Amid unrest in Boynton Beach, Police Chief Michael Gregory to leave his post next week

BOYNTON BEACH — Changes are afoot for the Boynton Beach Police Department at a time when the community is anxiously awaiting the results of an Internal Affairs investigation into a crash that left a young boy dead and facing a potential merger with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

Chief Michael Gregory, who has served as the department’s top leader since July 2018, announced his resignation Friday. His last day on the job will be April 22.

Gregory said in a statement released by the department Friday that he is leaving to “take time to increase attention and focus on other areas of his life.”

RELATED: Community urges Boynton leaders to act after teen dies in dirt bike crash following police pursuit ]

“I am very proud of the many accomplishments achieved with the outstanding women and men in the Boynton Beach Police Department during my nearly 4-year tenure,” Gregory said in the statement. “I greatly appreciate the opportunity provided to me to lead the department and the leadership of City Manager Lori LaVerriere.”

Deputy Chief Vanessa Snow, who was appointed by LaVerriere, will serve as the interim chief.

Gregory joined the Fort Lauderdale Police Department in 1987 where he started out in patrol before moving to narcotics and later to racketeering, according to his biography on the police department’s website. He is also a member of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Gregory noted several accomplishments during his tenure: reducing serious crimes to a 20-year low; building relationships with community partners; constructing a new police headquarters; and increasing the professionalism and accountability of the department.

It has been nearly four months since Stanley Davis III crashed on his dirt bike going 85 mph while Boynton Beach Police Officer Mark Sohn followed him at about 80 mph. The boy’s family, supporters, activists and community members have attended commission meetings and events to demand officials conduct a thorough and fair Internal Affairs investigation.

There’s been unrest in the city’s Black community since the boy’s death, and in recent weeks, the police department has restarted its efforts to engage with the community, in part, to mend the disconnect between law enforcement and communities of color.

RELATED: Teen’s death highlights long history of mistrust of police in Boynton Beach’s Black community ]

Gregory recently led a meeting with police department leaders and the community, what the chief said marked the reboot of their efforts to connect with the community that were put on hold during the pandemic.

Boynton Beach Police Chief Michael Gregory, who has served as the department’s top leader since July 2018, announced his resignation Friday. His last day on the job will be April 22. (Boynton Beach Police / Courtesy)

The next meeting is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. May 5 at the police department, and Interim Chief Snow will be there to answer questions, Stephanie Slater, a spokesperson for the department, said in an email Friday.

Mayor Ty Penserga said in a statement that he learned of Gregory’s resignation Friday morning.

“Boynton Beach residents, business owners, and visitors can rest assured that public safety remains our top priority and that our police department will continue to serve with the utmost professionalism and excellence,” Penserga’s statement said. “As Mayor, I will work with our new police chief to ensure that we improve services to better protect our residents, that we support our law enforcement professionals, and that we run an efficient and high performing organization.”

Now that the Florida Highway Patrol’s traffic homicide investigation is done, the police department’s Internal Affairs investigation is underway.

FHP investigators determined Davis was speeding at about 85 mph in a 35 mph zone “unlawfully fleeing an attempted traffic stop” at the time of the crash on North Federal Highway while Sohn followed at about 80 mph, the investigative report says.

Sohn was cleared of any charges in that investigation, but an Internal Affairs investigation will ultimately determine whether Sohn will be disciplined or face charges.

RELATED: No traffic charges will be filed against Boynton Beach officer in crash death of teenager speeding on dirt bike, FHP says ]

At the April 5 commission meeting, city officials voted 3-1 in favor of a possible merger of the police department and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

City staff will work with the Sheriff’s Office in coming weeks to draft a proposal for the potential merger and what it would cost, which will later be presented to city officials.

Davis’ family and community organizers are hosting a meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the Carolyn Sims Center for community members to talk about the possible change and “police reform.”

Attorneys Ben Crump, Jasmine Rand and Sue-Ann Robison, who are representing Davis’ family, filed a complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice last week, calling on the agency to independently investigate the police department in the wake of Davis’ death, who was the third Black person to die in a pursuit involving Sohn, the letter says.

The complaint pointed toward Sohn’s history of the department’s pursuit policy, namely a week-long suspension in 2004 for violating the pursuit policy by pursuing a stolen car during rush-hour traffic and another suspension in 2012 for the pursuit that resulted in the death of Cyrus Deal.

“The Boynton Beach Police Department has a long history of violating the constitutional rights of its African American citizens, engaging in racist policing, using excessive force on African Americans, and conducting high speed police chases that result in the death of African American citizens,” the complaint letter says.

RELATED: Boynton Beach officer in dirt bike death suspended multiple times after pursuits, records show. Victim’s family wants him fired. ]

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