By Tao Woolfe
The romance between Boynton Beach and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is officially over. Both sides announced separately last month that negations to allow PBSO to take over the city’s police services had ceased.
Boynton Beach Mayor Ty Penserga told a delighted crowd at an Aug. 16 City Commission meeting that the merger was “financially infeasible” due to unspecified pension fund liabilities.
“Given the financial reality, it is not in the best interest for the city to move forward at this time,” Penserga said.
The previous day, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw had announced the breakdown in merger talks.
In his statement, Bradshaw made it clear that Boynton Beach had approached the PBSO about a possible merger — not the other way around.
“At no time did we ask for or initiate the discussions,” the sheriff said.
Nevertheless, the sheriff had presented a $42.5 million proposal in July to provide Boynton Beach with “greatly enhanced security and depth of law enforcement,” if the commission hired PBSO.
Although the Boynton Beach Police Department’s proposed budget for next year is a relatively modest $38.5 million, newly named Police Chief Joseph DeGiulio and interim City Manager Jim Stables said the City Commission would not regret its decision.
The future city Police Department will be reorganized, adequately staffed and willing to work more closely with the community, DeGiulio and Stables said.
The commissioners promised to support the department and its goals.
“The people have spoken. Sorry it took so long,” said Commissioner Woodrow Hay, who had been opposed to a PBSO merger all along. “I’m happy we are headed in the right direction. Let’s not waste more time and money. … Let’s work together with our Police Department and our citizens.”
Residents at the meeting applauded the commission for opting to stay with the city police, but some questioned the rationale.
“You didn’t make the motion because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s financially infeasible,” the Rev. Richard Dames, pastor of the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, said of the decision to end the talks.
Community activist Bryce Graham said negotiations with the sheriff’s office should be called off permanently. “This should not come up again,” Graham said. “This should be a cease and desist.”
He added that going forward, the City Commission should heed the community’s “cries for transparency and accountability” from the Police Department and city officials.
The possibility of bringing PBSO in to replace the Boynton Beach Police Department was raised in April following months of tumult and anger — especially from the Black community — after 13-year-old Stanley Davis III was killed during a Dec. 26, 2021, high-speed police chase. The teen was riding a dirt bike.
Residents had expressed frustration that an internal investigation was taking so long. Nevertheless, Black and white residents had repeatedly said at commission meetings that they did not want PBSO to replace the city’s police.
Instead, residents said, the local force should be winnowed of bad officers and more enlightened policies enacted.
Officer fired; union protests
Just days after the commission meeting, the Boynton Beach Police Department announced that its internal investigation into the circumstances of Davis’s death had come to an end.
As a result, Mark Sohn, the officer involved in the deadly chase, was fired.
On Aug. 19, the same day the termination was announced, Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association attorney Lawrence K. Fagan sent a letter to DeGiulio to initiate the union grievance process with the city, alleging that Sohn had been disciplined through termination “without just cause.”
The union is seeking Sohn’s reinstatement as a police officer “along with back pay, wages, pension contributions and all associated emoluments,” according to the grievance document.
According to the findings of the months-long internal affairs investigation, Sohn violated the department’s strict vehicular pursuit policies on more than one occasion.
“By repeatedly violating this policy, Officer Sohn unnecessarily placed the safety of the public and officers at risk,” DeGiulio wrote in the report dated June 29.
Sohn also violated the officers’ code of ethics and engaged in conduct unbecoming a police officer, according to the report.
Stables and DeGiulio told the commissioners and the residents that community policing would be a top priority going forward.
“We have been thinking through reorganization, and looking at efficiencies,” Stables said. As for staffing, “we don’t have the budget this year, but we will look at expansion in the future.”
DeGiulio said the department would specifically like to add to its road patrol, investigations and communications personnel.
Commissioner Thomas Turkin said city officials should ensure, during upcoming budget hearings, that the Police Department has the money it needs to meet its new goals.
“We need to put our money where our mouth is and invest in the Police Department,” he said. “I hope this support of the Boynton Beach Police Department does not disappear overnight.”
For his part, the sheriff said there are no hard feelings about the city’s decision.
“The Sheriff’s Office wishes the city all the best, and will assist them in any way if asked to do so,” Bradshaw said.