At Charlie Parker Square, one cop’s aggressive policing has some residents crying foul – and they’re calling in his past for backup
On a bone-chilling February morning, two Kansas City police officers, Tim Griddine and Albert Villafane, cruise through the low-income housing complexes near 12th Street and the Paseo with the car’s heater blasting. They peer out the side windows, looking for cars to be towed from the squatty batch of apartment buildings they patrol called Charlie Parker Square. Without periodic cleanups, the parking lots here can turn into stolen-car graveyards.
Griddine and Villafane patrol Parker Square both for the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department and, when they’re off-duty, for the complex’s management company. This is an off-duty shift. It started just an hour ago, but they’ve already made one arrest. Villafane recognized the face of a man who’d previously been banned from the apartments for allegedly assaulting a woman who lived there. But when they stopped him for trespassing, they found a counterfeit $20 bill in his pocket.
One stop, two charges. Griddine seems pleased.
“I’m a little guy,” Griddine (who’s 5 feet 5 inches tall) says now, as the officers cruise the neighborhood. “But I’m fast.” He talks fast, too, like the words themselves are in a race.
“I may not get you later, but I’ll get you tomorrow,” he goes on. “You won’t be able to live in peace ’cause I’m gonna get you. I’m a finisher.”
Two gold-capped teeth catch the light as he talks. A thumb-sized patch of gray, planted squarely at the center of his hairline, hints at his age: 44. He has patrolled the streets of inner Kansas City — the streets he grew up on — for more than 20 years.
At 2:30 p.m. on this frigid weekday, 12th and the Paseo looks more Kindergarten Cop than Training Day. The last of the winter’s ice crunches under tires on asphalt that once sparkled with broken glass. Kids mob the sidewalks in school uniforms: khakis and polos. Moms exchange waves while ushering their children inside.
Griddine greets a postal worker, pointing out the peanut-butter-colored cat trailing her door to door. With little action since that first arrest, the officers roll through the parking lots, noting cars with obviously fake temporary tags.
“You break these rules — we can’t pick and choose whether it’s minor or major,” Griddine says. “This new generation do not want to follow the rules.”
Nickel-and-dime, nickel-and-dime — that’s the job, Villafane says: “Honestly, it’s just patrolling the property, recognizing a person, stopping them and talking to them.”
But their approach results in a lot of tickets, towed cars, trespassing charges and accusations of overzealous policing — accusations that pile up against all of the officers who work Parker Square, but especially against Griddine. He estimates that he’s had more complaints filed on him than any officer in the entire department. Twenty in the last six weeks, he says.
“Down here, folks have a lot of free time,” Griddine says of Parker Square’s residents. “They watch Court TV.” They’re also just walking distance from the Office of Community Complaints at 635 Woodland, he says.
The OCC’s staff tries to distinguish the valid accusations of officer misconduct from the petty or outrageous ones, which are often dismissed. But a spike of grievances against Griddine in recent months caused some concern up the chain of command, he says. Now Internal
Affairs is investigating them all.
“I get called Uncle Tom. I get called all type of stuff,” he says. “Because I’m doing my job.”
Most of the Griddine-related gripes come from a small cadre of tenants who paint
Griddine as a pervy, pint-sized menace. In the process, they’ve unearthed some documentation that lends an air of legitimacy to their claims: a decade-old lawsuit filed by a former police officer who accused six of her male co-workers — including Griddine — of sexual harassment.
But as he steers through Parker Square, Griddine assures Villafane, a younger officer, that citizen complaints should be welcomed, not feared.
“We have policies that are set up to keep us from going astray,” Griddine says. “There are levels you go through if there are complaints against you that are substantiated. And if they’re unsubstantiated, who cares? I cross more t’s and dot more i’s while being investigated.”
The quiet folks, the ones the OCC doesn’t hear from, are the ones who look to Griddine for protection. “Because they know I’m going to be here tomorrow,” he says. “And the next day.”
Juanita Smith is one of the quiet ones.
Smith has lived in Parker Square for 40 years. She sports bold, oversized glasses, giving her the solemn appearance of a wise owl. When she moved in, Smith says, Parker Square was a pleasant place full of working-class families.
That changed in the late 1980s, when gangs and drugs swept through the city’s East Side with unflinching malice. At its worst, in 1994, a record 528 serious crimes were reported in the Paseo corridor, which includes the privately owned Parker Square and its Housing Authority-owned neighbors: Riverview Gardens, T.B. Watkins, Wayne Miner, Guinotte Manor and Chouteau Courts.
It got so bad that the police sometimes balked at answering calls. When they did go, they showed up in teams of four: two to take the call, one to cover them with a shotgun, and one to watch the car. Before Wayne Miner’s five towers came down in 1988, occupants in the 10-story high-rises were known to rain cinder blocks down on unattended squad cars.
Things calmed down some in the late 1990s, but images of glorified street life persisted. In 2005, the producers of a low-budget movie called Hood 2 Hood: the Blockumentary rolled through 27 of the most bullet-riddled neighborhoods in America, challenging young men to display baggies of drugs, stacks of cash and automatic weaponry. A handful of Parker Square kids were happy to oblige.
That summer, two teenage boys were gunned down near 12th and Woodland, and a third teenage boy was arrested and charged with the killings. Parker Square’s crime-numbed residents were finally shocked into action. In the outrage following the shooting, residents heaped the blame on police.
Gary Majors, who now runs the city’s liquor-licensing department, was the commander of KCPD’s Central Patrol Division at the time. He scheduled a meeting and invited residents and building managers to attend. Juanita Smith was there.
With police help, the building managers came to a realization: The people whose names appeared on the leases were not, by and large, the people responsible for the crimes on the properties. Parker Square already barred anyone with a record of violent or drug-related felonies from signing a lease. Residents and police decided to apply the same rules to visitors.
And so, the “trespass list” — the most powerful tool in Griddine’s crime-fighting arsenal — was born. Now several years later, there are 300 names on the list just for Charlie Parker Square — people who can’t be on the property because of prior criminal histories or whose conduct there was deemed banworthy by officers.
Eighty percent of Charlie Parker Square’s units are leased by women, the building’s management estimates. The apartments are like lighthouses for adult children and grandchildren, for stepchildren, cousins, cousins’ cousins, BFFs, god-nieces, play sisters, and family members with no blood relation whatsoever. And it’s the stray friends and family members who often cause the trouble in Charlie Parker Square. “His job is, when you come on the property, you could be a criminal of some sort, a murderer or someone they’re looking for,” Juanita Smith says. “And if he stops you and asks to see your ID and asks if you live here or if you’re coming here to visit, all you need to do, if you aren’t doing anything wrong, is show your ID and tell him what he’s asking for.
“If you get ugly with him …” she says, “he’s going to do his job.”
Griddine once attended a Parker Square tenants’ meeting to address questions about the trespass list. He explained the process of getting a banned visitor removed from the list, an appeals process overseen by Universal
Management. A woman there, whose nephew had been banned from Parker Square, had a question: “What if they’re dead?”
After the meeting, Griddine and his partners went over the list, crossing out the names of 14 homicide victims.
Nobody hates the trespass list more than Kenisha Batton. But then, most people don’t spend three weeks in jail for trespassing.
Batton is a big woman with a big personality, her hair cut close to her head. A couple of years ago, after losing her job as a certified nurse’s assistant, Batton moved in with her mom at Parker Square. She’s 32 but still calls her mother “mommy.”
Batton claims that she first encountered Griddine as a teenager, when she was living in a nearby apartment building. It was summertime, and the officer made a pass at her, she says. But their real battle began on Mother’s Day in 2009.
Batton’s family was having a barbecue. A family friend, 14 at the time, had already been banned from Parker Square after crashing a stolen car near 10th Street and the Paseo. But the friend ignored the ban and showed up at the barbecue.
Griddine was cruising by when he spotted the girl. He made a beeline to arrest her. Batton blocked his path and ushered the girl into her mother’s house.
“He said I was hindering his arrest,”
It was more than that, Griddine says. Batton also lied about being listed on her mother’s lease (she wasn’t). He looked up the license plate on the car he’d seen Batton driving and discovered $5,000 in unpaid parking tickets.
Later that day, Griddine spotted the friend outside Batton’s house. “When I came back outside to get her and let her in, this time he didn’t want her,” Batton says. “He wanted me. I hadn’t gotten a chance to get dressed. He arrested me on Mother’s Day 2009 with nothing but a T-shirt on.”
Batton left jail that day with a ticket and a court date. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking on her unpaid traffic tickets. By July 2009, there was a warrant with her name on it. So on July 5, Griddine arrested her and informed her that he was placing her on the trespass list.
Batton says she didn’t know she was banned. But Parker Square’s policy is clear: A No Trespass Order can be given verbally or in writing, and “failure to provide … written notice shall not make an oral No Trespass Order invalid.” So
Batton kept returning. She racked up five municipal trespassing charges between last October and February of this year, court records show.
She went to court on February 2. Judge Leonard Hughes III flipped through Batton’s paperwork, heard her “not guilty” plea, and sentenced her to 180 days in jail on each charge — an unusually harsh sentence for trespassing, lawyers say, even if the sentences were meant to be served concurrently. As guards led her to jail, she says, she was crying so hard, she couldn’t breathe.
Batton was locked up for the better part of February before finally being released on probation. For three weeks, the only glimpse she had of the outside world was when her girlfriend came to “visit” at the Jackson County Detention Center, through a tinny video screen affixed to the cold metal of a phone booth.
“The only reason it’s a shame with her is because I think she’s been living here,” Griddine says. “That’s why it’s a big deal. Now she has to find a new home.” Court records, in fact, list Batton’s address as “homeless.”
“She will still not be able to come down here when she gets out, is what she doesn’t get,” Griddine continues. “If we let one unruly person do it, the next person is going to test us. And so on.”
Batton blamed every moment that she spent locked up on Griddine. Outside, her mother, Denise Batton, did the same, meeting with members of the Board of Police Commissioners. She called a New York City organization called
100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care.
She met with at least three lawyers. She filed complaints with the KCPD’s Office of Community Complaints, two of which are still being investigated.
The noise that Denise Batton made brought out neighbors with similar woes. She found an especially staunch ally in Peggy Bazart, whose cheerful apartment is decorated with flower patterns and butterflies. Bazart has lived in Parker Square for 35 years.
Bazart says she never had a problem with anyone. But when Griddine came along, she says, “All hell broke loose.”
There was the time that Griddine threatened to tow her van, she says, forcing her to pay $3,000 in fines. She neglects to mention that she’d been riding with stolen temporary tags for more than eight years, and she hadn’t paid property taxes since 2002.
Griddine also wrote her a ticket for disturbing the peace, but it hardly seems unwarranted. On the ticket for the offense, Griddine wrote that he’d heard Bazart yelling at a 4-year-old boy: “STAY OFF MY FUCKING GRASS.”
Bazart’s daughter and granddaughter are on the trespass list. The 11-year-old granddaughter repeatedly keyed a resident’s new Cadillac, incident reports show. Her mother got in a fistfight with a tenant.
But the way Bazart tells it — and she’ll tell it to anyone who listens, including the OCC — Griddine has it out for her.
“He picks on women and young men he thinks is weak,” Bazart says, her voice a rasp. “Let me tell you about Officer Griddine. You’ll have to excuse me, but he’s nothing but a whoremonger. That’s all he is.”
The anti-Griddine movement at Charlie Parker Square eventually turned political, if only by accident. In January, Michael Fletcher, who unsuccessfully ran for City Council in the 3rd District, met Denise Batton and Bazart through one of his campaign workers, Keith Brown. Brown was upset because his teenage son had been banned from Parker Square.
The stories of a power-mad cop rang true to Fletcher, a lawyer who has sued the KCPD. He convened a meeting of anti-Griddine forces in his East Side campaign office. Brown brought along an attorney, Basil North, and North happened to recognize Griddine’s name from an old lawsuit — a fat stack of court-stamped documents perfect for fanning some flames.
The suit originated in 1998, filed by a then-KCPD officer named Rose Mitchell Ealy. In her 50s at the time, Ealy worked as a DARE officer, visiting schools and educating kids about the dangers of using drugs.
But working the DARE unit, Ealy alleged, was like working the cafeteria at an all-boys middle school. There were epic displays of flatulence. Cops put globs of ranch dressing around their mouths while joking about blow jobs. Menstrual cycles were “red flags,” and a plastic sex toy got batted around like a balloon at a Phish concert. Among the officers in this merry band of juveniles: Griddine.
When she told a supervisor about the offensive environment she was subjected to, Ealy was reassigned to transporting arrestees at night, she claimed. The job was physically demanding and dangerous, and was the department’s attempt to punish her, she said.
So she sued. Her lawsuit named six of the nine officers in the DARE unit and ascribed various immature behaviors to each.
Griddine, she said, “talked about the difference between black pussy and white pussy”; “put his fingers over his mouth and moved his tongue back and forth”; “pressed his face against the window of the exercise room and opened his mouth and moved his tongue back and forth”; and “talked about the odor after a sexual encounter.”
The officers were promptly reassigned. (Griddine was assigned to the North Patrol Division and later moved to Central Patrol, which encompasses Parker Square.) The case finally went to trial in 2004. A federal jury awarded Ealy $600,000 — $100,000 in compensation for the harassment, North says, and $500,000 for the department’s poor handling of Ealy’s complaints.
“I think the jury was more outraged by the actions of the department in retaliating against her … than they were by the actual harassment itself,” North says.
Still, the accusations were there on paper. Fletcher, already fixated on Griddine’s stature, developed a theory based on the residents’ tales and the lawsuit: This Napoleonic officer was targeting families at Parker Square because he was motivated by lust.
Bazart and Denise Batton seized on Fletcher’s theory. “I can’t understand — why is this man getting by doing all this?” Bazart asks. “He got found guilty for sexual harassment, a $600,000 suit, but he’s still at the police department.”
It does seem strange, given Griddine’s history, that his supervisors would approve him to work, both on-duty and off-, at a low-income housing complex populated mostly by women. The answer is simple, KCPD sources tell The Pitch: Ealy’s allegations were widely regarded as bullshit, the manufactured outrage of a disgruntled cop.
“I never received those types of complaints. I never saw it,” says Majors, Griddine’s former boss. “I would have no qualms or hesitations having Timmy handle something for my wife or daughter. I just trust him implicitly.”
There’s a hint of spring in the night air at Parker Square. Griddine stands beneath a streetlight in the parking lot as a reporter flips through a copy of his personnel file, which Griddine has provided for inspection. (The department declined to provide a copy, citing employee-privacy laws.)
The paperwork shows three instances of disciplinary action: disciplinary counseling for his failure to appear in court in 1991 (“I was working until 4 in the morning and didn’t make it up for court at 9 a.m.”); a letter of reprimand for inappropriate actions in 1997 (“I handcuffed a kid who was off his meds and was trying to jump out a window”); disciplinary counseling for improper conduct in 1998 (“the lawsuit thing”).
These days, most of the complaints lodged against him seem to stem from his liberal use of the trespass list. But when it comes to fighting crime at Parker Square or anyplace like it, Griddine says, the advantages of that list are worth their weight in OCC complaints.
“The trespass list is how I’ve gotten five guns in two months,” he says. “We had a double homicide that happened right across the street, July 4, 2010. We stopped a guy for trespassing. The gun he had on him matches the bullets used there. So it’s more than just trespassing.”
In the six years that he has been working Parker Square off-duty, Griddine says, there have been two homicides on the property. (One of the victims was trespassing when he was killed.) In years prior, Parker Square was good for at least two homicides every year.
Racking up the department’s most citizen complaints may be a dubious distinction, but time is bearing out Griddine’s story. Bazart, for instance, was willing to tell a Pitch reporter about overhearing Griddine say nasty things to her granddaughter, but she never filed that complaint with the OCC. The most recent report she filed, according to OCC employees, was in September 2010, a jumbled account of Griddine scolding her for wasting his time. She rescinded the complaint a few months later.
Likewise, none of the copies of OCC complaints that Denise Batton provided to The Pitch mention her daughter’s claims of being hit on by the officer.
With all the petty hostility, it would be hard to blame Griddine for jumping at a chance to be reassigned. But Griddine says he has turned down invitations to join the department’s
“Tim’s had opportunities to be a detective, certainly to be SWAT, but he chose to stay and make the neighborhood a better place,” Majors says. “I think the people who are complaining need to be looking at what they’re talking about, and they should be looked at closely. What do they have to gain if Timmy’s not there?”