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Florida Sheriff Nick Navarro Who Arrested 2 Live Crew on Obscenity Charges Dies

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A former South Florida sheriff who once ordered the arrest of rap group 2 Live Crew on obscenity charges has died. He was 81.

Broward Sheriff’s Office Chaplain Rick Braswell says Nick Navarro died Wednesday but he didn’t know the cause.

2 Live Crew was acquitted of the charges after their arrest in 1990.

Navarro allowed what became the very popular television reality show COPS to film its very first season of 1989 in Broward County.

After Navarro was elected in 1984, his office grew from 1,600 employees and a budget of $74 million to more than 3,000 employees and a $200 million budget.

Navarro left office after losing a 1992 re-election bid.

from – Never just a sheriff, Nick Navarro was Broward’s great showman, the impresario with a badge.

Navarro, who died Wednesday, was a publicity machine. A ubiquitous presence on the 6 o’clock news. It was like magic, with just a hint of mendacity, how he could turn low-rent arrests of street corner crack dealers into the stuff of high drama.

Even back when Navarro was sheriff-in-waiting, head of the Broward Sheriff’s Office organized crime squad, the media was always part of his crime-busting entourage, as he arrested mobsters and drug lords. In 1981, Navarro led a brash and impudent international drug raid on Bimini, outraging the Bahamian government and the U.S. State Department but, oh my, just imagine the publicity.

A year later, though many of his fellow Cuban Americans raged about the script depicting a brutal and murderous Marielito drug kingpin, Navarro, a onetime undercover cop, twice shot by druggies in his undercover days, signed on as a consultant with the Scarface film crew, teaching actor Al Pacino how to behave like a Cuban drug dealer. Navarro’s name is forever memorialized in the movie credits.

As sheriff, the showman cop introduced the art of cinema verité to American policing. Consider this short news item from The Miami Herald, July 27, 1988:

“The Fox network disclosed Tuesday that it has ordered a pilot for a new ‘strike-proof’ television series for possible use on Sunday nights this fall that follows Sheriff Nick Navarro and four of his officers in the pursuit of their jobs — and their lives — for one week. The finished footage is being edited into a cohesive whole, and the show, titled Cops, will most likely be an hour.”

That original hour-long feature never quite ended. Cops and variations of Cops became staples of TV entertainment. Nick Navarro, long gone from BSO, still deserves some of the credit, or the blame, for the latest Cops manifestation, Police Women of Broward County.

As an actual sheriff, Navarro’s escapades often seemed more flash than substance. Judges didn’t always find his ways so entertaining. Putting jail prisoners in tents. HIs pursuit of obscene rap artists. Or the arrests concocted with rock cocaine cooked up in BSO’s own laboratories. And a number of his homicide squads’ high-profile murder convictions ultimately fell apart on evidence of coerced confessions or witness intimidation or DNA evidence that implicated the real killers.

Allow me to quote myself, from a moldy old column that described the essence of BSO, under Sheriff Nick, as “the slickest public relations firm in South Florida. An arrest without a photo-op was like no arrest at all. A drug raid without TV cameras was like a tree falling in a forest without an audience. These fellows, running a little short of rock cocaine, just cooked up their own to peddle on Broward streets and set up the next episode of Cops.

“Of course, the organized-crime division came up a bit short on actual organized crime. The division was hardly the scourge of the underworld. But who cared? Complicated paper-chase investigations made for lousy TV. The goal was glory, quick and easy, with the largest chunk going to Nick Navarro.

“Sheriff Nick, through his photogenic, door-smashing organized-crime unit, built himself up into the nation’s most famous, most photographed local cop, more familiar to middle America probably than the director of the FBI or CIA, or any policeman outside of fiction. Of course, Nick was, in part, a fictional character himself.”

In 1988, a hapless opponent running for sheriff wrote a letter to WSVN-Channel 7 complaining that he could hardly compete with Sheriff Nick, who was virtually starring on the station’s Crackdown on Crack series. “I am financially incapable of competing with the televised time that you have generously provided my opponent.”

Four years later, in a Republican primary election held in the stunned aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, with just 17,000 voters turning out, the best known local politician in South Florida was ousted.

It was shocking. Newspapers had written about Navarro’s cronyism. We were harshly critical of his TV busts, described the various scandals, reported on the federal investigations of his nefarious tactics. “But always with an inescapable sense that Navarro was immune,” I wrote after his improbable defeat. “Nick owned the airways. And Nick had a huge political war chest. Nick would rule forever. And now . . . I already miss him.”

The thing about Navarro and those antics and all the publicity and all the TV cameras and all the reporters in tow, he couldn’t have pulled it off without that overwhelming personality and irresistible affability and that big smile. Even as he was saying the most improbable things, building some low rent street corner crack dealer into an international drug kingpin, reporters couldn’t help themselves. They liked him.

It was the greatest show in Broward County. I already miss him.

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