Tag Archives: fmpd

Body Cams are Coming to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Department

Crimcourts has long advocated for expanded use of body cams by law enforcement agencies. They have been added at some major departments in Southwest Florida with a great deal of success, including city police for Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Punta Gorda. The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office has been working on instituting body worn cameras for it’s deputies, and with funding in place, expects to have them in use by the end of the summer. We applaud this effort by Sheriff Prummell and his department.

Not only do body cams provide for accountability for law enforcement, they also provide protection when there is an officer wrongly accused, as we’ve covered before on crimcourts. They can provide more evidence in cases, especially DUI cases that are very subjective. And when officers do violate rights, that can help lead to accountability, as we saw this week in Minneapolis. Another case seems to demonstrate the live risk of an officer where a body cam shows that a suspect who was shot was armed. While undoubtedly a tragedy, body worn cameras will help accurately determine the facts to resolve the investigation. As I’ve said in this space many times before, the pros far outweigh the cons.

We are glad to see CCSO is joining the ranks of camera wearing agencies, and encourage other agencies to do so, as well.

Man Charged with Killing Fort Myers Officer Intends to Claim Insanity

Wisner Desmaret

Wisner Desmaret, the man accused of taking the gun from and killing officer Adam Jobbers-Miller in 2018, has filed a notice of intent to rely on insanity as a defense in the case. This was expected, as he was caught on the scene, as well as on body cams, and Mr. Desmaret has an extensive mental health history. Desmaret had previously been declared incompetent to stand trial on prior offenses. Insanity is different from incompetence, and is an affirmative defense. That means the Defendant concedes the underlying action, and then the burden is on him to prove that he should be excused by the defense. To demonstrate insanity in Florida is difficult to prove: not only must the defense demonstrate the “mental infirmity, disease, or defect”, the Defense must show that the issue was so great that the Defendant did not know what he was doing or that what he was doing was wrong. It’s insufficient to merely claim that one is insane… it has to be proved that the mental issue is very extreme.

Desmaret could be facing the death penalty if he is found guilty.

Making the Case for Body-Worn Cameras

I have repeatedly recommended the adoption of body-worn cameras for law enforcement. It’s a win-win situation. There’s never a problem of having too much evidence. Having active cameras can only help get to the truth for police-citizen encounters. The body cameras cut both ways, and do not favor a party who’s statement does not line up with the video… the video favors facts.

Body worn cameras would be beneficial in the recent Los Angeles shooting of Dijon Kizzee. L.A. deputies claim that he dropped a firearm and was picking it up when they shot him. However, they did not have body cameras. The only video was earlier by someone with a camera phone and that footage only shows Kizzee running away. We don’t know what happened that led up to the moment of the shooting, and if deputies had bodycams, that might have given us an answer. It certainly would be beneficial to the Sheriff’s Department if they had body cameras that showed Mr. Kizzee reaching for the weapon. Departments have resisted using body cameras when so often, when the officers are acting appropriately, the cameras would be for their protection. Admittedly, there are flaws: the cameras don’t catch everything, but that’s not a reason not to try to get video.

Sarasota is considering body cameras for their police force. One of the concerns is the expense. The Herald-Tribune ran this editorial last week, arguing that the cost is worth it to acquire body cams. The editorial also ran here in Fort Myers the other day- Fort Myers and Cape Coral do issue body cameras, though the Lee County Sheriff’s Office has not. The Charlotte County Sheriff has recently reconsidered his stance, and will now be seeking body cameras for his department. I applaud this decision and encourage other law enforcement agencies to join CCSO, FMPD, CCPD and many others in outfitting their officers with this important equipment.

Again, be sure to check out the editorial: https://www.heraldtribune.com/story/opinion/editorials/2020/09/15/police-use-force-can-lessened-body-cameras-if-done-right/5790554002/

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.

Details Released in Arrest of FMPD Captain – the Case Still Looks Like Garbage

Capt. Jay Rodriguez

The affidavit for the warrant in the arrest of FMPD Captain Jay Rodriguez has been released, and as we anticipated in the detailed post about the charges yesterday, it doesn’t look like the charges are legally sustainable. As expected, the Misconduct and Prostitution Charges both stem from actions that happened in 2013, several years beyond the statute of limitations.* One newly revealed detail is that the investigating Detective not only accuses Rodriguez of misconduct for being involved in a false report, but also for improperly receiving a benefit with city money for the alleged sexual act. That allegation might sound good, except that he was working in an undercover capacity for the city police department, and his acts led to two arrests. That is still not a prosecutable case. It definitely would have been better practice for Rodriguez to have stopped the suspect before actually receiving a sexual act, but that does not make his action criminal. In fact, it sends a bad message that if the City gets pissed at its cops, it’s going to try to prosecute them for doing their job.

As to the perjury charge, it appears the questions posed to Rodriguez were a little clearer than indicated in the earlier press release. Rodriguez was asked “were you ever involved in sex while on duty” and “have you ever engaged in sexual activity on duty with a sex worker or prostitute”, which Rodriguez denied. These questions are not as vague as “did you have sex”, but they are not so specific that there is not ambiguity. Definitely hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. More importantly, this confirms it was an internal affairs investigation, which does not appear to be an “official proceeding” to satisfy the required element of the perjury statute.

Captain Rodriguez may have been involved in wrongdoing, especially if he directed the fabricated statements that led to the arrests of the two individuals. Ultimately, charges were apparently dropped against both of them. However, these charges, under more detailed scrutiny, still look like garbage. If Detective Kendall Bores, who swore out this warrant, does not have a better understanding of the law, that Detective should be reviewed for incompetence. And even if the Detective didn’t catch the problems, it should have gone through the State Attorney’s office (of the 12th Circuit) for review before the warrant was sworn out. But caution gets thrown to the wayside when political pressure gets applied on a high-profile media case.

Also, NBC-2 spoke to another attorney who agrees that the old charges may be barred by the statute of limitations.

Here’s a link to yesterday’s even more detailed post as to why these charges are garbage. To reiterate, police misconduct, and especially lying or falsifying police reports, deleting evidence and the like are extremely bad… but that’s not what Rodriguez is being charged with. As it is, these charges are, in my humble legal opinion, bullcrap, and I call it like I see it.

*Update, the News-Press points out the charges may fit an exception to the statute of limitations, as the accused is a public employee. The charges are still crap, however. They have also posted the full affidavit for the warrant.

FMPD Captain Arrested, but the Charges may be Fatally Flawed

jay rodriguez

Capt. Jay Rodriguez

So often, the cover up is worse than the crime. That’s the case here, as FMPD Captain Jay Rodriguez is charged with perjury and falsifying a document – two felonies – to cover up for soliciting prostitution, which is only a second degree misdemeanor. However, these charges may not pass muster when we get a chance to look at them. The arrest affidavits are not publicly available yet, so information is limited to the press release and related media coverage. 

The charges apparently date to an undercover sting operation in which Capt. Rodriguez was involved all the way back in March, 2013. He supposedly received a sex act and then authored a falsified account of his actions. This appears to be the basis of the prostitution and falsifying document charges. However, it appears that these charges are outside of the statute of limitations, which would prevent him from being prosecuted. The statute of limitations for a felony, such as falsifying a document, is generally three years while it’s only one year for a second degree misdemeanor. So, prosecution for these charges is more than three years too late!

I contacted FDLE to see if they had any comment about the statute of limitations, but they say the State Attorney makes the filing decisions. These cases are being handled by the 12th Circuit State Attorney, not our local prosecutors.

Further, it’s highly unlikely that Rodriguez could be prosecuted for receiving a sex act during an undercover operation. He was operating in his capacity as a police officer at the time, and that is a defense to criminal charges. For comparison, if an undercover officer buy drugs from a drug dealer during an undercover operation, the officer cannot be charged with buying the drugs. It may be unpleasant, but officers are given leeway under the law in these circumstances. The better practice is assuredly to make the bust before the actual sex act, once an agreement is in place, as indicated by the professor in this article. However, the officer is not prosecutable for his violation of the law. There have been several undercover operations locally where a sex act unfortunately took place, but those officers are not facing charges.

Even worse, the timing of this arrest makes these charges look politically motivated. Just 10 days ago, the News-Press ran an article about officers who have been on paid leave for a long time, prompting city councilmen in the article to say that they wanted to see some action. I cannot demonstrate that the FDLE was moved by political and media pressure, but here we are less than two weeks later with questionable charges. Now the city will likely commence termination proceedings. They got what they were looking for to try to stop paying Rodriguez.

The final charge appears to be perjury for lying in the internal investigation. FDLE indicates that Captain Rodriguez denied having “sex” while on duty. Even if the state can prove that a sexual act occurred (the alleged act was not on the video), they will have a hard time proving that he was committing perjury when he said he didn’t have sex on duty. The most common usage of “sex” would refer to sexual intercourse, and unless there was some better specificity in the interview… it’s not perjury. Further, an interview given in an internal investigation is almost certainly not an “Official Proceeding” as defined by the statute. Perjury usually means lying in court or to in some sort of formal hearing, not simply in a police interview. There is a separate misdemeanor charge for giving a false statement to a police officer, but unless there were some really specific questions being asked about the nature of the sexual activity, even that allegation would be difficult to prove. This charge is also unlikely to be provable beyond a reasonable doubt.

Another questionable issue related to these charges is that WINK news published what appears to be a mug shot of Captain Rodriguez. What’s interesting about that is that Florida Statute prohibits the release of mug shots of law enforcement officers. WINK is not in the wrong for publishing it, but the question is where did they get it? Was his mug shot illegally provided to the media? At this point, these charges, and the way they are carried out, create more questions than answers. I am electing not to republish the mug shot in this article, not so much because of the prohibition on dissemination, rather because I think the charges are bogus and have decided to only publish the professional photo that has previously been widely distributed.

Finally, these charges, and the likelihood they get dismissed, will end up serving as a cover for what should be the biggest scandal related to this whole thing. A Fort Myers police captain has been accused of lying, falsifying reports, instructing other officers to assist in his cover up, and possibly deleting video evidence of a criminal investigation. That is the issue we should be most concerned about, especially in light of the ongoing corruption probes at FMPD going back several years. While Captain Rodriguez shouldn’t be jailed for lying and saying he kept his bottoms on since it’s outside the statute of limitations, we should be terribly concerned that the department covered for his lie for six years. That’s a big lie, and if someone was charged with criminal acts, lying about it is far more serious for the effect it may have had on the integrity of our criminal justice system.

Here’s an edit of the video in question, from the News-press.

*UPDATE* NBC-2 reports he has been put on unpaid leave. I don’t blame Chief Diggs under the circumstances, but it shows that the arrest helped the City with their public pressure to take action.

FMPD Sued for Arresting and Tasing a Man for No Legal Reason

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Jones, about to be tased from behind

Two FMPD officers had no legal reason to arrest Holley Jones in April, 2018, but when he tried to walk away, they tasered him. The officers indicate they responded to a third-party complaint about a disorderly person, which apparently did not identify Jones. The whole incident is on body cam, and Mr. Jones is not causing a disturbance when officers come in and tell him they want to talk to him. When he declines to come outside, he tries to shake the officer’s hand, and the officer gets angry, and starts yelling at him not to touch him, pulls out his taser, and orders him outside. Jones says he did nothing wrong, and the officer says you’re real close to doing something wrong.

An officer is not allowed to detain someone, or order them around, unless he has evidence that they’ve done something wrong. Jones’ refusal to come outside isn’t improper because the officer doesn’t have evidence of a crime to have the authority to order him outside. People like to say you don’t have to consent to officers if you’ve done nothing wrong, but it results in poor Mr. Jones getting tased when he eventually runs away from the officers.

Something that’s nearly as bad as the unnecessary violence is that the officers mislead in their report to try to justify their actions. They indicate in their report that Jones did not seem to understand what they wanted him to do. The video is clear that he understood, but did not consent to following them outside or being searched. Then the officers say that when he ran back inside, he turned around in a “defensive posture with his arms raised,” and “a closed fist as if he was going to strike” the officer. The video clearly shows the officer is lying, as Jones is simply trying to evade the illegal arrest. The irony is that experienced criminal attorneys will recognize the “defensive posture” language as a phrasing that cops frequently use to justify use of force. In this case, thanks to the body-worn cameras, the truth is exposed. NBC-2 uploaded the video here, and it is somewhat graphic.

The case went to court, and on a motion to suppress, the state could not show a lawful detention, and the evidence was suppressed, leading to the case being dropped. Officers are allowed to talk to people in a consensual encounter, but they can’t just order people around who aren’t breaking the law. This should be a teaching tool, and body cams will help improve police and citizen interactions. In the meantime, this poor police work will probably lead to Mr. Jones getting paid. Not only that, they found substantial amounts of drugs on him, but he cannot be prosecuted due to the poor police work.

Alleged Cop-Killer Desmaret to be Evaluated for Competency

wisner desmaret

Wisner Desmaret

The man charged in the killing of Fort Myers police officer Adam Jobbers-Miller has been ordered to undergo a competency evaluation to determine if he is able to stand trial at this time. Wisner Desmaret will be evaluated by qualified doctors to determine whether his current mental state can support going to trial a this time. One has to be severely impaired to be found incompetent, essentially the experts would have to find that he was unable to understand the charges, the court process, or to effectively assist his attorneys in his defense. If he is found incompetent at this time, that does not mean that he can not be prosecuted, as the state can attempt to restore his competency (through medication and counseling) and he can be brought to trial if his competency is restored.

The evaluation was expected, as there have been previous questions of his competency in his previous cases. He has been found incompetent multiple times, and on one occasion, the court found that his competency was not restorable, based on expert testimony presented. However, another judge found that after restoration treatment, that his competency had been restored, which led to his release from a Sarasota county jail not long before he killed Officer Jobbers-Miller. If he is found incompetent, he will likely remain in custody until his competency is restored, at which point he will face trial for First-Degree Murder. The state has filed their intention to seek the death penalty against him.

Alleged Cop-Killer Desmaret Indicted for First Degree Murder

wisner desmaret

Wisner Desmaret

A grand jury has returned an indictment for First Degree Murder against Wisner Desmaret, the man accused of killing FMPD Officer Adam Jobbers-Miller. A grand jury indictment is a necessary step in Florida to proceed on First Degree Murder charges, and may be the next step toward the state seeking the death penalty. The grand jury found evidence that he killed Jobbers-Miller with premeditated design or in the course of committing a violent felony (resisting an officer with violence), in addition to additional charges of Resisting with Violence, Robbery, Depriving an Officer of Means of Protection, Attempted Murder and Aggravated Assault on other officers, and Burglary and Grand Theft. The police report indicates that Wisner, a former boxer, knocked Jobbers-Miller down, took his gun, and shot him in the head while he was still on the ground. He then fired at two other officers, one of whom shot Desmaret before he was taken into custody.

Desmaret is set for arraignment on August 27, though that may be moved up, since the indictment has been filed. Chief Assistant State Attorney Amira Fox was the prosecutor who obtained the indictment, and will likely be handling the case.

Details Emerge in Zombicon Shooting Case

jose bonilla

Jose Bonilla

Documents released today reveal why it took more than two years to bring charges against Jose Bonilla, even though he was identified as a suspect just a few weeks after the Zombicon shooting in October 2015. There were several calls to Crimestoppers, with anonymous tipsters indicating that Bonilla was the shooter and bragging about it. However, law enforcement did not want to move at that time, because they didn’t have sufficient evidence to bring the case to trial. The anonymous tips are hearsay, and they need someone to testify in order for that evidence to be admissible in court.

The stayed on the case, tracking Bonilla down, conducting several interviews, and talking to many of his friends and family. Ultimately, the break in the case came at the end of 2017, while Bonilla was in jail, Detectives indicate an informant in the jail came forward with information about Bonilla’s comments. The prosecutors took their time, and instead of rushing to make an arrest, they had the informant wear a wire to record his conversations with Bonilla. The details have been redacted from the public records, but the Detectives indicate that he admitted to involvement. More details may follow at the detention motion on Monday. Bonilla is innocent until proven guilty, but he is unlikely to get a bond at the pretrial detention hearing tomorrow.

I spoke to NBC-2 again about the case, and may be on the evening news tonight.