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Opa-locka loses 2nd police chief in six months. Controversy swirls after Taser incident.

Opa-locka, a troubled town with a troubled police department, has lost yet another chief.

Steven Barreira, recruited from the Jacksonville area just six months ago to fill the shoes of former Chief James Dobson, suddenly resigned last week. Dobson was fired only 18 months ago after his boss decided the chief had failed to implement some much-needed reforms.

In a city-issued press release that went out Monday, Barreira said he had grown to love the city, but it was time to go.

“After much deliberation and prayer, I feel that my resignation is the best course of action for myself and my family,” Barreira said.

His boss, City Manager John Pate — who has been under fire from the city’s mayor for several months and who was responsible for Barreira’s hiring — said he was “saddened to lose such a great leader.”

Into the void steps Dennis Jackson II, a pastor and retired assistant police chief in Miami who oversaw field operations and worked in Miami for almost three decades. Jackson will serve on an interim basis as the city undergoes another national search for a new chief, Pate said.

Barreira was dealt a difficult hand from the start, overseeing a Central Miami-Dade city that has long suffered with minimal resources and too much crime. Its four dozen or so sworn officers have mostly outdated equipment and not long ago had to move from an infested facility that was filled with mold and a failing roof.

In 2004, Opa-locka had the highest crime rate of any city in the U.S. and Miami-Dade contemplated taking over the police department. Officers were leaving in droves. In more recent years, more officers were hired and crime dropped. But the department is still vastly understaffed and its officers are the lowest paid in Miami-Dade.

Barreira’s short stint as chief didn’t come without controversy. There have been complaints that Pate, who heads public safety in Opa-locka, had too much control over the police department and that it has led to clashes with the new chief.

And though Pate said a recent blowup in the department had nothing to do with Barreira’s departure, city commissioners questioned Pate and the chief at length about their part in an alleged cover-up of an embarrassing incident only last month.

The early September incident involved a police captain with a questionable history, using a Taser training device on a sergeant. According to an encrypted email that rocketed through City Hall and the community, Capt. Sergio Perez and Sgt. Michael Steel got into an argument. And as Steel walked away, the memo said, Perez fired his Taser into the sergeant’s back. Steel went to the hospital.

Pate and Barreira confirmed the incident, but not the exact sequence of events and said they had opened an internal investigation.

But as far as city leaders were concerned, the big problem was not the childish spat between the officers, it was a section of the memo that insinuated that Pate and Barreira warned staff that if the incident were reported, officers would lose jobs.

Barreira and Pate both denied the claim.

During a commission meeting last month not long after the incident, Pate told commissioners he would resign “and leave here if any of the allegations are true.”

“The biggest concern I have is anonymous emails going out,” said Pate. “Every allegation will be investigated.”

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