Palm Beach Shores settles case of dispatcher harassed by cop

Palm Beach Shores is paying $150,000 to settle a lawsuit by a former dispatcher who claimed she’d been repeatedly sexually harassed by former town police officer Charles Hoeffer.

For the town, it’s the latest fallout relating to Hoeffer, whom the town paid $135,000 last year to leave after he was accused of raping a blind woman twice. The town is being sued by that woman and another who claims Hoeffer groped and harassed her.

Former Palm Beach Shores officer Charles Hoeffer attends an arbitration hearing on May 5, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The dispatcher, Lori Saridakis, worked under Hoeffer’s supervision while she worked for the town. According to the 2015 lawsuit, he made crude comments to her, including asking her, “When are you gonna let me get some of that?” He would also grope himself in front of her, she said.

Ten months on paid leave: Officer faces assault allegations

11 women accuse cop of assault, rape or harassment

After she went to the town manager with her complaints, she was fired. The town said her position was simply eliminated.

“I’m happy it’s over for her,” Saridakis’ attorney, Arthur Schofield, said Thursday. “It was a long fight, and I’m proud of her for fighting, which other women couldn’t do or didn’t have the courage to do.”

At least one other dispatcher complained that she’d been harassed by Hoeffer. Saridakis could not be reached for comment.

The town’s insurance carrier, which is paying the settlement, agreed to settle just before the case went to trial. The settlement is not an admission of guilt.

The allegations against Hoeffer were first exposed in a 2015 Palm Beach Post article that revealed 11 different women had accused him of assault, rape or harassment over his three decades in policing with three different departments.

Last week, the national news site The Daily Beast profiled Hoeffer and his history in a lengthy exposé.

Schofield said he deposed Hoeffer for the lawsuit. He called it an “eye-opening experience,” although he didn’t uncover any new details about the officer’s history.

 

State ethics board clears Palm Beach County Sheriff, two others

The Florida Commission on Ethics cleared Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and his chief deputy on allegations he misused his position to investigate another candidate for sheriff.

The complaint was filed by former deputy Mark Dougan, a frequent thorn in Bradshaw’s side. He said he filed it about a year ago, before the FBI raided his home, prompting him to flee to Russia.

 

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw speaks during a news conference on Monday, April 14, 2016. During the event, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a ceremonial bill on a piece of victims’ rights legislation at the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in West Palm Beach. (Joseph Forzano / The Palm Beach Post)

“For them to find no probable cause, when they’re on audio admitting to what they’re doing, the system is broken,” he said. “That’s all there is to it. They won’t hold anyone accountable.”

He said he gave the commission audio recordings of one of PBSO’s investigators, Mark Lewis, talking about going after the sheriff’s enemies.

One of them was Jim Donahue, who was investigated after speaking out about PBSO’s budget.

PBSO records show that in 2010, the department opened an investigation into Donahue, a week after he went before county commissioners with complaints about the department’s budget. He filed to run for office, but never appeared on the ballot. He was charged with four felonies stemming from discrepancies on his 2008 application to work at PBSO. Prosecutors dropped the charges.

Lewis was cleared by the ethics commission. The ethics commission also found no probable cause that Bradshaw “disclosed inside information for his personal benefit or for the benefit of another.”

The commission also found no probable cause that Bradshaw’s number two, Chief Deputy Michael Gauger, “misused his position to direct an investigation of a candidate or expected candidate for Sheriff and to recommend the filing of criminal charges against him.”

The board, which rules on ethics issues involving politicians and state employees, also found no probable cause that Gauger investigated others in Palm Beach County.

Bradshaw told The Palm Beach Post in early February that the ethics commission had already found no probable cause against him.

“I was told through my lawyers no probable cause,” Bradshaw said. He described the investigation of Donahue as legitimate.

“He wrote a 50 page letter about how corrupt we were,” Bradshaw said. “The more we looked at it the more we saw he had put inaccurate information.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Celebration of Life service Saturday for daughter of Palm Beach County Commission aide

Tasha L. McCraw, who died at age 33 from an overdose Nov. 18, 2016. She was the daughter of Palm Beach County Commission aide Johnnie Easton.
Tasha L. McCraw, who died at age 33 from an overdose Nov. 18, 2016. She was the daughter of Palm Beach County Commission aide Johnnie Easton.

A “Celebration of Life” vigil for the late Tasha McCraw will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday at Boynton Inlet Park in Ocean Ridge.

Friends and relatives will gather on the beach just south of the inlet with candles and lanterns.

McCraw, daughter of long-time Palm Beach County Commission aide Johnnie Easton, died Nov. 18 of a suspected drug overdose after a long battle with addiction.

McCraw’s death, along with a Palm Beach Post series published Nov. 20 about the heroin epidemic, prompted County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay to call for reforms and measures to help addicts.

Easton, McKinlay’s chief aide, said she hopes Saturday’s vigil will “bring awareness to the problems and needs created by the epidemic and lack of resources dedicated to the issues addicts face.”

Easton last week announced her resignation, effective Dec. 31, so she can move to her hometown of Sumrall, Mississippi.

This drug is so deadly, DEA warning cops: Don’t touch it or let K9s sniff

Fentanyl, the powerful painkiller more than 50 times stronger than heroin, has become so prevalent that the Drug Enforcement Administration is warning police and first-responders not to touch or field-test drugs they suspect contain fentanyl.

The agency has released a video to all law enforcement agencies nationwide about the dangers of improperly handling the drug and its deadly consequences – especially to drug-sniffing police dogs.

“Fentanyl is being sold as heroin in virtually every corner of our country,” said Acting Deputy Administrator Jack Riley. “A very small amount ingested, or absorbed through your skin, can kill you.”

Riley urged police to skip testing on the scene.

“Don’t field test it in your car, or on the street, or take it back to the office,” Riley said in the video. “Transport it directly to a laboratory, where it can be safely handled and tested.”

During the last two years, the distribution of clandestinely manufactured fentanyl has been linked to an unprecedented outbreak of thousands of overdoses and deaths. The overdoses are occurring at an alarming rate and are the basis for this officer safety alert.

Photo of Christian "Ty" Hernandez. (Family photo)
Christian “Ty” Hernandez died of a pure dose of fentanyl in February.(Family photo)

Fentanyl is used in surgery as anesthesia and to treat chronic and severe pain. It is available in pills, a film that dissolves in the mouth and a transdermal patch, that delivers the drug directly through the skin. According to the DEA, the fentanyl being sold on the street is produced clandestinely in Mexico, and (also) comes directly from China.

Between 2005 and 2007, over 1,000 U.S. deaths were attributed to fentanyl – many of which occurred in Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia. Last year in Palm Beach County, fentanyl was among the drugs responsible for 95 overdose deaths.

According to DEA’s National Forensic Lab Information System, 13,002 forensic exhibits of fentanyl were tested by labs nationwide in 2015, up 65 percent from the 2014 number of 7,864.

The drug is so potent that doses are measured in a microgram, one millionth of a gram – similar to just a few granules of table salt. The high levels of the drug found in fatal overdoses are especially alarming.

A 25-year-old West Palm Beach man who overdosed in April had a fentanyl level of 18.2 ng/ml. A person wearing a transdermal patch would have a level between 0.8 – 2.6 ng/ml.

Although fentanyl  is often mixed with heroin to increase its potency, dealers and buyers may not know exactly what they are selling or ingest.  Christian Ty Hernandez, a 23-year-old heroin addict who lived in Wellington, overdosed in February on a pure dose of fentanyl. No other drugs were found in his system.

The drug dealer who sold Hernandez the fentanyl, Christopher Massena, faces 100 years in prison for selling the fatal to Massena and four other doses of heroin and fentanyl to undercover officers.

The DEA crackdown on fentanyl includes a major bust in Atlanta, which resulted in the seizure of 40 kilograms of fentanyl – initially believed to be bricks of cocaine – wrapped into blocks hidden in buckets and immersed in a thick fluid. The fentanyl from these seizures originated from Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

Fentanyl is also being sold as counterfeit or look-a-like hydrocodone or oxycodone tablets.  These fentanyl tablets are marked to mimic the authentic narcotic prescription medications and have led to multiple overdoses and deaths.

According to a DEA press release: “This is an unprecedented threat.”

Fired Palm Beach Shores cop accused of rape wanted $575K to settle case

Former Palm Beach Shores officer Charles Hoeffer attends an arbitration hearing where he is arguing for his job back in West Palm Beach, FL on May 5, 2016. Palm Beach Shores police chief says FBI is not going to pursue charges against Hoeffer, who is alleged to have committed sexual assault. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Former Palm Beach Shores officer Charles Hoeffer attends an arbitration hearing where he is arguing for his job back. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The former Palm Beach Shores officer fighting to get his job back after being accused of rape wanted $575,000 to make himself go away.

On the day before his arbitration hearing last week, Charles Hoeffer’s police union lawyer proposed a settlement that would also allow the former officer to retire in good standing.

“We will accept a lump sum of payment of $575,000.00,” Police Benevolent Association lawyer Larry Fagan wrote in an email to the lawyer representing Palm Beach Shores. “We’ll pay the taxes.”

The town rejected the offer.

Hoeffer spent nearly two years on paid leave while the Riviera Beach police, prosecutors and the FBI investigated claims that he twice raped a blind woman while on duty in 2014. Prosecutors and the FBI decided not to charge him with a crime.

Ten other women have accused him of rape, sexual harassment or domestic violence over his 27-year career. One of those women is a former Palm Beach Shores police dispatcher who is now suing the town.

He was fired in January after his police certification expired, an unusual loophole that Hoeffer is fighting. An arbitrator is expected to rule on the case in July.

Fagan calculated the large settlement sum because he said Hoeffer, 54, could work another 8 to 10 years. At the time he was fired, he was being paid $56,622 annually, including supervisor’s pay.

Ten years of pay, with 3 percent increases, would be nearly $650,000, not counting overtime, special details and the supervisor’s pay, which is about $3,000 per year.

That, plus $18,866 in back pay and 750 hours of accrued vacation, holiday and sick leave would total $691,300, Fagan calculated in the proposal.

Despite that amount, Hoeffer was willing to take the $575,000 in a lump sum, Fagan wrote.

Palm Beach Shores chief: FBI won’t charge officer accused of rape

The FBI investigated and decided not to bring charges against a former Palm Beach Shores police officer accused of twice raping a blind woman in her home, the department’s police chief said today.

Charles Hoeffer of the Palm Beach Shores Police Department
Charles Hoeffer of the Palm Beach Shores Police Department

During an arbitration hearing for former officer Charles Hoeffer, Chief Duncan Young said two FBI agents met with him in April, and last week they told him they had found “no evidence of a criminal nature to proceed” with the case.

The State Attorney’s Office also decided not to bring charges in the case, Young said.

Duncan fired Hoeffer in January when his state certification lapsed following nearly two years on paid administrative leave.

The Palm Beach Post reported in February 2015 that 11 different women had made accusations against Hoeffer during his career, including allegations of domestic violence, inappropriate touching, sexual harassment and making sexual comments to women while on duty.

Hoeffer is fighting the unusual firing, saying he wasn’t notified his four-year mandatory certification was going to expire. He needed retraining to maintain it.

Young said that Hoeffer, an officer with various police departments since 1987, should have known.

Young said he intentionally didn’t tell the officer about the upcoming recertification because be wanted Hoeffer gone.

“I don’t believe Mr. Hoeffer is of good moral character,” he told an arbitrator this morning.

Hoeffer has been dogged by misconduct allegations, including a separate rape allegation in 1996 that prosecutors declined to charge. At least 11 women have made accusations against him, including allegations of domestic violence, inappropriate touching, sexual harassment and making sexual comments to women while on duty.

He was fired from Delray Beach Police Department for attacking his ex-wife, Riviera Beach police fired him on the 1996 rape allegation, but he won back his job.

He’s been with Palm Beach Shores police for eight years. In 2014, a blind woman told police that he had twice raped her in her home. The department hasn’t yet completed its internal investigation in that case.

A decision by the arbitrator could be months away.

Feds charge Lake Worth man in overdose death

Federal authorities on Friday charged a Lake Worth man for selling a powerful painkiller that led to another man’s overdose death, the first case of its kind in Palm Beach County despite hundreds of recent overdose deaths.

Christopher Massena (Florida Department of Corrections)
Christopher Massena (Florida Department of Corrections)

Christopher Sharod Massena, 24, was indicted for distribution of fentanyl resulting in death, a charge that carries a 20-year minimum mandatory prison sentence. He was also charged with multiple counts of distributing heroin and heroin laced with fentanyl.

At roughly 100 times more powerful than morphine, fentanyl, a synthetic drug, can be deadly even in small doses, and it’s become common for drug dealers to combine it with heroin.

The effects have been lethal: roughly 200 people died in opioid-related overdoses in Palm Beach County last year, according to Palm Beach Post data. Many of those also had fentanyl in their system.

But while some local police have made a point of arresting dealers for selling heroin, Massena’s is the first case of a dealer being held responsible for an overdose death.

A Friday Justice Department press release hinted that the charge could be a new strategy to stem the growing number of overdose deaths. The FBI is already close to wrapping up a 2-year investigation of some drug treatment centers.

“The DEA is working very closely with our law enforcement partners in Palm Beach County and the United States Attorney’s Office to fully investigate and prosecute illicit drug trafficking activities to ensure that those responsible are held accountable for the consequences of their actions, especially when the sales result in the tragic death of another individual,” DEA Special Agent in Charge A.D. Wright said in a press release.

The press release said that on Feb. 18, Massena distributed fentanyl to a 23-year-old man who died after taking the drug. The man was not identified.

Afterward, Massena sold heroin and heroin laced with fentanyl to an undercover officer four times, according to the release. On April 21, Massena possessed heroin with the intent to distribute it, the release said. Those charges carry a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Local court records show Massena has been arrested several times on violence- and drug-related charges, with stints in Florida prisons from 2011-2012 and 2014-2015.

A message sent to Massena’s lawyer was not returned.

Former Riviera Beach commander announces run for sheriff

 

Rick Sessa
Rick Sessa

A former Riviera Beach police commander and radio host is announcing today that he’s joining the race to become sheriff.

Rick Sessa said he’s filing paperwork on Monday, but said he’s announcing the news on his radio show “The Beat: Real Cop Talk” on 900 AM at 4 p.m. today.

“I feel an obligation to run. I can’t sit back and let this sheriff go unopposed for another four years,” Sessa said. “I grew up here, I policed here, and we need to do something.”

For years, Sessa has been critical of Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who is seeking his fourth term. He’s been outspoken about the number of shootings by sheriff’s deputies and blames the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office for ending a previous incarnation of his radio program by pressuring the show’s sponsors. His show resumed last year after nearly two years off the air.

If elected, “We’re going to reopen some of these shooting cases, and if we find misconduct or coverup or malicious attempts at prosecution, people will be held accountable,” Sessa said.

Sessa, who was with Riviera Beach police from 1986 to 2006, will join retired Riviera Beach police Maj. Alex Freeman and Samuel L. Thompson in challenging Bradshaw.

But Sessa knows he has his work cut out for him. Bradshaw has raised nearly $300,000. Freeman has raised just $14,000 and Thompson nothing.

“I was told by two political advisers that I’m going to need $300,000 to beat Ric Bradshaw,” he said.

He doesn’t have that kind of money. But, he said, “I have a plan. I have a good team of people laid out.”

 

 

 

 

PBSO investigating release of confidential law enforcement addresses

Former Palm Beach County Sheriff's deputy Mark Dougan, second from right, in Russia. (Photo courtesy of Mark Dougan)
Former Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy Mark Dougan, second from right, in Russia. (Photo courtesy of Mark Dougan)

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is investigating how the home addresses of thousands of officers, prosecutors, judges and others were released online over the weekend.

The addresses are redacted from the county Property Appraiser’s website at the request of police and prosecutors, but friends of a former sheriff’s deputy with a grudge against the agency obtained the information and posted it online.

It includes nearly 3,600 names and addresses of local and federal judges and prosecutors, FBI agents and officers from many local police departments. It also lists addresses of facilities that house victims of domestic violence.

The Palm Beach Post is not naming the site or linking to it because of the sensitive nature of the records.

How the information ended up online is a mystery. Pat Poston, the property appraiser’s director of exemption services, which handles requests by police to redact their home addresses, said county information technology specialists said no one had hacked the property appraiser’s database.

“We’ve been contacted by the sheriff’s office,” Poston said. “They are beginning an investigation.”

A spokeswoman from PBSO hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

The site that posted the information is linked to former deputy Mark Dougan, a longtime thorn in the side of Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and his second-in-command, Chief Deputy Michael Gauger, who has filed a civil suit against Dougan.

Dougan denied responsibility for the release. He said friends in Russia were responsible, but said he knew “a long time ago” that the hackers had the information.

Dougan said the release was retribution against the sheriff’s office, which he claimed had hacked into his personal Facebook and email accounts without a warrant.

“It sucks, but if the government doesn’t want their privacy breached, then they can’t go around breaching the privacy of citizens without a warrant,” he said. “Yes, 4,000 people were not involved in hacking my stuff, but those 4,000 people didn’t do anything to stop it.”

Although state law allows many types of public employees to request their home addresses be redacted from property appraiser websites, many don’t. Those who were not redacted are not exposed on the new posting. The 3,600 all had taken advantage of the state law to keep people from knowing where they live.

 

Seth Adams shooting: Judge allows case to go forward against PBSO

The Seth Adams family lawsuit against the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office will be allowed to go to trial, a federal judge ruled today.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley denied Sgt. Michael Custer’s motion to toss the suit, but threw out some of the family’s more minor claims.

Overall, the decision was a victory for Adams’ family, who filed the suit after Adams, 24, was shot and killed by an undercover deputy in 2012. Adams was unarmed and on his own property, a nursery in Loxahatchee Groves.

Custer claimed that Adams fought him and grabbed him around the neck, prompting the deputy to shoot and kill Adams.

The incident is one of the most controversial shootings in the department’s history.

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