It's been a rough year for Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary.
In October, Beary's former No. 2 man, Rick Staly, announced he wanted his former boss' job. That made Staly the second ex-Beary ally to run against him, including former division chief John Tegg.
In November, his deputies voted to unionize, citing poor pay and lackluster benefits. It was a slap in Beary's face, considering he campaigned vigorously against the union. Beary's critics called it a vote of no confidence.
In January, Sgt. Richard Mankewich shot and killed Marvin Williams, an unarmed 26-year-old black man who was fleeing from deputies who mistakenly thought he was a murder suspect. The black community was outraged; doubly so when Beary's department put the white sergeant back on the street a week later, before the investigation was over.
After Williams' death, Beary came under pressure to give more autonomy to the Citizens Review Board, a group appointed by the sheriff and the county commission to review brutality complaints. He initially resisted, reached a compromise, then angered the CRB and the black community by telling his deputies they didn't have to cooperate.
In February, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the sheriff's office had steered a $21,000 contract to a company owned by Beary's parents. Beary pled ignorance, though his signature appeared on the purchase requisitions.
In May, under media pressure regarding three deaths in 12 months from the use of Tasers, Beary convened a Taser task force. Then, with typical bombast, he answered a dare and had himself shot with one of the stun guns for the evening news, boasting to reporters afterward: "You saw it. I've done it. Now get real."
In July, area police chiefs agreed that their departments would use Tasers only on subjects who were "actively resisting." Beary declined to follow suit, saying his department will still use the stun guns for subjects offering "passive resistance," in other words, for those who aren't doing what a deputy tells them to do.
Beary is up for re-election, and the campaign hasn't been kind to him either. One of his opponents, John Tegg, sued Beary three times for public records requests that weren't processed quickly enough. When Tegg finally got what he was after, Beary's calendar, the world learned that the sheriff had been gone 400 days in the last five years. Additionally, there were 27 trips for which Beary couldn't produce receipts.
In April, the union representing 700 county corrections officers endorsed Tegg. In May, one of Beary's top aides was suspended for using an agency car to campaign for him. And, most importantly, just two weeks ago the union that represents nearly 800 of Beary's sworn deputies endorsed Tegg in the Aug. 31 Republican primary.
As Beary's predecessor, Walt Gallagher, found out 12 years ago, losing your deputies' support doesn't bode well for your re-election.
All of which points to a simple reality: For the first time since he took office in 1992, Kevin Beary is fighting to keep his job. His opponents are legitimate. Local media and county leaders are questioning him like never before, and Beary is fighting back. He's on the defensive, and his opponents smell blood.
But Beary isn't one to be easily written off. He has money, name recognition and the connections that come from being a political force for more than a decade. He's spent the last three years creating a national reputation as a homeland security pioneer, which will come in handy in his first campaign since Sept. 11. Last year, he was named National Sheriff of the Year by the National Sheriffs' Association, which looks pretty good on campaign literature.
Will it be enough? Or are Beary's days as the most powerful cop in Orange County, if not all of Florida, numbered?
BEARY VS. BEARY
In John Tegg's modest campaign office, leased space above a tow-truck company on Orange Blossom Trail, there's a giant placard boasting two remarkably similar, enlarged campaign flyers. The first, from 1992, features Kevin Beary criticizing ex-Orange County Sheriff Walt Gallagher for being out of town too often and spending too many tax dollars on trips. "If Walt Gallagher cannot stay home to protect you and me," the 1992 flyer reads, "he should not keep his job."
The second flyer is Tegg's, leveling the same criticism of Beary, while also noting that Beary has traveled more than Gallagher ever did.
In that campaign 12 years ago, Beary went after Gallagher for having too many administrators and not enough street cops. Beary's opponents, Tegg and Rick Staly, make the same charge today. "Kevin allowed himself to get hit by this," says a longtime friend of Beary's, who asked not to be named. "All the issues he's vulnerable on are self-inflicted."
Beary was golden when he ran for sheriff in 1992, largely because Gallagher was unpopular inside and outside of the sheriff's office. In unincorporated Orange County, major crimes dropped 3 percent during Gallagher's four years in office, but violent crimes increased 16 percent. His deputies were often criticized as rude and abrasive, reflecting Gallagher's own managerial style. When a deputy was fatally injured in a helicopter crash on Gallagher's first day on the job, the sheriff didn't even visit his deputy in the hospital.
It was Beary who organized the effort to bring food and sympathy to the deputy's family after he died.
Beary joined the sheriff's office in 1978, and quickly became a star. His personnel file includes a mountain of commendation letters from folks he helped, superiors attesting to his tenacity, intelligence and bravery, and even an assistant state attorney praising his report-writing ability. His evaluations were almost always ranked "superior," and he quickly moved up the ladder, becoming a captain by the end of Lawson Lamar's tenure as sheriff in 1988.
But a month after Gallagher took over, the new sheriff demoted Beary to lieutenant. He resigned a month later. Beary had supported one of Gallagher's rivals in the race to replace Lamar.
Beary took a job at the Kennedy Space Center, and almost immediately began campaigning for Gallagher's job. In 1992 he took a leave of absence from the space center to run for sheriff. Beary raised more than $108,000, making him tops in the money race.
He came in second behind Gallagher in the crowded Republican primary, earning a spot in the runoff. Beary's campaign knocked on an estimated 18,000 doors in the last 10 days of the run-off, and to everyone's surprise beat Gallagher handily. He went on to trounce the Democratic candidate, Wayne Bird, to become sheriff.
Both of Beary's current opponents supported him that first time out. In fact, Staly then a watch commander served as a mole for the Beary campaign, feeding Beary's campaign an analysis of the department's weaknesses and reporting on Gallagher's attack strategies. After winning the election, Beary put Staly in charge of the transition team, and six months later made him undersheriff, the No. 2 post in the office.
"He was a cop that had a good vision," Staly says. "We were an agency in turmoil."
"Kevin Beary and I served side by side," says Jack Peaden, a retired division chief who takes credit for helping convince Beary to run 12 years ago, but is now campaigning for Tegg. "He was a cop's cop. Tough on crime Ã? . When he first got elected, he did a really good job the first four years."
Gallagher had decentralized the agency, Peaden says, and Beary "put a togetherness back in the agency."
But Beary started to change during his second term (which he won in 1996 while fighting off a county plan to make the sheriff an appointed, rather then elected, position). "He turned from a local sheriff to a professional politician," Peaden says. "He did a lot of traveling, he was less accessible to staff and deputies. He started to develop a national reputation for Kevin Beary. The agency started to slide. The focus wasn't the agency anymore. The focus became Kevin Beary."
"In the middle of his second term, I and many others started seeing a change in his leadership," Tegg says. "His absenteeism, his traveling, his spending practices, his promotion policies, his discipline. I supported him early on, but a lot of us, we were figuring out that maybe there's a transformation here."
Beary won a third term in 2000 unopposed, a term that has been defined by his quest to make himself and his department pioneers in homeland security in the wake of Sept. 11. He created a homeland security division in the sheriff's department, and was the first in the country to have his deputies vaccinated for smallpox.
Term No. 3 has also been defined by Beary's increasingly adversarial relationship with critics, especially reporters, leading to an aura of arrogance. Beary's detractors point to an imposing oil painting of himself in a Gen. Patton-esque pose that hung in his office (a gift from an admirer, not the taxpayers), and his insistence on wearing five stars on his collar (a congratulatory gift after winning his National Sheriffs' Association award) as evidence that he is out of touch.
As Beary's longtime friend puts it, the true tale of Beary's tenure is he went from "young, bright do-gooder to an egomaniac with five stars on his collar."
"He has become what he ran against," Staly says.
BEARY VS. UNDERLINGS
With his close-cropped hair and the King James Bible on the desk of his campaign office, John Tegg just looks like a sheriff: Fliers for an upcoming fund-raiser at a bar boast that, while there will be live music, there will be no alcohol. He drives a Ford F-150, adorned with a campaign sign and a bumper sticker for a Christian radio station.
Tegg spent 27 years in the sheriff's office, and was enthusiastically praised in his evaluations by his superiors. One exception: In the 1980s he did a stint in the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation, where he once received a tongue-lashing from a judge for covering up an informant's burglary to get evidence for a massive marijuana seizure. He ended his career as a division chief in charge of undercover investigations.
Tegg says the circumstances surrounding the end of his tenure illustrate the need for a change of leadership. In 2002, he was in charge of the undercover unit when a civilian employee was arrested for drunk driving in Lake County. Tegg says her boyfriend was a drug dealer, and the employee had actually allowed him inside the undercover office, where he could see who the undercover officers were.
When Tegg signed the paper to fire her, he didn't include a necessary lawyer's memo outlining the legal underpinnings of the discipline. Tegg deemed it a "clerical error."
The sheriff's office launched an internal investigation.
"Nobody's ever been investigated for a clerical error," Tegg says. "This is a warning shot."
A warning shot that came, he says, because rumors were flying that Tegg wanted Beary's job. Tegg was told he'd be suspended for three days. He decided to retire, effective at the end of January 2003. And after that, Tegg decided to "pursue my dream" and run for sheriff.
Rick Staly, a more diminutive man, echoes Tegg's sentiments on Beary: "Had Kevin Beary stayed the sheriff he was when he was elected in '92, I probably would not be running for sheriff."
Staly joined the force in 1977, and was a lieutenant when Beary became sheriff. He became Beary's second-in-command in 1993, a position he held until 1999 when Beary demoted him and cut his pay by $20,000. At the time, the sheriff's office deemed the move a routine personnel shift. After Staly entered the race, Beary said he demoted him because Staly wasn't liked.
In 2000, Staly violated office policy by appearing in uniform and displaying his office-issue pager in a vitamin ad without permission. In the ad, Staly boasted of earning $64,000 in three months selling vitamins to friends and co-workers. He was suspended for a day; the suspension was later rescinded in favor of a verbal reprimand. Then Beary's chief deputy, and now undersheriff, Malone Stewart, ordered an investigation into a two-year-old incident in which Staly crashed his unmarked car into a tree while responding to a call. Staly had already been cleared of wrongdoing; the new investigation was to determine if he reported the incident properly.
Staly called it political harassment, and later told the Orlando Sentinel, "Anyone the sheriff thinks might run against him, he does everything he can to ruin their chances."
Eventually, after Staly threatened to file a federal complaint, he and the sheriff reached a settlement, which included an agreement not to bad-mouth each other, and Staly retired. In March 2003, he switched parties and became a Democrat, which allowed him to skip a Republican primary when he ran for sheriff. Which is odd, says sheriff's office spokesman Jim Solomons, who worked under Staly, "because he was to the right of Attila the Hun."
Both Tegg and Staly say there aren't enough crimes being solved. They also claim that, though Beary's budget has ballooned in the last 12 years and administrators have seen healthy salary increases, deputies aren't paid what they're worth.
The stats on Staly's campaign literature, taken from an FDLE analysis of unincorporated Orange County's crimes in 2003, paint a disturbing picture: Only 20 percent of murders were solved; 15 percent of burglaries; and 39 percent of sex crimes. Almost 80 percent of serious crimes went unsolved in 2003, according to the FDLE.
The sheriff's office says the FDLE numbers understate its success. Capt. Ernie Scott says there's a reporting problem the result of both human and computer error that causes the clearance rates to be dramatically lower in the FDLE analysis than they really are. According to the sheriff's office, 76 percent of homicides and 33 percent of robberies were solved last year.
But even the sheriff's numbers show a decline in the percentage of homicide cases solved, from 85 percent in 1999 to 76 percent in 2003.
The sheriff's office budget has increased more than 100 percent in Beary's tenure, from just $68 million to $147 million. More than $15 million of that goes to cover managerial salaries.
Beary defended his budget increases to the Orlando Sentinel: "Over the last 10 years, Orange County has gone through double-digit growth in terms of calls for service. With that growth comes the need for far more deputies on the street."
But are there actually more deputies, or is the money going to pay for items like the transport plane Beary bought in 2001 and spent $200,000 to remodel?
A review of the current patrol rosters indicates that, throughout Orange County, there are 372 deputies on patrol schedule, including deputies assigned to malls and the Walt Disney property (paid for by Disney, not Orange County taxpayers).
Tegg and Staly both say the number of deputies on the streets is low, up only slightly from when Beary took over, when it was "about 300," Staly and Tegg both say.
The sheriff's office, however, says those numbers don't tell the whole story. "I know I may come across as a company man and I'm pretty sure where this request (for patrol records) is coming from," spokesman Solomons writes in an e-mail. "For what it's worth these numbers do not give you a total picture of how many deputies are actually out there on the street."
Tegg and Staly's numbers don't reflect K9 units, special operations units and tactical teams all of which, Solomons says, would respond to calls if needed. If you add those in, that's another 131 cops answering calls, even if they're not technically patrolling.
BEARY VS. PUBLIC RECORDS
"He's a sheriff who's lost touch with the voters," says county commissioner Homer Hartage, an increasingly frequent Beary critic. "He intends to run this place as a dictator."
Which means, according to Hartage, stonewalling commissioners' requests for information, particularly when it comes to the budget. "The big picture is we have no idea what he needs because we can't see inside his budget," Hartage says.
Before 2001, the county commission generally gave the sheriff whatever he wanted budget-wise, no questions asked. Hartage says that if the commission didn't cave in to Beary's demands, the sheriff would paint them as anticop and no politicians wants to be anticop.
"Most elected officials curry favor with the sheriff," commissioner Ted Edwards told the Sentinel in 2001, the first year the county seriously questioned Beary's expanding budget. "He's very popular. He does a very good job. But in the past when I've questioned expenditures, it's fallen on deaf ears."
Last year, for the first time since he took office, Hartage says, Beary's budget request fell in line with the level of spending increases the county expects from its other departments. But that doesn't mean he's happy.
"We don't know what their pay grades are, we don't have enough information," Hartage says. "He won't release it. If you ask for it, you become an enemy of the state."
When comptroller Martha Haynie wanted to audit his evidence room in 2003, Beary initially resisted, until media pressure forced him to give in and only after he complained about a previous budget audit. Beary initially refused to release information on a shooting two years ago, Hartage says, and also initially refused to turn over documents to the commissioners for free he wanted to charge them the same copying fee he charges the public, Hartage says, even though his budget comes from county coffers. He later relented.
Tegg had similar problems. Earlier this year, he sued Beary to get a copy of the agency's contract with Pepsi for revenues generated by vending machines for two months the sheriff's office claimed it couldn't find the document. After the lawsuit, and ensuing publicity, they found the document and Tegg dropped the suit. In 2003, Tegg sued after he couldn't get documents related to the purchase of the SWAT team's Hummer, communications between the sheriff's office and the comptroller's office regarding an audit of the evidence room, organizational charts, Beary's calendar from 1998 to 2003 and end-of-year expenditures from each budget line item. After the suit, Beary produced the documents, saying the delay was due to redacting personal information from his calendar (which he produced without redactions).
The calendar gave rise to allegations of excessive traveling he'd been out of town 400 days since 1998, including Sept. 11, when he was in Russia but Beary didn't produce receipts for 27 of his trips. Tegg sued again. Beary's office claimed the receipts were lost.
"It's really a shame that two former employees" Tegg and Tegg's lawyer, former staff attorney J. Edwin Mills "with an axe to grind have decided to take the low road with their political campaign," Beary wrote on his website, www.ocso.com. "But ... to prove that I have nothing to hide I am directing my staff to release personal information concerning me and my family."
Orlando Weekly made a number of public records requests for this story, including personnel files, patrol rosters and the department's budget. The sheriff's press office was, for the most part, helpful in supplying the information. Still, it was obvious from the outset they weren't thrilled with the prospect of more, possibly negative, media attention.
A confirmation e-mail to a Weekly records request came back from Solomons, CC'd to the paper and his boss, Capt. Bernie Presha: "Bernie ... FYI ... Will this nonsense ever stop?"
BEARY VS. DEPUTIES
"We endorsed John Tegg because we thought he was honest."
So says Jerome Fowler, head of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 86, which represents 700 Orange County corrections officers. "We were going through a difficult time at the jail, and he stood with us."
Four years ago, the FOP Lodge 86 asked Beary to join them in negotiations with the county for a new contract. He said he would, but never showed up, Fowler says. And the sheriff also promised the FOP he would back its effort to move control of the jail from the county to the sheriff's office. "We [found] he was only blowing smoke, that he wasn't being honest," Fowler says.
The biggest problem the union has with Beary is how he treats his people: "We deal mostly with how he treats us and the deputies," Fowler says. "They're not really happy with how they're treating them."
A worse indictment came when the Central Florida Police Benevolent Association, which represents nearly 800 of Beary's deputies, endorsed Tegg in the primary. "The bottom line is it is time for a change," says union president John Park. "We have some of the poorest salaries in Central Florida, the worst working conditions in Central Florida, the worst benefits in Central Florida. We're not seeing any of the benefits. On the flip side, it's interesting to note that deputies are making significantly less than their colleagues at the city police department, but the high-end chiefs are making significantly more."
He echoes some of Beary's challengers' complaints: "According to the sheriff's own statement, there has been a 36 to 38 percent increase in population," Park says. "There has been a 137 percent increase in the volume of calls. There are 342 deputies on the road." [This figure is based on an outdated patrol roster; as noted above, the August 2004 figure is 372, or 503 by the sheriff's count.] "That is unacceptable. Only because of the tenacity and professionalism of the deputies has service been maintained to the highest standards. How long can that stay like that?"
Solomons says that endorsement may be more of a union thing than the vibe of the average deputy and it's not a surprising endorsement, considering how hard Beary fought the union last year.
BEARY VS. MINORITIES
The Marvin Williams fiasco was just the tipping point in Beary's relationship with area minorities. "It started way before that," says Hartage.
Not only did Mankewich, a white sergeant, shoot an unarmed black man who was fleeing, but that same cop was back on the street in a week an oversight, Beary said. When issue came up in the press, Beary took Mankewich off the street.
Beary broke with his usual policy and allowed the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct a parallel investigation into the shooting, the results of which it turned over to Lamar, who presented it to a grand jury.
Still, the media storm that followed the Williams shooting revealed that the Citizens Review Board, which Orange County voters created by referendum in 1992 to review allegations of police brutality, had no power, and rarely differed with the findings of the sheriff's department. From 1998 to early 2004, the CRB sided with the cops 170 out of 176 times. And when it didn't, their findings ultimately amounted to a recommendation that the sheriff to look into the case. In four of the six cases in which the CRB disagreed, Beary simply ignored it.
The CRB was, as member Luis Gomez called it, a "toothless tiger."
Hartage and Siplin complained, and after first resisting, Beary agreed to put the CRB under county supervision in February. Under the new arrangement, the department would complete its own investigation, then forward its recommendations to county staffers, who would independently evaluate the report and pass it along to the CRB, likely encouraging the board to exercise its seldom-used subpoena power. The CRB's decision would go both to Beary and the county commission, and its meetings would be televised. The county also established phone lines so residents could file complaints without going through the sheriff's office.
A week after that agreement was reached in March, the grand jury declared the Williams' shooting justified, which further enraged the black community. To make matters worse, that day, the grand jury decided that the shooting of Tommy Mike, another unarmed black man, was also justified.
In May, an Orlando Sentinel/WESH-TV investigation showed that such findings weren't at all uncommon. In the past six years, prosecutors had cleared every single officer in central Florida accused of an on-duty slaying. Beary's agency was involved in 28 of the 81 shootings; 16 of them involved unarmed suspects.
In July, the sheriff sent a memo to his deputies, telling them that attending the CRB meetings was now optional. At the next meeting, CRB member Gomez walked out.
"I didn't walk out of the meeting solely because of the change of policy," Gomez says. "I walked out because I was fed up with all the crap that the sheriff has put in front of us the last 18 months. I am of the belief that the sheriff would prefer the CRB didn't exist."
Gerald Bell, president of the Orange County chapter of the NAACP, says relations between the sheriff's office and the NAACP are improving. "The community has a lot of concerns," he says. "It will have concerns unless we see some changes."
Still, he says of late the sheriff's office has kept him in the loop. And he says the sheriff is quite popular in some black communities.
Bell serves on the sheriff's Taser task force. That task force was Beary's response to a public outcry over perceived widespread Taser use and a handful of deaths after suspects had been hit with Tasers. While other local police departments agreed to make Tasers a "level four" response used to counter active resistance Beary didn't go along, instead saying he'd await his task force's findings.
The task force, half of which is made up of Orange County deputies, doesn't seem likely to follow other agencies' leads. At a recent meeting, in fact, Bell was the only one concerned that Orange County uses Tasers at "level three," or passive resistance meaning you can get zapped for not moving when an officer tells you to move.
Beary's homeland security zeal recently angered Arab-Americans and civil libertarians. In July, the domestic security task force, which Beary leads alongside Lamar and FDLE regional director Joyce Dawley, wanted firefighters and utility workers to spy on homeowners, especially Middle Eastern ones without much furniture. After a public outcry, the task force took out the reference to "Middle Eastern appearance," and said the printed brochures that caused the hullabaloo were premature.
BEARY VS. HIS CRITICS
Kevin Beary doesn't roll over for critics. Quite the opposite. When questioned he often goes on the defensive in a column on his website called "Just the Facts."
"No middleman. No slant. Just the facts!" he promises.
His column frequently targets politicians, and relishes bashing Orlando Sentinel writers and editorialists, especially Scott Maxwell (whom Beary boasts that he has blacklisted) and David Porter. The Weekly was also blacklisted, Solomons told us, which could be the reason why Beary ignored repeated requests for an interview.
When, in July 2002, Siplin criticized the sheriff's office over police shootings, Beary ripped into him: "Enough is enough. I am fed up with Representative Gary Siplin and his unwarranted and inflammatory comments about police shootings. The fact is Mr. Siplin is not telling you the truth. He is trying to create an issue where, in fact, no issue exists. ... What better way to draw a little attention to a floundering political campaign than to call a press conference on a controversial issue and stand in front of a TV camera and make accusations that are wholly without merit or substance."
His most recent rant, dated Aug. 9, took aim at the Sentinel's coverage of the CRB, and at Gomez: "The only daily newspaper in town is on the offensive trying to discredit me and the Orange County Civilian Review Board (CRB). Fact is, they have accused me of thumbing my nose at you because I will not order my deputies to appear before the CRB. Ã? The CRB did its job just fine until Mr. Luis Gomez, a man who admits his disdain for cops, was appointed to it. Mr. Gomez has been a disruptive and radical board member. "
"I wish I wasn't so hung up on the concept of truth in journalism," he wrote in another essay on the Sentinel's coverage of his travel.
Solomons notes that local media coverage of the sheriff tends to focus on the bad. When Beary was named Sheriff of the Year, for instance, that got nowhere near the play of Taser-linked deaths or the Williams shooting.
The same holds true for homeland security, Solomons says. Beary is criticized for being overly aggressive, but he'd also get slammed if there was an attack and he was unprepared. In other words, Solomons says, he can't win.
BEARY VS. VOTERS
But it's still hard to imagine Beary losing. He's been in office for so long, with so much power and very little criticism from anyone in the county or the media. He is a pillar of the Central Florida political scene, and his tough-talking, my-way-or-the-highway shtick can be reassuring in a sheriff. Indeed, it's hard not to respect an elected official who still patrols once a week.
Any election with such an entrenched incumbent will test voters' feelings toward Beary far more than their thoughts on Tegg or Staly. If they think he's done OK, he'll win. If not, someone else will.
So Beary's flaws, perceived or otherwise, will take center stage as election day nears. (He faces Tegg in the Aug. 31 primary; the winner faces Staly, a Democrat, in November.)
"Kevin knows these are all his flaws," says his longtime friend. "I don't think he cares."
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