‘I’ve been harassed.’ Broward police chief vows to sue town for discrimination

The former police chief of a small Broward town who was terminated earlier this year over mismanagement allegations defended her actions on Thursday in front of the commission that fired her.

Despite testimony from her and her legal counsel, it did little to dissuade them.

In early April, former Pembroke Park Police Chief Ra Shana Dabney-Donovan was accused of officer misconduct and mishandling grants. The Pembroke Park Commission terminated her in a 3-2 vote.

By state law, Dabney-Donovan can respond to her termination during a commission meeting following the firing in a trial of sorts. Commissioners would have the choice to reverse their decision and rehire her or let the termination stand.

The former Pembroke Park police chief responded to her termination during a Thursday commission meeting. She vows to fight discrimination claims.
The former Pembroke Park police chief responded to her termination during a Thursday commission meeting. She vows to fight discrimination claims.

Over about 10 minutes Thursday, she and her legal counsel, Stephan Lopez, chose to respond and maintained the allegations against her were “completely false.”

“I have been continually harassed, defamed and berated,” she said. “I have never neglected the police department. I have never mismanaged the police department. I have never engaged in misconduct.”

She contended the firing was used as a cover to hide discrimination and retaliation against her.

After hearing her testimony, the Pembroke Park Commission let the termination stand without further discussion.

Dabney-Donovan plans on filing a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which will either investigate her discrimination claims or give her the right to sue Pembroke Park in federal court.

Lopez said he and Dabney-Donovan are ready to sue the town if it comes to it.

“I always prepare for the long-haul battle,” Lopez said. “There are municipalities who will litigate cases at the expense of the taxpayer. My gut feeling tells me they are going to drag this out.”

He continued to say that her main objective is not monetary compensation but to clear her name.

“However long it takes to clear her good name, she’ll do it,” he said. “Her reputation means everything to her.”

Dabney-Donovan added, “I brought a lot of great things to this town. A town that has been neglected by law enforcement throughout recent years. So I feel that they are going to feel my loss.”

The town appointed interim Police Chief Dan DeCoursey two weeks after Dabney-Donovan’s firing. On Thursday, the commission approved a contract offering him employment for six months.

DeCoursey told the Miami Herald he’s spent the last month speaking to staff and identifying issues in the Pembroke Park Police Department.

Small town has history of alleged discrimination

A former attorney for Pembroke Park is actively waging a legal battle against the town, suing them for tormenting her while working due to her gender and sexual orientation, according to filings.

In March, former town attorney Melissa Anderson filed her lawsuit alleging Commissioner Geoffrey Jacobs, formerly the mayor of Pembroke Park, maintained a hostile work environment and discriminated against her for being a gay woman.

Pembroke Park Commissioner Geoffrey Jacobs
Pembroke Park Commissioner Geoffrey Jacobs

The lawsuit accuses Jacobs of referring to her with very foul and offensive language. The lawsuit also alleges he sent her a TikTok she deemed misogynistic, homophobic and threatening.

Anderson began working for the town in September 2020 and was fired in December 2022.

Pembroke Park hired an outside investigator to look into Anderson’s allegations after her firing and found “that [Jacobs’] behavior was likely harassing and created a hostile work environment,” the lawsuit read.

Jacobs also has a sordid history with current Mayor Ashira Mohammed and Dabney-Donovan.

In February, he was charged with misuse of 911 after he falsely accused Mohammed of bringing a gun to a public meeting in November.

READ MORE: Broward town commissioner charged with falsely accusing mayor of having gun at meeting

He called the Broward Sheriff’s Office and Florida Department of Law Enforcement to report she was allegedly armed and that he was scared for his life. Dabney-Donovan was informed of the possible danger and went to the commission to report it.

Jacobs stopped her from revealing he had made the call. Publicly and in front of cameras, Mohammed was searched by Dabney-Donovan — no gun was found.

His case is still pending, and Jacobs pleaded not guilty in early April.

‘I want to make this a premier [police] organization’

Interim Police Chief Dan DeCoursey told the Herald he was ready to spend the next five months enacting plans to address key issues, including lack of personnel, outdated policies and creating an internal succession plan.

“Obviously, coming in from the outside, there are always challenges,” DeCoursey said.

He’s spent the last 46 years in law enforcement, serving as a police chief or deputy chief for several agencies. In 2022, he was tasked with helping create a law enforcement unit for the Florida Gaming Control Commission from scratch.

While the Pembroke Park Police Department only has 14 active law enforcement personnel, the agency is budgeted for 20, he said. DeCoursey will be searching for an assistant chief, patrol officers and detectives.

He said he focuses on renewing the department, helping officers earn a living and helping them raise families in the town.

“I came here for the officers, not for me,” he said. “I fix things, I want to make this a premier [police] organization.”