WPTV Report with audio excerpts
By Dan Moffett
Ocean Ridge town commissioners appear poised to fire Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi at Monday's commission meeting.
Yannuzzi's ouster comes at the urging of Commissioner Richard Lucibella, who has feuded with the chief over a number of issues during the last year — most recently and most heatedly over his handling of an incident in November.
On Nov. 8, Lucibella reported to police that he had found a Visa credit card belonging to a Broward County woman under a beach chair on the deck of his oceanfront home.
Yannuzzi called Lucibella and asked that the card be turned over to the department. Lucibella refused, according to the police report, and said “found property on my property is mine.” The commissioner said he had spoken to police in Broward and they were handling the investigation.
The clash between the two men deteriorated from there: Yannuzzi suggested that Lucibella might be violating the law by keeping lost property and not cooperating with Ocean Ridge police. Lucibella charged that Yannuzzi had failed again to deal with trespassing on the beach and protecting property rights and that it was time for the commission to fire him, according to police reports.
Lucibella has apparently lined up the two other votes needed to dismiss the chief, according to Town Manager Ken Schenck, who polled commissioners this month.
“Richard has the votes to do what he needed to do,” Schenck said. “Richard feels that Chris was after him for something he didn't do and took offense to it.”
Schenck said he offered Yannuzzi the option of retiring or being terminated, but the chief chose neither.
On Monday's agenda, commissioners now will vote to approve Yannuzzi's firing, effective Jan. 16, as outlined in this recommendation from Schenck:
“Over the past few weeks there has developed a contentious situation between the police chief and one of the commissioners. This has escalated so that it is creating problems in the daily duties,” the town manager wrote. “Unfortunately, I don't see the conflict ending and I'm not sure where it's headed. It is not a good situation for the workplace.
“Another conflict is the tension between the officers and the chief. This makes for uneasiness with the officers, which trickles down to their work ethic and interaction with the residents. It seems the only way to correct both issues is to replace the police chief, as he is heavily involved in both issues.”
Yannuzzi, 58, joined the Ocean Ridge department in 2006 and became chief in 2010, succeeding Edward Hillery. He has been instrumental in several multi-agency police efforts including a project to implement license tag cameras on the barrier island.
The Ocean Ridge town meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m., Jan. 12 at Town Hall.