Officer’s Suicide Note Leads To Firing Of Two Other Officers, Questions About Arrests

LAUDERHILL, FL &#8211 Three hours before he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger, Lauderhill Police Officer Elijah “Eli” Rodgers wrote a four-paragraph goodbye.

Then he emailed it to several hundred of his fellow city employees — from City Manager Chuck Faranda on down.

“For those who know me as a friend or co-worker, they know I am a good person who strives to work hard and do the right thing. Unfortunately, some who become (sic) jealous began to weave a web of lies to discredit and try to ruin my career,” Rodgers wrote.

“I want to apologize to all my fellow co-workers for the negative publicity and hope someone listens now.’

The date was Feb. 24, 2011. Rodgers, 31, had just learned Broward corruption prosecutors were preparing a warrant for his arrest the next day on charges of official misconduct and falsifying official records. He took his life after an hour-long standoff with police at his home in Pembroke Pines.

Broward Bulldog used Florida’s public records law to obtain Rodgers’ email, and other documents about what happened.

Newly released police and prosecutors’ records show that two of Rodgers’ colleagues in Lauderhill’s troubled Crime Suppression Unit who provided information to prosecutors — Officers Thomas Yopps and Raymond Ranger — were fired in December and January for violating departmental rules regarding honesty and competency.

The city did not announce the firings, and police officials have not publicly acknowledged problems with the Crime Suppression Unit.

Both men contend they did nothing wrong and are appealing their terminations.

In his suicide note, Rodgers singled out Yopps. He mentioned no one else by name.

“The lies that Thomas Yopps (police officer) told stated I lied in a police report. I tried to explain to the State Attorney’s office and told them about the hostile working environment to no avail,” he wrote. “Yopps is a bad person who could unravel all the hard work every department in the city has worked so hard to accomplish.”

A report on Rodgers’ death by the Fraternal Order of Police suggests the enmity was mutual.

The report by Lauderhill FOP Lodge 161 Vice President Michael Gordon says a half-dozen officers reported hearing Yopps say Rodgers was a “dirty cop” and that he was going to “get” him. And when Rodgers killed himself, Yopps “placed a Grim Reaper license plate on the front of his police vehicle,” the report says.

In an interview this week, Yopps said he bore no hatred for Rodgers. “I respected him as a person,” he said. He added, however, that he was “extremely shocked, extremely pissed off and extremely upset” when he learned what Rodgers had said about him in his final declaration.

Yopps referred other questions to his attorney, Pompano Beach’s Johnny McCray Jr. McCray did not return phone messages.

The FOP report strongly criticized Lauderhill police brass for “poor judgments and decisions” that “led to a series of very serious consequences” that likely could have been avoided with proper management.

“Shockingly, not one person on the command staff who had knowledge and failed to act…is being held accountable for their failure and that is a travesty,” the report says.

“Even the City of Lauderhill’s management in some small way is to blame by promoting staff into ranks that they were not ready to assume from a lack of proper training and/or lack of well-rounded experience perspective,” the report says.

John Puleo is ex-Officer Ranger’s FOP representative. He said command staff can expect to be questioned when his client’s case is aired.

“It’s going to arbitration in about four or five months,” said Puleo. “Higher-ups knew what was going on and nobody did nothing.”

Police Chief Andrew Smalling, who became chief last September, did not return phone messages seeking comment.

The criminal case against Rodgers, an Iraq War veteran, began in October 2010 after Lauderhill Assistant Chief Michael Cochran enlisted help from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, according to a Lauderhill Internal Affairs report.

The State Attorney’s memo that closed the case following Rodgers’ suicide says the case involved an unlawful drug possession arrest in November 2010.

Rodgers reported at the time that during a traffic stop in the city at 440 W. Sunrise Blvd. he found a single Methadone pill in the lap of a male passenger. But Yopps, his partner that day, later told prosecutors that wasn’t true and provided a different version of events. Prosecutors said independent witnesses corroborated Yopp’s account.

The memo by Assistant State Attorney Tim Donnelly says prosecutors were investigating two other criminal allegations when Rodgers killed himself.

One case involved an allegedly falsified police report in which Rodgers was suspected of concocting a confession from a defendant. Another had to do with an incident in the Lauderhill Police holding cell area while Rodgers and Ranger were processing an individual charged with possession of marijuana.

From The Sun Sentinel