An ethics complaint is being filed against Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe after his office dropped criminal charges against two West Palm Beach Police officers who beat a handcuffed suspect in 2008.
The beating, caught on the cops’ dashboard cameras, embarrassed the police department when CNN and other national TV news outfits got the tape.
Rick Sessa, a retired Riviera Beach Police lieutenant and the host of The Beat, a police-oriented radio show on Seaview-960 AM, wrote the sworn complaint and mailed it Tuesday to the Florida Commission on Ethics in Tallahassee.
Cards on the table: I co-host the show with Sessa and retired West Palm Beach Police Internal Affairs Sgt. Dan Henry.
It’s Sessa, and Sessa alone, who filed as a concerned citizen, he said.
In his sworn statement, Sessa claims political quid pro quo: McAuliffe dropped the charges in the hope of receiving the endorsement of the Police Benevolent Association, the area’s most powerful police union, for his reelection campaign of 2012.
“I’m the most pro-cop guy out there,” the 46-year-old Sessa said, â€œbut this beating made all cops look bad. I have no vendetta against Mr. McAuliffe. It’s just that he must do the right thing. It’s an open-shut case of police brutality and it’s on video.
“It’s clear to me that Mr. McAuliffe attempted to gain a political advantage by dropping the charges arbitrarily.”
McAuliffe reportedly ordered the charges dropped Sept. 22, days after a meeting with PBA boss John Kazanjian and other union bigs. According to Sessa’s complaint, McAuliffe asked for the union’s endorsement in the meeting.
Sessa decided to file after Kazanjian confirmed he did lobby McAuliffe on behalf of the beating suspects that day. And now Sessa wants the state’s ethics czars to investigate what was said.
McAuliffe’s office, the FBI and WPBPD’s Internal Affairs investigated the May 2008 incident for a year before charging patrolmen Joseph Schwartz and Kurt Graham with misconduct. Graham eventually resigned and Schwartz was fired.
The criminal case lingered for two more years before the officers’ attorneys played the video in slow motion for prosecutors, according to The Palm Beach Post. It appeared to show that the drug and robbery suspect, Pablo Valenzuela, tried to bite Graham before the beating and the kicking started.
McAuliffe told The Post the new evidence forced him and his staff to re-evaluate.
“(Dropping the charges) was a hard decision to make,” he said.