South Florida Sun-Sentinel
In a matter of minutes, Margate city commissioners voted 4-to-1 Wednesday night to terminate Police Chief Jonathan Shaw, who had been on paid administrative leave since Sept. 30.
City leaders in an emergency meeting on Sept. 30 decided to place Shaw, who became chief in 2018, on leave after two allegations against him surfaced. What those allegations are that the agency’s Internal Affairs sergeant is investigating is still not publicly known and was not when Shaw was placed on leave.
David Tolces, the city’s attorney, told commissioners that the Internal Affairs investigation was ongoing and provided no update into Shaw’s case, citing the confidential nature. The investigation will be finished in early March at the latest, he said.
Vice Mayor Anthony Caggiano began the discussion Wednesday night by moving to immediately terminate Shaw rather than waiting for the investigation’s results and said the move was a “cost-cutting endeavor” rather than continuing to pay Shaw as the investigation continues.
Commissioner Arlene Schwartz said at the meeting that her decision to support Shaw’s immediate termination was based solely on the “financial impact of continuing to pay someone who is on administrative leave” and was not pleased with the vote she felt she had to make.
“My vote neither confirms nor exonerates any charges or complaints currently being investigated. It is simply in support of allowing the police department to function in a new direction,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz said that the commissioners’ vote to terminate Shaw does not impact or stop the Internal Affairs investigation already underway.
Like Schwartz and Caggiano, Mayor Antonio Arserio said his vote in support of terminating the former chief was “strictly a business decision.” He said it was the right thing to do for the police department.
“I want to make sure that our police officers have a chief that they can get support from to do the job to make sure we are as safe as possible,” Arserio said. “And I think Interim Police Chief [ Joseph] Galaska does a great job, but right now he’s just interim, and the officers don’t know what’s going to happen today tomorrow or the next day, and I don’t think its fair to leave them in limbo.”
Galaska has served as the interim chief since Sept. 30 and has worked with the Margate Police Department since 1995.
Two sources previously told the Sun Sentinel that a complaint is pending within the police department alleging that Galaska has created a hostile work environment.
Arserio said the decision to fire Shaw was “strictly termination based on the contact,” explaining that city leaders are allowed to terminate any of the city’s five charter officers “at the will of the commission for any reason.”
Commissioner Joanne Simone was the lone dissenting vote.
Shaw’s attorney Tonja Haddad Coleman said questions remain about what happens next for Shaw and his contract. She said she has attempted to speak with the city attorneys several times in the past few weeks to “to try to resolve the issue amicably” and was not aware that the issue was on Wednesday’s agenda until the night before the meeting.
Haddad Coleman said there has not been any new information released about Shaw’s Internal Affairs investigation and questioned why the decision came without any update.
“That’s the question that someone should be asking is how do you terminate the contract when you don’t even know what the findings are … You chose to place him on leave with pay,” Haddad Coleman said. “Nothing has changed between Sept. 30 and Dec. 1. Zero. There’s been no new information. The investigation is ongoing. Why now?”
Staff writer Lisa Huriash contributed to this report.