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Police chief accepts resignations after entire SWAT team resigns in FL

Hallandale Beach Police Chief Sonia Quinones (right) speaks at a news conference June 5 with Miramar Police Chief and Broward County Chiefs of Police Association President Dexter Williams vowing police reforms (Wayne K. Roustan/TNS)

A meeting between Hallandale Beach Police Chief Sonia Quinones and the 10 members of the SWAT team who resigned from their positions last week quickly degenerated into a union dispute Monday, according to the chief.

The resigning SWAT team members showed up with an attorney and declined to say anything that had not already been submitted to the chief in writing, Quinones said.

Quinones said she was hoping for a dialogue with them about readiness and training — and the message she tried to send a week earlier when she took a knee in solidarity with demonstrators protesting against police brutality.

The message was supposed to be one of partnership with the community, but the officers took umbrage when some demonstrators resurrected a fatal shooting from six years earlier.

“I’ve accepted the resignations,” Quinones said Monday. For the immediate future, if a SWAT team is needed in Hallandale Beach, police will rely on mutual-aid agreements with the county and other departments.

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Quinones said she was disappointed with the outcome of the meeting. The union lawyer was not needed because no one was being disciplined or accused of misconduct, she said.

Quinones found herself in an impossible position when protesters brought up the 2014 death of Howard Bowe, said Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper. A decision to get up would have shattered a profound moment of community solidarity, knocking down a bridge for demonstrators and police — and erecting a wall in its place, Cooper said.

“It was an awkward moment for all of us,” Cooper said. “The chief, especially, was in a no-win situation.”

Taking a knee for more than eight minutes in solidarity with demonstrators protesting against a Minnesota case of police brutality, the mayor, police chief and others present had to sit still while some demonstrators began chanting about a six-year-old case much closer to home.

The decision to remain kneeling had an effect on the force — 10 members of the police department resigned from their roles on the SWAT team last week.

Demonstrations against police brutality have swept the nation since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Demonstrators in Hallandale were bitter over the 2014 shooting death of Bowe, an unarmed black man killed in his home during a SWAT raid.

A grand jury cleared the officers, and the police department responded with a number of reforms, including increased diversity and de-escalation training along with the implementation of body-worn cameras for officers.

When the police chief took the knee while protesters continued to call for justice in the Bowe case, the resigning police officers said they felt abandoned instead of supported. “The risk of carrying out our duties is no longer acceptable to us and our families,” they wrote.

Vice Mayor Sabrina Javellana said the protesters raised the Bowe case numerous times during the demonstration, and she supported their calls for justice in that case. “Grand juries clear officers all the time,” she said. “It doesn’t settle the issue for the community.”

The SWAT members wrote they were upset Javellana protested against them and they perceived the kneeling as a show of support for her criticism of the police department.

Javellana and demonstrators chanted “Howard Bowe, re-open the case, State Attorney, re-open the case,” the letter said.

“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,” they wrote in the letter.

Javellana agreed that the city has taken steps to minimize the use of excessive force, but said the relationship between police and minority communities still has many open wounds to heal.

Calls to the union president were not returned as of late Monday afternoon.

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© 2020 the Sun Sentinel