Category Archives: Fort Myers / Lee County / Southwest Florida #SWFL

The FMPD Officer Investigation Continues to Evolve with new Details

fmpd

Fort Myers Police Department

WINK has done some follow-up reporting about the continuing situation with FMPD officers that were suspended after the Freeh Group audit after new details were divulged a few weeks ago. First, WINK has reported that the four officers were subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury related to the investigation. None of the officers appeared, which is not surprising as any of their attorneys would have declined to allow them to testify under those circumstances. WINK spoke to Captain Perry’s attorney who said as much, and said that he could not let his client testify when he wasn’t sure any details of the investigation. It was mentioned that the officers received letters, which sounds like they may have been target letters: suggesting they were personally being investigated.

Second, that WINK article included an interview with former acting Chief Eads, who ran the department when the investigation got underway. Eads states that during his time in charge that he did not have any facts presented to him that were actionable. Ultimately, the four officers were suspended when the new chief received the Freeh Group report, and the redacted pages that still have not become public knowledge.

These reports, and those we discussed here before, suggest that the investigation of the officers is intertwined with the federal charges against accused drug trafficker Robert Ward, and to federal informants that were murdered. Ward is accused of murder for his involvement in the death of Kristopher Smith, and the murder of Victor Johnson appears to be related, as well. Detective Matt Sellers, the retired FMPD homicide detective, handled the investigation into the murder of Kristopher Smith. He went on WINK and stated that not only does he believe that the officers were not involved with that murder, but that he has also presented evidence that exonerates them to investigators. That means the Chief at the time, and the lead investigator, are both on record saying that they are unaware of any wrongdoing or connection between these officers and the Smith murder.

The city, the FBI, and other law enforcement agencies do not have to release information related to ongoing investigations. It may be years before the public finds out what was really going on at FMPD. The upcoming trial of Robert Ward, who is headed to federal court in Orlando may shed some light on why FMPD suspended the officers. Three of the officers have retired, but one remains on paid leave… three years after the suspensions were handed down. The leave for the officers has totaled over $200,000 and counting, and stands as an expensive unanswered question that even city leaders may be in the dark.

In other FMPD news, more details from the discovery in the case of former Captain Jay Rodriguez have been released. Also, it appears the state is considering additional charges for making a false report (no additional charges have been filed, it’s still in an investigation phase.) Rodriguez filed a report prior to release of the prostitution video that local activist Anthony Thomas tried to extort him for money or he would release the video. Thomas denies the extortion claim, which is now the basis for the false report allegation. Thomas later published the video on Facebook. The alleged extortion attempt supposedly took place when Thomas confronted Rodriguez outside a city council meeting, but there do not appear to be any witnesses. This type of charge is difficult to prove, because it is entirely he said/she said.

Finally, several FMPD officers are under investigation for an altercation that occurred off-duty at a Cape Coral bar the Dixie Roadhouse. Three officers have been placed on administrative leave pending the ongoing investigation. Apparently, the alleged victim was struck in the head with a beer bottle, and the incident was captured on video, which may become public down the road.

More Details Emerge in the Fort Myers Police Internal Investigation

This week marked the third year since an FMPD department audit led to the suspension of four Fort Myers Police Officers. Three of them have since retired, but the fourth is still on paid leave, having been paid nearly $200,000 during his time on leave. The city brought in the Freeh Group to conduct the audit, which suggested possible corruption, and led to a restructuring of the FMPD, but no charges have been filed. Several pages of the report were redacted, and still have not been released to the public. Last week, the city manager told Council there is nothing that can be done while the case remains under FBI investigation, and there’s no telling how long that will take.

However, new reporting from WINK suggest the investigation is related to a federal case against an accused drug trafficker Robert Ward, who has also been charged with ordering the murder of an informant, Kristopher Smith. There is no accusation that the officers are implicated in that informant’s death, which occurred in 2013. But there’s another murdered informant, Victor Johnson, named in the redacted pages. Johnson’s murder occurred in 2016, and an internal affairs investigation was launched about leaks in that investigation. One detective claimed Captain Melvin Perry, one of the suspended officers, was responsible because he had be telling his wife details about the case. Perry’s attorney denies any wrongdoing. Apparently, that detective was counseled for spreading rumors about the other officers.

At this time, no officers have been formally implicated in any wrongdoing. The three that retired did so of their own accord, and the fourth remains on the payroll, with no findings of wrongdoing. It is still very unclear what exactly was going on inside the department at the time, or why the officers were suspended. Three years later, the investigation appears to be ongoing, which precludes the release of much of the information that could shed light behind the curtain at FMPD.

Man wanted for Punching out a Dancin’ Santa and Ripping Off its Head

detail from security footage

The scene: Cowboy Up Saloon, Fort Myers, Florida. Police are seeking information on a man who was caught on camera punching a Dancin’ Santa that was on display at the popular Cowboy Up Saloon downtown in the Fort Myers River District. A man standing at the bar suddenly turns, punches the Santa display to the ground, knocking off its head. The footage is shocking, except its just a robot, so nobody gets hurt!

It’s not the first attack we’ve had on a holiday icon in Fort Myers… several years ago the Easter Bunny was attacked at the Edison Mall. That character was played by a real person, who was fortunately ok. Um… I guess ‘don’t punch holiday characters’ needs to be said.

The Gambling Granny Killer Takes a Plea to Life in Prison

Lois Riess

Lois Riess, dubbed ‘Losing Streak Lois’ by the media and who was the subject of a multi-state manhunt that saw her gambling in casinos as she avoided justice in two states, entered a plea today in Lee County Circuit court. She had been facing the death penalty for the murder of  Pamela Hutchinson on Fort Myers beach. Authorities believe she targeted Hutchinson for the resemblance between the two women, and then killed Hutchinson to assume her identity. Riess stole Hutchinson’s car and identity to finance her flight halfway across the country, before she was captured in South Padre Island, TX.

Riess was already a suspect for the murder of her husband some time before that in Minnesota. Riess is believed to have fled to Fort Myers where she committed the Hutchinson murder to further evade capture. That’s an aggravating factor that could have contributed to the State’s death penalty case. As it is, she accepted a plea to life in prison to avoid the risk of the death penalty. Florida has no parole, so life means life, and she will not have the possibility for release. Also, she will be extradited back to Minnesota to face charges for the murder of her husband, though that’s unlikely to go to trial as she’s already been given a life sentence. It is unclear if she will serve her time in Minnesota, or be transferred back to Florida to serve out her time, here.

This deal is a good resolution for the state of Florida, as the state will not have to incur the expense of a trial and the necessary appeals and post-conviction motions necessary for a death penalty case. Due to her age, it’s unlikely she would have ever ended up being executed (Kevin Foster still awaits execution, and his conviction was for charges that occurred in 1996). Perhaps the benefit or her is avoiding having to serve her time on Death Row, and getting her case done so she can serve her prison time and not sit in the local jail. She will likely have to Minnesota to deal with her charges up there before she sees a state prison.

Wendy’s Employee Chases Customer with Pan of Hot Grease

A customer got in an argument with with a Lehigh Acres Wendy’s employee, who proceeded to chase the customer with a pan of scalding hot grease. Fortunately, one of the other employees was able to knock the pan out of his hand before he was able to get to the customer, who was in the parking lot. No charges have been filed at this time.

It’s getting dangerous to get fast food… a few weeks ago, a woman in Colerain Township, near Cincinnati, Ohio got in a similar argument about getting refund over a mistaken order. She started throwing food at the staff, and the manager responded by throwing a blender at her. That case ended badly, as the blender broke the woman’s nose and cheekbone. At last word, no charges have been filed, and are unlikely to be filed, since the customer initiated the violence by throwing things at the manager. She may still be able to sue, and indicates she will pursue the matter. Something about waiting on fast food orders can trigger people, as I’ve seen several disputes end in violence.

Here’s the video from the Colerain McDonald’s incident:

Here’s the original story from WLWT:

And the full story after the video was released:

UPDATE: That’s not even getting in to other customers- reports are out that somebody got stabbed at Popeye’s over the new chicken sandwich!

FWC Breaks up a Turtle Trafficking Ring

Michael Boesenberg

Two Fort Myers men are charged in a turtle trafficking ring that may have netted tens of thousands of dollars. It’s the largest turtle theft bust in Florida history, and the turtles recovered had a black market value of $200,000. FWC alleges that Michael Clemons and Michael Boesenberg were selling wild-caught turtles to overseas interests for money and sometimes for marijuana.

Some of the rescued turtles

Michael Clemons

It’s important to police wildlife violations to protect the fauna of Florida. FWC says Lee County was hardest hit, and that local turtle populations may be substantially affected. The good news is that more than 600 turtles were rescued and returned to the wild.

FWC indicates this bust was related to the Gator in Yoga Pants bust with turtles in a Ninja Turtle backpack arrest from a few months back. FWC has more details on the concerns of wildlife trafficking.

One of the Sievers Homicide Trials Likely to Start Tomorrow

It’s been over four years since Dr. Theresa Sievers was brutally murdered in her Lee County home. Her husband Mark Sievers, Mark’s friend from Missouri Curtis Wayne Wright, and an apparent acquaintance of Wright’s who is also from Missouri, Jimmy “The Hammer” Rodgers were all arrested for the killing and charged with First Degree Murder. Curtis Wright later entered a plea to murder in exchange for 25 years in prison with an agreement to give substantial assistance in the other cases, which means he will need to testify for the state. Sievers and Wright are facing the death penalty.

Theresa Sievers

Both defendants are seeking a continuance of the trial, but the judge is eager for prosecution to go forward. He has set four weeks aside to handle the case on the court calendar, and a few weeks ago the cases were severed, so they will not be tried together. That means only one can go, and Rodgers is the most likely to start this month. Since the jury must be death qualified, it will take several days to pick a jury, and maybe a couple weeks, especially in light of the media coverage the case has gained. But we won’t know until the cases go before the judge in the morning.