There have been too many occurrences where police have been asked to not participate in Pride parades by one group or another. But what about police officers who do not want to work the parade routes or be in the parade? I was under the impression that depending on the city or town, it was voluntary or just how teh schedule falls.
But what happens when an officer, or even a sergeant tries to remove his police force from Pride celebrations. Sounds a little odd, but our friends over at South Florida Gay News shared such an incident that happened in Fort Lauderdale.
Safety or anti-gay bias?
A sergeant of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department was accused last year of putting his personal beliefs ahead of his department when an internal investigation found he attempted to derail the Mounted Unit’s participation in June’s Pride parade in Wilton Manors.
Sgt. Hugo Fontalvo claimed he was concerned about security and safety. But the investigators weren’t buying it.
“The evidence in this case demonstrated Sergeant Fontalvo’s personal beliefs were pushed on everyone in the Mounted Unit regardless of whether it was wanted or not,” the investigation reads.
The internal affairs investigation revealed that Fontalvo’s actions violated several department policies including disobedience of any rule, order, or directive; conduct prejudicial/disruptive to the good order of the department; and failure to supervise effectively.
Several people complained of Fontalvo’s behavior regarding the Police Department’s Mounted Unit’s participation in last June’s PrideFest march in Wilton Manors. Some of the officers were to carry a Pride flag while riding their horses. However, Fontalvo first attempted to remove the Mounted Unit from the parade by citing security concerns, and when that didn’t work, later cited safety concerns over carrying a flag while riding a horse. After it was determined there were no security or safety concerns Fontalvo showed up on the day of the parade and ordered an officer who wanted to ride and carry a flag to instead walk.
“When Sergeant Fontalvo realized he could not get his unit removed from the parade for security reasons, he claimed the flags would be a hindrance and attempted to get the Motor Unit to carry them instead,” the report reads.
According to the report former Police Chief Frank Adderley requested that anyone who was willing to carry the flag be allowed to do so. The investigation report reads “Sergeant Fontalvo put his personal beliefs ahead of others and was solely responsible for his actions.”
The investigation details how Fontalvo, who was not scheduled to work the parade, showed up anyway without approval. When Fontalvo realized he could not convince the acting sergeant to refute the order to carry the flag he personally ordered an officer off his horse.
“Sergeant Fontalvo’s irrational decision and poor judgment embarrassed members of his Unit and portrayed the agency in a negative light,” the report concludes.
The investigation reveals Fontalvo went out of his way to sabotage his unit’s participation in the Pride parade.
“In the hours leading up to the parade, Sergeant Fontalvo became increasingly irritated and upset over the decision to carry the Pride flag,” the report reads. “The evidence clearly demonstrated his relentless drive to keep ‘his’ Mounted Unit from participating in the parade.”
One captain even went so far as to tell Sgt. Fontalvo to stay away from the event.
The investigation also revealed that Fontalvo attempted “to operate the Mounted Unit based on his personal beliefs.” Some of those practices included holding prayer sessions throughout the day and weekly prayer meetings with outside civilians at the barn.
The report reads, Fontalvo “…created an environment where officers felt they had no choice but to participate or ignore the activities. Many officers expressed concern with the public display of religious rhetoric and voiced apprehension over speaking against it for fear of being transferred from the unit.”
Fontalvo though did end up getting his way at the parade because the other officers did not want to make a scene after they were not told not to ride and carry the flag.
At one point after getting his way Fontlavo exclaimed, “See. This is Jesus. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. This is Jesus.”
Despite his safety concerns over carrying a flag while riding two other officers were allowed to ride and carry the Florida flag and the U.S. flag.
By the end of the parade Fontalvo had clearly become unhinged with the investigation revealing that he “repeatedly manipulated his knife while questioning the two officers and asked them twice to state the punishment for insubordination.”
The investigation recommends a 20-day suspension and demotion to rank of Officer.
SFGN is waiting to hear back from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department on what’s happened since the investigation was completed.
What should have been done with Fontalvo?
Should the Fort Lauderdale Police follow through with the recommendation of suspension and demotion?
When it comes to staffing, what should the policy be about police monitoring the parades?
What about their participation in the Pride parades? Should that be all voluntary?
[Update: No further actions were taken against Sgt. Fontalvo because he retired on January 2, 2017]