Tag Archives: fdle

Inmates Are Still Dying at Charlotte County Prison

ID Photo

Antonio Kirkland

A spate of troublesome deaths has continued this year at Charlotte Correctional Institute. Most recently, it was just revealed that inmate Antonio Kirkland was reported dead on July 10, 2017. The report was released Thursday, with no details on how he died. News-Press reporter Melissa Montoya was able to extract a telling quote from FDLE spokesperson Jessica Cary, who pointedly stated, “We don’t normally investigate deaths of natural causes.” Kirkland was serving life in prison for armed robbery, in addition to attempted murder and other charges in Pinellas.

ID Photo

Cesar Ruano

Kirkland’s death is the second to be investigated this year at CCI. In May, a 37-year-old inmate named Cesar Ruano, a.k.a. “El Diablo”, was found dead, and no information was released to date. Ruano was serving life in prison for a first-degree murder out of Miami-Dade. The News-Press article indicates there was an investigation for this death, and as Ms. Cary pointed out, they don’t usually investigate deaths of natural causes. While FDLE and DOC have not released any information, a person claiming to be Ruano’s brother commented on a Facebook post, claiming that he died in solitary confinement, crying for help.

There was another inmate death earlier this year, making Kirkland’s at least the third at CCI this year. 48-year-old Michael Diffenderfer passed away suddenly in April at CCI. He had been serving consecutive life sentences for murder and armed robbery from Palm Beach. The cause of death in his case has been reported to be natural: pulmonary embolism as a result of deep vein thrombosis. That’s according to Diffenderfer’s ex-wife… FDLE did not publicly release any information regarding that death either. We don’t have any suggestion that his death was suspicious, but no official word from FDLE, either.

The News-Press says that FDLE is still investigating three deaths from last year (2016), and another from 2015. Including the two from the last couple months, that’s six troublesome cases that are apparently still under investigation. That doesn’t include the 2014 death of Matthew Walker, who’s death was determined to be a homicide at the hands of correctional officers, but for which the State failed to secure an indictment, due in part to a botched investigation and/or cover-up. That means more than 10 criminal probes in the last few years. Coverage of that case, and others, garnered at Pulitzer Prize for the Charlotte Sun. But even their award-winning writing has not led to answers for the ongoing spate of inmate deaths. Nor has it brought an end to the growing body-count piling up at Charlotte Correctional Institute.

More coverage of Charlotte Correctional Institute is worth reading

Governor Rick Scott wants to Raise Law Enforcement Pay

Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott

Governor Rick Scott announced this week that he is seeking a budget allocation to increase the pay of correctional officers and probation officers. These officers are surprisingly underpaid, starting at under $30,000, which has made it difficult to fill positions and retain officers. The State doesn’t even provide a firearm to probation officers that have to go out in the field to visit felons.

A few weeks ago he also announced that he is seeking a raise for state law enforcement officers, including FHP troopers, as well as FDLE, FWC and other agencies. The requested raise is modest, but probably overdue. I was speaking to some officers in court recently, and was surprised to see troopers leaving FHP to work in local departments, but the financial incentive was just too great. Fair pay is essential for maintaining the quality of our law enforcement officers.

The pay raises will still have to be discussed during the upcoming budget negotiations, and are far from a done deal. Not only is there concern of a deficit, Governor Scott is hoping to cut the budget by over $600 million. Some tough decisions will have to be made, but the law enforcement and corrections raises need to come sooner than later.

Child Sex Investigator Arrested for Child Sex Offenses

charles-mcmullen2

Charles “Chuck” McMullen via WEAR TV

Holy Crap, Charles “Chuck” McMullen, who had been a supervisor of the FDLE cyber-crimes unit for several years, has been arrested for exactly the type of activity he had been policing all these years. As a supervisor with the unit, he would literally travel the state setting up and running the internet sting operation in cooperation with various law enforcement agencies. He has now been charged with sexual assault and lewd and lascivious behavior on victims less than twelve. The victims indicate it happened on multiple occasions, so he could end up with multiple charges. The accusers were only 8, and sexual assault on a minor under 12 is a capital felony that has a mandatory sentence of life in prison, if he is convicted of that charge. He apparently was working at centers that advocate for abused children, allegedly using his position there to access his victims.

I have previously written about how sting operations run the risk of entrapping people. Sex offender stings in particular run this risk, and have been shown to do so locally. I have also pointed out some of the dirty tricks these operations use to set up the targets in these operations. Here’s the thing… Chuck McMullen is literally the guy who was doing this.

Special Agent Chuck McMullen organized, supervised, and actively participated in these operations. He ran operations where people were wrongly prosecuted, and he personally used improper techniques that constituted entrapment. Chuck McMullen wrongfully prosecuted people for travelling to meet minors, and now is facing charges for actually having abused young children. It’s shocking, appalling, and troubling on many levels. If it is demonstrated he committed these offenses, it is all the worse for his hypocrisy.

The image above is from file footage from WEARTV

Legislature Acts to Expedite DNA and Rape Kit Testing

senator Lizbeth Beancquisto

Lizbeth Benacquisto

I don’t know why it should take an act of the Legislature to get thousands of DNA samples from Rape Kits tested, but that’s apparently what it takes. Our own Senator from Southwest Florida, Lizbeth Benacquisto (R, Lee and Charlotte Counties), has sponsored a bill to expedite the process, and the bill has now passed the Criminal Justice Committee, an early step in the process of becoming a law. Kudos to Ms. Benacquisto, and AG Pamela Bondi, who has also made it a point to see that these rape kits get tested in the name of justice.

It remains to be seen how long it takes the state to catch up to the backlog of kits, numbering over 13,000 at one point. In addition to Bondi’s urging, Governor Scott has also pushed for money to get the kits tested. It’s a shame that it still has not happened, and Senator Benaquisto has taken real action to see that happen.

See previously: https://crimcourts.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/shocking-florida-has-more-than-11000-rape-kits-left-untested/

Shocking: Florida has more than 11,000 Rape Kits Left Untested

Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott

Rick Scott has requested $8.5 million to increase the FDLE budget to try to address the backlog of untested DNA kits in Florida evidence lockers. And he’s not the first to bring this matter to attention, Attorney General Pam Bondi has also pushed to get the backlog of DNA kits tested. This has been front page-level news for weeks now, and it’s time to get something done to pursue our most violent offenders. I applaud Governor Scott for moving this funding request forward and urge anyone involved to get it done quickly.

The concern is real: I had a client that was recently the victim of an attempted murder. A violent criminal fired into his bedroom window, and his girlfriend was gravely injured. Fortunately she is recuperating, but only after multiple surgeries and weeks in a wheelchair. I spoke to the Detective handling the case, who has a good idea of who did it, and will have a strong case, once the DNA evidence is tested. It has been submitted, but it has now been sitting for months in the DNA backlog. That means a violent madman with a gun is still running around at large because the FDLE hasn’t gotten around to testing the DNA evidence that was collected. That’s unacceptable. Meanwhile, the jail is full of non-violent offenders who can’t afford to bond out. It’s time to get our priorities straight.

An External Review Is a Win-Win to Review the Nate Allen Fiasco

FMPD is confident that an internal audit will be sufficient to review the errors that led to Nate Allen being wrongfully detained for more than five hours. However, Allen and his attorneys at the Wilbur Smith Law Firm are asking the city to bring in an outside agency, such as the FBI or FDLE (The Florida Department of Law Enforcement). Here’s the thing… EVERYBODY ought to be on board with an outside review. Transparency is good for everybody.

The City of Fort Myers should want an outside review. If the review is conducted by an independent agency, and finds no wrongdoing or cover-up, then the public will have confidence in that result. On the contrary, if there was wrongdoing, egregious errors, or a cover-up, then we all want to know about it. If there is a problem, it’s a good thing if the outside agency roots it out, so the problem can be fixed, and it doesn’t happen again. The City, and its citizens, all stand to benefit from an outside review. I encourage the city to bring in an outside agency, and release all the related documents.

Further, I would recommend that there be a review of the FMPD policy. If the policy still encourages a suggestive, one-person procedure, it should be updated. The State Attorney’s Office already pointed out that an unduly suggestive procedure was used to mis-identify Nate Allen. Steps should be taken to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Scientific studies and best practices recommend the following:

  • train all law enforcement officers in eyewitness identification
  • conduct lineups and photo arrays blindly
  • establish standardized witness instructions
  • immediately ask the witness about his or her level of confidence in the identification
  • videotape the entire eyewitness identification procedure

More information about best practices can be found on the DOJ’s “COPS” Community Policing Dispatch. Check out the article from December, “When it Comes to Eyewitness ID Best Practices, the Science is Settled.”

The law is also settled:

“Given the potential for misidentification if suggestive procedures are employed, courts have recognized that “[t]he practice of showing suspects singly to persons for the purpose of identification, and not as part of a lineup, has been widely condemned.”Stovall v. Denno, 388 U.S. 293, 302, 87 S.Ct. 1967, 1972, 18 L.Ed.2d 1199 (1967); Perez v. State, 648 So.2d 715, 719 (Fla.1995); Blanco v. State, 452 So.2d 520, 524 (Fla.1984),cert. denied, 469 U.S. 1181, 105 S.Ct. 940, 83 L.Ed.2d 953 (1985)” Macias v. State, 673 So.2d 176 (Fla. 4th DCA 1196).

LCSO Ran Another Crappy Sex Sting Operation

  • LCSO ran an internet sex-offender undercover sting operation
  • They call it Operation Safe Summer
  • The last one had a lot of bad arrests
  • Details are scarce so far, but it looks like they arrested more kids than dangerous predators this time around

Ironically, the same day I ran an article decrying sting operations which tend to entrap people who are not looking to commit a crime, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office does a press conference to brag about their undercover sting operation. We can only hope that the investigators working this operation did a better job in their investigation than the last time. Details have not been released yet, other than the names and personal details of the accused, but the last time around, several of the cases had to be dropped, others were acquitted, and one case was thrown out by a judge due to the outrageous behavior on the part of law enforcement in entrapping one of the suspects. Yes, several creepy, bad people may be among those charged, but there are a lot of people who get stung in these operations who are not criminals. Those stories don’t make news, because the people want to put it behind them.

As I stated this morning, one of the tenets of doing undercover sting operations is that the sting should be targeted specifically to known, ongoing criminal activity. These operations, as they are generally run, do the opposite. The undercover agents go fishing, and try to cast as wide a net as possible to ensnare more people and get a better headline after the press conference. Instead of catching actual, dangerous predators, they get a bunch of bored kids who aren’t looking to do anything illegal until the cops entice them to do it.

The last time around, Operation Spider Web, arrested a kid who never agreed to do anything with the cops: he thought he was coming over to hang out with another kid. Other times, the cops didn’t even claim to be a minor until their target was already headed to the house. For almost all of them, the cops initiated contact with the targets, which is absolutely contrary to the way a proper sting should be run. That’s why several people took their cases to trial, and several of them were acquitted, but not before their names had been dragged through the mud. And Spider Web, and probably Operation Safe Summer, follow the set-up textbook operating manual.

If you wanted to draw up a textbook entrapment situation, Operation Spider Web, and many of the similar internet sting operations around the state would follow the blueprint for improper law enforcement conduct. Instead of targeting known suspects, or suspicious chatrooms, or something with ANY indication of ongoing criminal activity, these operations randomly target internet users. Instead of waiting to be contacted, or putting out bait on an online service, agents initiate contact with unsuspecting targets. Instead of letting the suspects lead the discussion, agents frequently bring it around to sexual connotations, at times pushing it, and enticing the targets with sexual gratifications. They deliberately try to walk the line so they don’t get called out on it in court, and it still comes back on them time and again. The First District Appellate court decried their techniques just last fall in the widely noted Gennette case, but here we are again. See Gennette v. State, 124 So.3d 373 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013). Gennette was the authority that caused a local judge to throw out one of the arrests last time around, based on the behavior of law enforcement.

Operation Spider Web was overseen by FDLE Special Agent Charles McMullen. He’s basically a government hired gun, who travels around the state setting up these sting operations. He doesn’t care about targeting actual predators: trying to get as many people as possible arrested. The more arrests me makes, the more his job is justified… and the less resources go toward actual dangerous predators. He signed off on most of the arrests last time, which means he was personally responsible for at a good half-dozen bad arrests last time he came to town. Bad arrests hurt innocent people, and the fact that most of the arrestees this time around are 20-somethings suggest that these cases are more set-up than good arrest. Law Enforcement got their big press conference, and will probably lead the evening news, but they probably didn’t do much to make our community safer. Especially not if these are more McMullen specials…

Those charged with these offenses should contact me or another experienced defense attorney to fight. Not only are they facing prison time, they are facing lifelong sex-offender designations. And the more energy law enforcement has to expend fighting these cases, the more likely they are to finally realize the error of their ways.