Badge Battle: Retired officer, police chief disagree over officer’s right to honorary badge

(WSVN) - He retired as a police officer. An honorable officer, he says, but the chief doesn’t agree. Now, the fight is on over that officer’s right to an honorary badge. The Nightteam’s Patrick Fraser has this special assignment report: Badge Battle.

When Joe Fleres was a kid, he dreamed of becoming a police officer, and then, he did.

Joe Fleres, retired police officer: “I loved it. It was the greatest job I ever had.”

Six years with the Miami Police Department, 15 years with Coral Gables, wrapping up his career as the city’s community outreach officer.

Joe Fleres: “It was the icing on the cake, but other opportunities came. I decided to take it.”

When Joe decided to retire, he filled out this memo asking for what, he says, retiring officers get: his gun, his current badge and…

Joe Fleres: “You get a promotional ID and your badge to reflect the new rank that you’re promoted to when you’re in retirement.”

The retirement badge would list Joe as a sergeant.

No extra money, just an honor cops like.

Everyone from his sergeant to the police chief signed the request form.

Joe Fleres: “It’s kind of like a gift, a parting gift that you’ve done your service, you get a promotion and here, here’s your credentials.”

But when Joe went to get his honorary badge, he was told the chief changed his mind.

Joe Fleres: “At the end of the day, I retired professionally, honorably. I’m entitled to these items.”

“No, you are not,” says Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak.

Ed Hudak, Coral Gables Police Chief: “My specific decision to not give him the honorary promotion was the word ‘honorary.'”

And specifically, what does the chief mean when he uses the word honorary?

Ed Hudak: “The issue that I’ve always had with Joseph Fleres throughout the incidents that come across my desk and discipline has been his issue with candor and being forthright all the time.”

Is it a nice way of saying he lied?

Ed Hudak: “On occasion, I have caught him on lies, yes.”

Joe Fleres doesn’t think his candor is the problem. It’s a 60-page complaint he filed last January detailing 19 issues he had over the years with the chief, including the last one a few months before his retirement.

Joe Fleres: “I did feel like the time that the chief made a aggressive, unprofessional statement towards me that it was within my right to stand up and actually file that complaint.”

The chief says his comments came after he heard Fleres talking about him.

Ed Hudak: “He was commiserating with another officer about how screwed up, how I was ruining the department, and I said to him, ‘You might want to wait until I’m off the floor before you criticize my job,’ but that was the end of that, as far as I was concerned.”

Joe is not alone in thinking he deserves the honorary badge.

At least 16 residents sent emails asking that he receive it.

A former city manager texted, “Thank you again for your exceptional service.”

Joe’s mother even wrote an email to make sure her son got the retirement badge.

Joe Fleres: “This has everybody baffled.”

But Chief Hudak says he is not baffled because inside the department, there was a different view of Fleres.

Ed Hudak: “It was a tale of two people, I will be honest with you. If you look at his file and you look back at a history of someone, and we have it on paper.”

So, we went through Joe Fleres’ personnel file. You can find dozens of awards, good scores on his annual evaluations, but he was disciplined a few times and had been investigated by internal affairs several times.

Some complaints were dismissed, some sustained and after looking at everything, Hudak says only he can determine if an officer rises to the level of the honorary badge.

Ed Hudak: “I’m a chief that calls it as I see it.”

Fleres’ reply?

Joe Fleres: “It seems like a hissy fit. I stepped on his toe. Now, he wants to step back on mine.”

Not true, Hudak says. Several officers have retired and not gotten the honorary badge, and he adds by giving it to Joe Fleres, it will be unfair to the men and women who retire in the future.

Ed Hudak: “And I owe it to every other officer and employee that leaves this place that that honorary promotion means something.”

Two men who disagree…

Joe Fleres: “Get the police chief to do what’s right.”

Ed Hudak: “It was my decision. This is what I do. I make decisions.”

Both swore to protect and serve, both did and both also swear they are right about the badge.

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