A standoff between a federal agent and a Hollywood police officer has spawned a civil rights lawsuit against the city, alleging that officers arrested the agent to cover up their own misconduct. The lawsuit lists a litany of allegations against the city — including negligence, false imprisonment, abuse of power and failing to protect citizens from rogue officers.
Denis Gulakowski, 37, a DEA agent, filed suit against the city in federal court a week ago claiming that Detective James Callari and his colleagues escalated a trivial traffic hiccup — involving traffic cones outside Callari's home — into an assault, an armed standoff with officers, the agent being illegally arrested and being threatened by a ranking officer that he would be set up and lose his job.
The lawsuit accuses the city of failing to train officers properly and arresting people on "unsubstantiated allegations … to cover up the errors and crimes of their own active or off-duty personnel." The agent also alleges the city "routinely engaged in a culture of protecting their own officers by arresting innocent individuals who could make complaints against" Hollywood officers and seeks an unspecified amount of damages.
The lawsuit is the latest in a long string of allegations of unprofessional and even criminal conduct by some members of the police department.
Attorneys for the city have not yet filed a response to the lawsuit but police reports filed by several city officers and the city's internal affairs review support their officers' handling of the incident and accuse the agent of being "combative" and acting unprofessionally.
Though Callari — who is married to a city commissioner — declined to comment to the newspaper, reports filed by him and his colleagues alleged that the agent "slalomed," or drove erratically, through the cones at some speed in his 2000 red Corvette. The officers also claimed that the agent later apologized.
Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Dawn Kulick, who was a passenger in the DEA agent's car at the time, gave a statement to police supporting the agent's account of the incident. Callari's wife, Traci, who was not on the commission at the time and was listed as a witness, told police she was in the couple's garage and did not see all of the events.
Hollywood spokeswoman Raelin Storey said: "Hollywood Police Department thoroughly reviewed this incident and we are absolutely confident that our officers responded appropriately, given the nature of the situation. We do not anticipate that the city will have liability in this case."
In his complaint, Gulakowski said he was driving westbound on Buchanan Street, east of State Road 7, about 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 25, 2009, when he spotted several small orange traffic cones in the middle of the street outside what he later learned was the residence of Detective Callari and his wife, Traci, who was elected to the City Commission last November.
The cones were placed to slow down traffic in the 30-miles-per-hour residential area.
The agent said there were no pedestrians around and he was driving about 25 to 35 mph when he drove by the last cone. He drove a few more yards, then noticed a man in shorts and a baggy shirt walk out into the street near the cones.
Gulakowski turned his vehicle around and drove back – at about 10 mph – "to speak with and apologize" to the man for driving between the cones, according to the lawsuit.
But as he pulled up, the man – who he found out later was Callari – "started to curse, swear and yell" at the agent and wouldn't calm down, the agent's lawyer Gustavo Lage wrote.
"In response to the individual yelling 'Yeah, well I hope you die' ... [the agent] responded in an agitated voice, with profanity, back at the individual," and tried to drive away, the lawsuit claims.
Callari, who was dressed casually, reached into the vehicle, struck the agent in the face, grabbed him by his shirt, tried to pull him out of the vehicle and "started to choke him with the shirt," the agent alleges.
Callari wrote in his report that he grabbed Gulakowski because he didn't know he was an agent and thought he was a civilian, possibly reaching for a weapon.
Gulakowski said he identified himself as a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, drew his gun from its holster and pointed it at the man, who he did not realize was an off-duty officer. The man released the agent and ran behind the agent's vehicle.
The agent "warned the individual that he was under arrest but the individual, while maintaining a posture with his hands up, continued to run toward his driveway," the lawyer wrote.
The man then identified himself as a police officer and both men, who were off duty, asked for each other's credentials.
Thinking the situation was under control, the agent said he put his weapon back in the holster and held up his badge and credentials, but the man said he was using his cellphone to call for a marked city police cruiser and Gulakowski "was going to be in trouble." Officers said the agent's weapon was in the rear waistband of his pants.
The officer, Callari, asked Gulakowski to put his gun back in his vehicle but the agent said he refused because Callari had not provided any I.D. and the agent said putting his gun in the vehicle in those circumstances would have violated DEA policy.
When a uniformed officer showed up in a marked patrol car, Callari yelled that Gulakowski was armed. Though the gun was holstered, Debreau asked the agent to put his firearm in his car but Gulakowski replied "in a calm but firm voice that he would not release his firearm and that he was prohibited by DEA policy" from doing so.
The uniformed officer pulled his gun and pointed it at the agent. Gulakowski said he asked for the officers to call their supervisor to the scene and said he would do the same but "a standoff ensued" about the requested surrender of his weapon while "multiple" city police officers showed up at the scene.
Gulakowski said that when he heard officers behind him, he "slowly got to his knees while continuing to hold his credentials in a visible fashion above his head with both his hands up." An officer took his gun and he complied with an order to lie down on the street.
"While lying on the ground, several officers mocked ... Gulakowski about being a federal agent," the lawyer wrote.
The agent was allowed to stand up but he alleges that a police sergeant, whose name was not given, then approached him "in an aggressive manner" and told him "You are under arrest. We are going to hook you up. You're through."
This encouraged several other officers to berate the agent and he was told he was going to jail and would not be allowed to call his supervisor, he said.
A third officer let the agent call his boss but the unidentified sergeant returned and told the officers to arrest the agent.
Two other DEA agents were summoned to the scene but Gulakowski was brought – handcuffed in the back seat of a marked police car, to police headquarters on Hollywood Boulevard. The cuffs were removed inside the building but he was detained in custody for about two hours more, the agent said.
Eventually, a Hollywood police lieutenant, a sergeant, Gulakowski, one of his DEA supervisors and eventually Callari met in one room.
"Gulakowski was then issued a ticket for careless driving, which the lieutenant advised he had been directed to issue by the Acting Chief of the Hollywood Police Department in order to placate the neighbors of [Callari]."
The ticket does not appear in county court records and it was unclear what became of it.
Gulakowski and his attorney, the DEA, Officer Callari and Commissioner Callari all declined to comment.
Staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.
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