to the agency and its rank and file,' the memo said.
Bowe, a 34-year-old black man, was killed in 2014 by Hallandale Beach's SWAT team as it carried out a search warrant and raided his home at 6am.
According to the Sun Sentinel, the officers were serving a search warrant as part of a narcotics investigation, but instead killed the father of three and his 13-year-old dog named Tank.
In the aftermath of the shooting, police confiscated about 18.5 grams of crack cocaine from Bowe's home, according to a police report.
The officers wrote that investigators never found that any misconduct had been committed by the officers involved in Bowe's death.
The case of wrongful death filed by Bowe's family later resulted in a $425,000 settlement with the city.
The SWAT unit's letter also targeted Vice Mayor Javellana who they claimed was among members of the city commission who had 'openly disrespected officers individually'.
'The Vice Mayor Sabrina Javellana has made openly ignorant and inaccurate statements attacking the lawful actions of the city's officers and SWAT team both from the dais and form her social media accounts,' the unit said.
'She has actively protested against us.
'She has shown that she takes pleasure in besmirching the hard work and dedication of the members of this professional agency, having the gall to compare us to the Minneapolis Police Department,' it added.
Yet, Javellana has stood by her decision to kneel.
'I have been vocal about the wrongful death of Howard Bowe since even before I was in elected office,' she said Friday night.
'We have our own George Floyds and Breonna Taylors in our own city that we must address before we can heal and reform.'
On Friday, Chavarria's statement said the officers' memo incorrectly said that Chief of Police Quinones was supporting Javellana by taking a knee.
'They specifically mention their displeasure with the Chief joining members of our community in taking a knee against racism, hatred, and intolerance earlier this week,' Chavarria told CBS 12 News.
'They have incorrectly stated the gesture was in support of an elected official. This is simply not true.'
The police chief has now called a meeting for Monday afternoon with the resigning SWAT team members, Chavarria's statement added.
The city manager's statement assured the public that Hallandale Beach would still have SWAT coverage through regional mutual aid arrangements.
'The City of Hallandale Beach continues to have special weapons and tactics coverage through regional mutual aid, which the City has used for SWAT operations in the past,' he said.
'While the voluntary resignation of our officers from this assignment is unfortunate, our residents should be assured it has not had any impact on our commitment to protecting their safety.'
The city's Mayor Joy Cooper added she would also be following up on the resignations to ensure that the public is protected.
'I will be following up with our chief of police, following up with our unions and, most importantly, ensuring that our accredited department has the resources and the training that they need to protect and serve our public,' Mayor Cooper told the Sun Sentinel.
She also addressed the calls for the reopening of Bowe's cases and claimed that changes had already been made to the force in the wake of his 2014 death to improve police accountability.
'We addressed the use of force,' she said. 'We implemented body cameras. We instituted de-escalation training. We instituted also diversity training. And we became accredited.'
'I think it's disingenuous not to make sure the public knows those facts.'
The protests in the Hallandale Beach have occurred as demonstrations continue to take place across the country against police brutality and the death of George Floyd.
Floyd, a handcuffed black man, died in Minneapolis after an officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for several minutes, ignoring Floyd's cries that he couldn't breathe
Hallandale Beach is an oceanside community of about 38,000 people roughly 20 miles north of Miami.