Citing an infamous case in which a hitchhiker was beaten to death while in police custody, Florida law enforcement officials are trying to set up a national "bad cop" registry.
One of the West Palm Beach police officers involved in the death of hitchhiker Robert Jewett had had a drug problem while serving as a police officer in Tennessee. But that information was never forwarded to Florida officials who certify the state's police officers.
The Chattanooga Police Department agreed to keep Stephen Rollins' drug file secret in exchange for his agreeing not to seek police work close by. And Rollins said nothing about the problem when he applied to the West Palm Beach force and was later certified by the state.
Making other police departments aware of a problem officer's past should be standard, says James Moore, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which issues the certifications.
He is leading an effort to get a bill through Congress that would create the national registry. The U.S. attorney general would run the problem-police registry. It would cover the 600,000 law enforcement officers working at 21,000 police agencies nationwide.
States would supply information on every certified officer: name, date of birth, fingerprints, where they work and, if appropriate, why they left. If an officer is decertified, the state would notify the registry.
Rollins and partner Glenn Thurlow stopped Jewett for hitchhiking the night of Nov. 24, 1990. Jewett died after suffering a punctured lung, a broken neck, nine broken ribs and crushed testicles in a struggle with the officers.
A grand jury cleared Rollins and Thurlow of criminal wrongdoing, but the West Palm Beach Police Department conducted an internal affairs investigation of the death struggle with Jewett and fired both officers for violating several department policies.
Thurlow contested his firing and got his job back in arbitration. Rollins did not dispute his firing, lost his certification and left the state.
West Palm Beach police did not learn until after the firings that Rollins had entered a 30-day, $7,000 drug treatment center after resigning from the Chattanooga force. West Palm Beach police knew only that Rollins, who worked on their narcotics squad, had refused to take a drug test there.