Florida police chief placed on leave; cops told to keep it quiet

·3 min read

Plantation’s police chief was placed on administrative leave for one day after the department’s attorney abruptly resigned, and his deputy urged the agency’s members to keep it under wraps, documents show.

The city refused to explain why Chief Howard Harrison was put on paid leave, but it apparently involved allegations of harassment in the department.

Jason Nunemaker, Plantation’s chief administrative officer, said he and the Human Resources director placed Harrison on leave and then Harrison “was subsequently reinstated because the matter was resolved.”

Nunemaker would not elaborate on how the matter was resolved, saying only, “The city considers the matter closed at this time.”

The move happened after the Police Department’s attorney abruptly quit, saying in an email to the Human Resources director July 15 that she felt she had no choice, according to records obtained by the South Florida Sun Sentinel through a public records request.

“For the last year, I have been working in a hostile work environment,” attorney Melissa Zelniker-Presser wrote, saying she took the issue to Harrison “a number of times.”

“It has been an extremely awkward place to be put in, and I was hoping that he would be able to resolve these matters. When the multitude of things that I brought to his attention weren’t resolved and the atmosphere grew worse, I knew that I would be placed in a position to resign,” she wrote.

She also wrote that she made a complaint to Harrison about a secretary in his office who allegedly “bullied and harassed” an administrative assistant over the last year. The assistant resigned with two weeks’ notice but was forced to leave that day, according to Zelniker-Presser’s email.

Harrison could not be reached for comment by email or phone. Zelniker-Presser could not be reached for comment through Facebook.

The situation escalated so quickly that it left people in the department confused about how long the chief would even be gone. His replacement jumped in to entreat the agency to “remain strong” — but to keep quiet about the situation.

On July 15, Deputy Chief James Dourvetakis wrote the department saying he would be acting chief while the chief was on leave, emails show. “This is expected to be an expedited process however at this time I do not have a timetable concerning his return to duty,” he wrote.

He assured the agency that the plan is “to return the helm to him as soon as possible. Please maintain a positive outlook and remain strong. In the meantime, please keep this information internal to the Police Department.”

That same evening, he sent another email announcing that the chief would return the next day, writing: “I am happy to report that my tenure as Acting Chief has been a short one.”

Harrison became chief in 2009, after the retirement of Chief Larry Massey. Before that Harrison had been the deputy chief since 2001 and had been with the department since he was a cadet in 1983.

He served as president of the Broward County Chiefs of Police Association in 2018.

Among his highlights since becoming chief: He ordered his department to begin using GPS devices already in patrol vehicles to send alerts whenever an officer breaks the law by speeding. And he was involved in the city’s efforts to crack down on an elaborate Christmas display that the city considered a dangerous traffic hazard.

Staff writer Brittany Wallman contributed to this report.

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