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.