FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – City officials fired Chief Larry Scirotto after just over six months of leading the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. On Monday, Scirotto said he’s going over the various options on the table to include seeking reinstatement
Marsha Ellison, of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is standing by Scirotto.
“The community is with him. We know that this is wrong,” Ellison said during a news conference.
The Fort Lauderdale Black Officers Association said the report that officials used to support the firing was flawed. Scirotto said city officials fired him for doing what they asked him to do when they hired him and his firing was both unfair and premature.
“If promoting diversity and inclusion in the FLPD is the hill I die on, I will sleep well tonight knowing that I did the right and just thing for this profession, the FLPD, and this community,” Scirotto said.
Chris Lagerbloom, the city manager, announced his hiring in June. Scirotto’s swear-in ceremony was on Aug. 16. Lagerbloom released a statement on Thursday saying it was in the city’s best interest to “separate employment” after an “extensive investigation” following employees’ complaints. Luis Alvarez, the assistant chief of investigations, is serving as acting chief.
Scirotto was the subject of an investigation that resulted in the firing of John Herbst, the city’s auditor, last month. He was also the subject of a workplace discrimination investigation by attorney Gregg Rossman. The Fort Lauderdale Black Officers Association criticized Rossman’s probe.
Rossman was investigating allegations by at least four employees saying there were Equal Employment Opportunity violations related to promotions. His findings included this complaint: “The chief on more than one occasion, to different groups of people, pointed to the wall in the Chief’s conference room and stated, ‘That wall is too white’ and ‘I’m gonna change that.’
Scirotto denied having made the statement about the wall where pictures of FLPD command staff were on display.
#DigitalDeepDive: Larry Scirotto expressed concern his termination as #PoliceChief could have a chilling effect on #DEI discussions. Criminologist @DrAlexPiquero discusses #Diversity + #policing + #community beginning w/ discussion re: #Obama’s #taskforce 21st century policing.▶️ pic.twitter.com/DULbeV5AhN— Christina Boomer Vazquez, M.S. (@CBoomerVazquez) March 8, 2022
“I never said the wall was too white ... and 17 of the 19 people on the wall were white, so it was just a reflection in the moment of what diversity looked like, and this wall didn’t look like it,” Scirotto said on Monday.
Scirotto also said that the city manager “warned” him that the changes would lead to “great resistance,” but that the city manager also “promised” to support him “along the way.”
In reviewing who to promote to an open captain’s position, witnesses said the chief asked “which one is blacker?”
“I never said that -- that is offensive,” Scirotto said.
Scirotto said he has retained a lawyer and that “all options are on the table” to include reinstatement.
“I love this city, I love this police department,” he said. “There is nothing more I would love to do than be the chief tomorrow.”
Rossman told Local 10 News that his contract with the city does not allow him to comment directly about questions to the city.
Before coming to Fort Lauderdale, Scirotto had a 23-year career in the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and left there as assistant chief. During his tenure in Fort Lauderdale, he announced a plan to establish the city’s gun intelligence center.
Scirotto also said Monday the promotions he made were not based on a “protected class,” but were based on their qualifications. “Every candidate,” he said, was extremely qualified.
Lagerbloom decided Luis Alvarez, the assistant chief of investigations, will serve as Fort Lauderdale’s acting chief as the search for a new chief begins again.
On Thursday Lagerbloom said, “I think it demonstrates that when I think that there is an opportunity that the chief is not the one to lead the department that I am not scared to make a change.”
The chief’s own words, wrote Rossman in his report, “admitted by him, are ill conceived if not plainly discriminatory.”
The report added that while the goal of diversity is important, “it must be accomplished in a legally permissible manner.”
“We need to make those promotions based upon merit and the findings were that those selections were not necessarily based upon experience or other things that were allowed to be used as qualifiers,” Lagerbloom said on Thursday. “Diversity in any department is a plus and we strive to be diverse, we strive to represent the community that we serve. There’s just certain lawful ways to allow that diversity to happen and in this case, the investigative report found that we didn’t quite follow the law in how we were working toward those diversity goals.”
Scirotto called the Rossman report Monday an “opinion” that was not supported by testimony under oath.
On Monday Scirotto said he spoke with Rossman for two hours, going through every candidate with him to include outlining why they were promoted.
“He reduced that to six statements and five of them were false,” he said.
Ellison believes Scirotto was “set up” by the department’s “old boys club” -- taken down by fierce internal resistance to change, calling his termination by the city manager a great “injustice” not just to Scirotto but the “whole city.”
“He hires who thinks who is best,” she said. “Apparently he did his job too well. I am so disappointed in leadership, the community is with him, we know this is wrong.”
Scirotto, who is biracial, said when he first started, he did an internal survey, saying “I can’t tell you the number of times the words ‘favoritism, nepotism and the dreaded ‘r’ word’ were citied about promotions and selections in the past.”
He said between August and November he promoted 15 people to executive level positions and that of them nine were white males.
“This is a reflection of the few that like things just the way they are,” Scirotto said.
He believes his termination will have a chilling effect on discussions about diversity.
“When you talk about diversity, it is a difficult conversation and not everybody accepts the conversation with the same perspective and some are resistance to change,” he said. “It is a challenge worth fighting, it is a challenge I will continue to fight ... when we talk about diversity in policing, it is what our community has been crying for. And so, when this city takes this kind of action against a minority chief, how does that look?”
UPDATE ON SEPARATE FRAUD INVESTIGATION:
Scirotto was also the subject of a separate fraud investigation being conducted by the city’s longtime auditor, Herbst.
The mayor and two city commissioners voted to fire the auditor last month after questioning why he was investigating a complaint that Scirotto was misusing city funds by working a second job as a NCAA referee on city time.
On Friday, Herbst released his draft report.
In a memo to city leaders, he explained he was forwarding it to the Broward Office of the Inspector General, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Broward State Attorneys’ Office Public Corruption Unit adding, “I believe the matters raised in the draft report merit review for possible criminal violations by Larry Scirotto. The circumstances are similar in nature to those in which a Fort Lauderdale police sergeant was arrested on fraud and theft charges in January 2022.”
Herbst’s findings included that “The Chief received payment from the City for regular work hours while at the same time receiving payment for outside employment” and that “the Chief improperly received a car allowance while he had a Department issued take home vehicle for multiple months.”
On Monday a spokesperson for the Broward State Attorney’s Office told Local 10 News prosecutors “will review” the draft report and decide “whether or not an investigation should be opened by the state attorney’s office.”
Read the city’s statement