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.

7960561277?profile=originalYannuzzi'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.

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Comments

  • I can have an opinion, can't I? This is NOT about me.

  • So supposedly morale is down according to some so the solution is to fire the police chief who was just doing his job?  Great solution. Sorry, but this is so wrong on so many levels.  Politics should not be involved in policing.

  • Thanks Lynn for your acknowledgement. I noticed that by checking previous blogs that you are a strong defender of having a local police department instead of a PBSO take over. Could Lucibella and his supporters'  trumped up "cause for termination" of Chief Yannuzzi simply be a pre-cursor to revisiting the "Going Green" plan??? Just sayin'....

  • The town council member causing all these unnecessary problems should be suspended and a Town of Ocean Ridge investigation should be opened into the town council member's blatant conflict of interest over the beach access issue.

    This town council member was obssessed with beach access issues before he was elected. This town council member  more than likely was part of the group that illegally put up the fake town beach signs the year before. The Town of Ocean Ridge needs to tell its citizens who was responsibile for those illegal and fake beach signs. If this town council member was involved in the bizarre illegal sign adventure, this town council member must resign.

    This town council member should have been recused  from the beach access issue because of the blatant conflict of interest. Instead this town council member has pushed his obsession onto the town and continues to create unnecessary problems for the town. 

    The town needs to investigate the background of all its town council members for conflict of interest problems and it should start with the town council member obssessed with beach access.

    Lastly, the Coastal Star should do its journalistic duty for the people of Ocean Ridge and start investigating the background of all the town council members for conflicts of interest.  Please start immediately.

  • Thanks, Cathy...I agree with the "bully" comments and people need to stand up for what's right.

  • I have known Chief Yannuzzi for 44 years, and I can attest to his integrity and conscientiousness.  He  took an oath to enforce the law impartially, whether it concerns town council members, the public, or his own officers. Chris Yannuzzi's standards and ehics are not to be doubted, and Ocean Ridge could not ask for a more dedicated employee. The citizens od Ocean Ridge should be outraged that Lucibella's elitist attitude that he is above the law, could cost the town Chief Yannuzzi's devotion to all the townspeople. In fact, had Lucibella handed over the credit card to the officer who initially responded to the complaint, this matter wouldn't have even involved the Chief.  Then, had Lucibella agrred to turn  the now known to be stolen credit card over when the Chief called him, the matter would have been settled harmoniously. Clearly, Lucibella's self-serving motives will cost Ocean Ridge dearly, now and in the future, both financially and professionally, as this would surely be an illegal termination of Chief Yannuzzi. I find it ironic that only one month ago  the commission , including Lucibella himself, expressed such concern over potential lawsuits regarding the 5011 building decision, yet they don't recognize their culpability and the related costs involved in litigating a losing case and paying the subsequent award. I pray the logical citizens of Ocean Ridge bombard town hall Monday at 6pm and stop what Dave Schiffour calls "the slow brewing carnage." I applaud Chief Chris Yannuzzi for being the first to stand up to the bully tactics of Richard Lucibella. It would have been easier for Chief Yannuzzi to resign or retire, but the only way to stop a bully is to stand up to him! Please join and support the Chief!!

  • A couple points here......  First off, I don't know either of the two men and never worked under them so I can't speak to anyone's character.  But as a former employee of the town I can tell you a few things (respectfully).... 

    - When a Commissioner calls for service, no matter what it is, you better drop whatever you're doing and get on it immediately.  That was not open for interpretation, that was the rule.  Draw your own conclusions from that. 

    - Based on the information presented in the above article, the situation appears to have been handled correctly by the Chief.  Lucibella finds a Visa credit card under his deck chair. The card doesn't belong to anyone he knows so the presumption is that trespassers were on his property.  Lucibella calls ORPD to report found property.  With that call, it's insinuated that Ocean Ridge officers were negligent in preventing the trespassing onto his property.  What's not clear to me (even though it kinda says it in the article) is whether or not Lucibella actually found the Visa card under the deck chair by his beach access stairs or under a deck chair leading out directly from his house. 

    ***** The sad reality folks....is that there is no way to prevent people from walking on the beach and potentially onto someone's property unless you install a wall on the beach down to the water or have 4 or 5 officers stationed at the access points along the beach. It's just not going to happen. And I completely appreciate the rights of every homeowner, trust me, I get it.  You've spent millions on an oceanfront home and the last thing you want or need is to have non residents looking for a place to drink alcohol or engage in carnal activity.  Unfortunately, the people doing the trespassing will never appreciate any of what I just said and until a better solution comes along, that's just the way it's gonna be.  Even in my best efforts back in the day, I would find people way south of the McCormick Club who had walked all the way down from the Boynton Inlet or people down near Anna Street who had parked at Boynton Public Beach.*****

    Getting back to Lucibella though:    Since Lucibella made the call to ORPD, (and considering what the found property was) the onus was on him to turn the property over to ORPD.  I'm assuming because it was Lucibella that called (and considering the back story on previous complaints, etc.) it was probably the Chief's intention to personally call the card owner himself...."Hey we have your credit card, come up to the station to retrieve it".  The female can either drive up to get it OR most likely she has already called and cancelled the card and could care less about it. Either way, ORPD issues a stern warning to the female reference any future trespassing on the property.  Now if there was damage done or something stolen at his property, then it turns into a completely different animal.  For Lucibella to claim that the credit card was now his because he found it under his deck chair is simply ludicrous.  It seems to me that this was less about getting the card back to the owner (and having the police sternly warn her about the illegal trespassing) and more about trying to grandstand about another "perceived failure" of the police department and Chief Yannuzzi.  What's puzzling to me also is "Police in Broward are handling the investigation".  Police in Broward County have no jurisdiction in Ocean Ridge....so I'm not sure why Lucibella or whoever contacted them in the first place.  

    Now.....as far as what the Town Manager said, that's another issue and I agree with his assessment.  When the leader of a police department no longer has the command and respect of his subordinates, then it's time for him/her to go.  In a department the size of Ocean Ridge, it's a disservice to the employees and to the residents to let that situation fester.  I've "been there, done that" and I can tell you firsthand that officers just want to come to work and do their job and then go home to their families. No one wants to get caught up in a feud between the police chief and the town commission and all the ugliness that goes with it. 

    Whether you love him, hate him or whatever, the Chief should probably retire because he is not going to win against the Commission.  It seems in this case the multifaceted, slow brewing carnage has been done and there is no coming back from it. Listen to the legally recorded audio for yourself. It's over. I hope everything works out for the town citizens and the employees. 

     I absolutely loved working for the Town of Ocean Ridge......Chief Hillery, my coworkers, and friends that I made are memories I will never forget.   I am so thankful for the Coastal Star and (for the town website) to provide me the ability to still keep tabs on what's going on.  Keep up the great work!

  • This is extremely disheartening news. Chief Yannuzzi is a tremendous asset to the Ocean Ridge Police department and a kind and warm human being. As a resident of Briny Breezes, I can say that the Ocean Ridge Police do a fabulous job of keeping our neighborhood safe from crime. They are very visible and always on the job! As a poll-worker, I had the pleasure of working in the Ocean Ridge office, where Chief Yannuzzi, personally, made us feel safe and secure. The Town Manager had better have a legitimate reason for this firing...The reasoning better have to do with benefiting the community, not be self-serving or vindictively motivated!

  • commissioner Lucibella is not a bully. He is a good commissioner.
  • Could it be that Lucibella is a bully? Why do things have to come to this point?

This reply was deleted.

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