An investigation into racist behavior in the city's police department didn't go far enough, members of the city's Citizens Police Review Board said Monday.
Board members said police investigators were too easy in their questioning of fellow officers and too quick to give them the benefit of the doubt.
They recommended City Manager Lee Feldman send the department's report -- concerning racist and other inappropriate text messages involving four officers and a video one of them made -- back to internal affairs for additional work.
"We don't feel as a group, as a committee, that the investigation was deep enough or wide enough," board member Skeet Jernigan said. "I think additional review will make everyone more comfortable with the outcome."
The board was also perturbed that more pressure wasn't being placed on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to revoke the certifications of the four officers investigators said were guilty of wrongdoing.
Maj. Karen Dietrich, head of internal affairs for Fort Lauderdale police, said her office checked with FDLE officials who, she said, told her the actions don't rise to a "moral character" failing that could lead to the officers being decertified.
City officials announced March 20 that three officers — Jason Holding, 31, James Wells, 30, and Christopher Sousa, 25 — were being fired and that Officer Alex Alvarez, 22, would have been fired had he not resigned in January.
None of the four was present at the meeting and no one spoke on their behalf.
"We have two more phases as part of this discipline process," Police Chief Frank Adderley told the board members. "I'm pretty sure that everything you're sending to the city manager is going to be addressed."
The investigation started in October when Alvarez's ex-fiancee contacted Adderley, who is black, and provided information about racist text messages and a video she found on Alvarez's personal cellphone.
The text messages included racial slurs as well as derogatory remarks about Hispanics, gays and co-workers, according to the internal affairs report.
Police said Alvarez produced a video, called "The Hoods," which was a mock movie trailer that included scenes of a Ku Klux Klan member, a doctored image of President Barack Obama with gold teeth and a bloody crime scene.
Board member Roosevelt Walters asked whether investigators had looked closely enough at the actions of others in the department. He was particularly concerned with Det. John Graul, who told investigators he had seen part of the video and "immediately called Officer Alvarez to express his disapproval."
What Graul should have done was reported it up the chain of command, Walters said.
"It should not stop with these officers," Walters said. "There are people who had the responsibility and the authority to make the difference and did not."
Det. Nina Justice, who is black and a member of the review board, also said investigators need to do a better job clarifying the relationships with Graul, whose photo was used in the video, and with officers Pedro Cabrera, Tim Shields and Vincent Schrider, whose names were listed in credits on the video.
Sgt. Francisco Vetancourt, who conducted the investigation, said his efforts were hampered because Alvarez chose to resign on the day he was scheduled to be interviewed.
The board vote to recommend further investigation was 5-2, with Justice joining four non-police members of the board, while Lt. Steve Greenlaw and Sgt. Adam Solomon voted against the motion.
The board heard from upset residents and others.
"As a citizen, I wouldn't be given the benefit of the doubt that you all give each other," Sonya Burrows said to the police investigators. "I'm a little offended."
Police Officer Dellica Harris told board members that her 13-year-old son, after hearing about the investigation, questioned whether she was safe in the department as a black officer.
"What changes are we going to make?" Harris asked police officials at the meeting. "I understand that we do have our brotherhood, but it has to be a true brotherhood."
Retired Sgt. Donnell Bryant, who is black, said he was involved in situations in the 1980s when he could only rely on backup from other black officers.
"Diversity training is great, but if you're a racist, you're a racist at home, you're a racist when you go to church, you're a racist when you come to work," said Bryant, who said he received a two-day suspension for assaulting an officer who had called him the n-word in the 1980s. "Had the administration addressed it in 1984, maybe we wouldn't be talking about it in 2015."
From our media partner Sun Sentinel