A man who once ran New York City’s jails and was the model for the ABC TV series The Commish will take over Florida’s beleaguered juvenile justice system, says the Miami Herald. Gov. Jeb Bush yesterday announced the selection of Anthony Schembri as secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice. He will replace Bill Bankhead, who is ill with cancer.
The agency has been beset by controversy, firings, and resignations since the death last June of Omar Paisley, 17, in the Miami-Dade juvenile lockup. Paisley died of a burst appendix after guards ignored his pleas for help.
Schembri, who has been a University of Central Florida professor and holds a law degree, served as police commissioner in Rye, N.Y., for 13 years and was put in charge of New York City’s jails by Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 1994.
When Schembri quit in New York City after 10 months, the New York Times reported an investigation into whether he met city residency requirements and whether he did personal business on city time. In May 1994, Schembri also agreed to pay $25,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging he had slapped a police sergeant in Rye. A jury found that he had committed battery, but the lawsuit was settled before a second trial was held to determine damages.
When asked about the incidents, Bush said, “Here is a distinguished public servant with a vast array of experience…No amount of Google searches that show one article in a rough-and-tumble place, New York City, is going to … change that.
Schembri said he “retired” from his New York City job because the residency requirements would have forced his wife and son to move to the city from their suburban home, even though he was voting, paying taxes and living weekdays within city limits. He said the lawsuit came from a disgruntled police officer who thought Schembri had fingered him to the Internal Revenue Service. Schembri said he merely “touched” the sergeant.