“Joshua Gallardo, will you come down for a second?” asked Elberg Mike Gelin, a Tamarac city commissioner who goes by his middle name. “It’s good to see you again.”
As other elected officials stood by, frozen in disbelief, Gelin tore into the Broward County Sheriff’s Office deputy, interrupting the nonpartisan commission’s Wednesday morning meeting with what may go down as the most awkward 30 seconds in the South Florida city’s history.
“You probably don’t remember me, but you’re the police officer who falsely arrested me four years ago,” he told Gallardo, who nodded silently, still clutching his award. “You lied on the police report. I believe you’re a rogue police officer, you’re a bad police officer and you don’t deserve to be here.”
The room went silent. Gallardo gave the commissioner a thumbs up and walked away, as Tamarac Mayor Michelle J. Gomez took back the microphone and reminded everyone present that the city appreciated the work of the sheriff’s office.
The tense exchange, which in recent days has led to an outpouring of support for the commissioner but also left him facing potential censure and the loss of a crucial police union endorsement, stemmed from an incident that took place in July 2015. At the time, Gelin did not hold elected office.
As Gelin tells it, he was at a Starbucks in Tamarac, a suburban community roughly 15 miles from Fort Lauderdale, when he noticed that two homeless men were fighting outside and tried to intervene. Three officers showed up, he told local blog Tamarac Talk, and Gallardo was among them.
“For some reason, he came over to me, told me to stop recording with my phone,” Gelin told the site. “I asked him why I needed to stop recording, and he gave me an answer, and then he told me that I needed to back up.”
By then, a crowd of bystanders had gathered, and Gelin, who is black, asked the deputy why he was the only one being asked to move. At that point, he said, Gallardo placed him under arrest. He told Tamarac Talk that the experience was traumatizing.
“I was disrespected, humiliated, embarrassed and spent nine hours in jail,” he said. “I spent a significant amount of time and money finding a good attorney and dealing with the court system.”
In the arrest report, Gallardo described the confrontation differently. Gelin approached him from behind, he wrote, and repeatedly ignored commands to move away from the crime scene. “He advised he was recording the incident and that he did not have to move,” the deputy wrote, adding that he told Gelin he would need to stand behind some nearby bushes “to provide space for when rescue comes.”
Court records show that Gelin was jailed for resisting an officer without violence, but prosecutors declined to press charges. A memo obtained by CBS Miami said that the state attorney’s office reviewed the footage from Gelin’s cellphone and concluded that “a strong likelihood of conviction is not present as images in the video do not support conviction.”
More than four years would pass before the two men crossed paths again.
Last April, Gallardo pulled over a man for a traffic stop and, upon running his name, discovered that he was wanted by Interpol for a murder he had allegedly committed in El Salvador. On Wednesday, when Tamarac honored six members of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office for their work in the community over the past year, Gallardo was named deputy of the month for April.
It’s unclear whether Gelin had any say in the decision, or if he knew that Gallardo would be honored at the meeting. In a Sunday op-ed for the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Steve Feeley, the executive lieutenant at the Tamarac district for the sheriff’s office, wrote that when he told the deputy that he would be receiving an award in front of the commission, Gallardo asked him “if it would be okay” given that he had arrested Gelin several years earlier.
“I told Gallardo that we were proud of his work and not to worry about something that happened so long ago,” Feeley wrote. “It was a decision that I would soon come to regret.”
Feeley, who wrote that Gelin’s remarks were “disgraceful,” “mean-spirited” and “out of line,” wasn’t alone in criticizing the commissioner. Gomez, the mayor of Tamarac, told CBS Miami that she was looking into whether Gelin violated the city’s civility code and could be penalized for the call-out, which she deemed “inappropriate.” Another city commissioner, Julie Fishman, wrote on Facebook that the awards ceremony had been the wrong time and place to bring up a “personal matter from four years ago!”
When Gelin returned to the commission’s chambers for a budget hearing that took place later on Wednesday, Tamarac Talk reported, his colleagues refused to acknowledge him and blocked him from speaking.
Marlon Bolton, the only other black member of the city commission, later expressed sympathy for Gelin, telling the blog that seeing the deputy again probably brought back painful memories.
Though Gallardo hasn’t publicly addressed the dust-up, law enforcement groups leaped to his defense. On Thursday, the Broward County Police Benevolent Association, a union representing officers, announced that it was withdrawing its endorsement of Gelin. The group’s president, Rod Skirvin, said in a statement that the commissioner acted with “a complete lack of respect and common courtesy.”
The Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, meanwhile, called for supporters to “reconsider” doing business with Gelin in his personal capacity as an employee benefits consultant. “It appears that city commissioner Gelin has borrowed a page out of the radical left wing Democratic congressional playbook where no matter how good of a job we do, law enforcement is the enemy,” the union’s president, Jeff Bell, said in a statement.
But on social media, the response was markedly different. Hundreds of commenters flooded Gelin’s Facebook page and thanked him for speaking out, with many recalling times when they had been arrested for questionable reasons that later didn’t hold up in court. Director Ava DuVernay, who shared a video of the confrontation on Twitter, urged Gelin to “stay strong.”
Amid the controversy, Gelin met with Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony, who told CBS Miami on Thursday that although the commissioner’s behavior had been “unacceptable,” the two had a productive conversation. “We’re going to work together to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again,” Tony told the station.
Gelin, for his part, has emphasized that his outburst shouldn’t be taken as a commentary on law enforcement as a whole.
“I have a great deal of respect for the honest and hard-working police officers,” he told Tamarac Talk. “I also believe there are some police officers that need to be held accountable for bad actions and violations of their own rules.”