Stories that captivated Palm Beach County in 2015

A sign hangs at a fundraiser for Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen at the Square Grouper on July 31. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
A sign hangs at a fundraiser for Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen at the Square Grouper on July 31. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

1. Two Tequesta teens go missing at sea; massive search comes up empty

Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, a pair of 14-year-old friends from Tequesta, went fishing on a 19-foot boat July 24 from the Jupiter Inlet during a brewing thunderstorm and were never seen again. The Coast Guard’s search for the boys extended from Daytona Beach to South Carolina before it was called off July 31. The teenagers’ families called off their private search — aided by an army of volunteers that included actor John Travolta and former NFL quarterback Joe Namath — on Aug. 9.

» Photos of the Missing Teen tragedy

 

2. Corey Jones is shot, killed by Palm Beach Gardens police officer

Corey Jones
Corey Jones

The 31-year-old Boynton Beach musician joined the list of young black men killed by police under questionable circumstances when he was shot dead by Palm Beach Gardens Police Officer Nouman Raja. Jones was returning from a gig on Oct. 18 when his vehicle broke down

on the southbound Interstate 95 off-ramp at PGA Boulevard. Waiting for a tow truck about 3:15 a.m., Jones was confronted by Raja, who was working a plainclothes detail and driving an unmarked van. Jones was armed but never fired his weapon before Raja shot him three times. Raja was fired by the police department on Nov. 12. As the year ended, investigations by the sheriff’s office, the FBI and the state attorney’s office had not been completed.

» Timeline of the Corey Jones shooting

» Photos

Nick Weaver, one of the plane crash victims, with wife Robin Gargano Weaver. Photo handout: Family
Nick Weaver, one of the plane crash victims, with wife Robin Gargano Weaver. Photo handout: Family

3. Seven from Boca real estate company die in Ohio plane crash

Seven employees of Boca Raton-based PEBB Enterprises were killed along with two pilots Nov. 10 when a chartered plane slammed into an Akron, Ohio apartment building. The plane was less than two miles from Akron Fulton International Airport when it crashed. The seven employees were on a real-estate scouting trip for PEBB, which owns, operates and develops commercial properties, including shopping centers. A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board released Nov. 18 didn’t give an indication why the jet crashed.

 

 

TRAIN_EYE LEVEL4. All Aboard Florida breaks ground on site construction

All Aboard Florida crossed some critical junctures in 2015. It’s environmental impact statement was approved, and it broke ground on construction at its stations. The rail line, which projects to start passenger in 2017, also changed its name to Brightline, and used the moment to kick-off its marketing campaign. It still has its opponents and detractors, but that won’t stop All Aboard from chugging into 2016.

 

Juri Galicia at the scene of the plane crash that killed her sister Banny Garcia in Lake Worth on Oct. 19. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Juri Galicia at the scene of the plane crash that killed her sister Banny Garcia in Lake Worth on Oct. 19. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

5. Pilot, PBSC student die when plane crashes into Lantana mobile home

A Palm Beach State College student and a well-known engineer were killed Oct. 13 when when a small plane crashed into a suburban Lake Worth mobile home park. Banny Galicia, a 21-year-old student, died while taking a nap inside the mobile home. Dan Shalloway, the plane’s 64-year-old pilot and an influential engineer who played a key role in a land deal that led to the successful corruption cases against two Palm Beach County commissioners, also was killed in the fiery crash.

 

 

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio at the groundbreaking ceremonies to kick off construction on the new spring training complex in West Palm Beach. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio at the groundbreaking ceremonies to kick off construction on the new spring training complex in West Palm Beach. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

6. Land swap paves way for baseball stadium in West Palm Beach

West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County agreed to a land swap, paving the way for a $144 million spring training baseball stadium on a former landfill south of 45th Street between Military Trail and Haverhill Road in West Palm Beach. The Washington Nationals and Houston Astros plan to begin play in 2017. The land swap happened after a developer with first dibs on the 160-acre site pulled out and the county agreed to give the city 1.8 acres downtown in exchange. The state is putting up $50 million, the county hotel tax and the teams will pay the rest.

 

 

 

 

 (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
(Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

7. School buses run late for weeks, ‘culture of distrust’ blamed

Late school buses for the first few weeks of school, blamed on a computerized route system pressed into service too soon, plagued new Superintendent Robert Avossa’s first school opening day. A consultant, paid about $50,000, blamed the problem on a “perfect storm” of institutional failures, from the “undue influence” of a school board member, to the rollout of new technology, and to a “culture of distrust” that prevented managers’ concerns from being heard.

 

8. St. Mary’s CEO resigns, closes kids’ heart surgery program

St. Mary’s Medical Center CEO Davide Carbone resigned in August after a CNN expose of the West Palm Beach hospital’s pediatric cardiothoracic surgery program raised questions. Two days earlier, the hospital closed the kids’ heart surgery program, started by surgeon Dr. Michael Black, who came under fire in the CNN report. The Tenet Healthcare hospital couldn’t sustain the program after CNN reported nine infants had died in four years, a mortality rate that experts said was partly because the program was not attracting enough patients to be proficient.

 

9. Affordable housing crunch problems return to county

If you fast-forwarded a decade to 2016, you wouldn’t know there had been a residential real estate crash. The rise in home prices — from mid-2011 to mid-2015, the median price of houses and condos in Palm Beach County soared 66 percent, according to the National Association of Home Builders — has brought back the affordable housing crunch. So, very few houses at $200,000, or less, were on the market. And those that do got snapped up fast.

 

10. First black female selected as county administrator

Palm Beach County commissioners, torn between two top aides, selected longtime deputy Verdenia Baker to be county administrator in May, replacing Bob Weisman, who retired in August after nearly 24 years. Baker is the county’s first black female administrator. She had been Weisman’s deputy for 15 years. She edged out another assistant, Shannon LaRocque, and four outside candidates.

 

11. Unemployment falls to eight-year low in county, but income can’t keep up

In a sign of economic strength, Palm Beach County’s jobless rate fell to an eight-year low — 4.6 percent. That’s not the only sign of a robust Palm Beach County economy, which has record-setting tourism, increased consumer confidence, rising sales tax revenues and a strong real estate market. In Palm Beach County, the jobless rate has remained below the state average for 25 consecutive months, and is less than half of what it was at the peak of the Great Recession in 2010, CareerSource said. The one missing piece of the puzzle? Rising income. Many county residents still aren’t making enough to advance financially.

 

 

12. Presidential front-runners’ ties to Palm Beach County

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a Pearl Harbor Day Rally at the U.S.S. Yorktown on Dec. 7 in Mt. Pleasant, S.C. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a Pearl Harbor Day Rally at the U.S.S. Yorktown on Dec. 7 in Mt. Pleasant, S.C. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

The two outsiders who took early leads in the crowded Republican field for president have ties to Palm Beach County. Donald Trump operates a private club in the historic Mar-a-Lago ocean-to-Intracoastal property on Palm Beach. The New Yorker bought the 1920s estate for $10 million in 1985 and opened the club in 1995. He leased land from Palm Beach County next to the county jail, where he built a golf course for his club members. He also has sued the county over airplanes flying over Mar-a-Lago three times, including an ongoing suit. Ben Carson, the soft-spoken neurosurgeon who emerged early as an alternative outsider to Trump, paid $775,000 in January 2013 for a home in the Ibis Golf and Country Club west of State Road 7 in West Palm Beach.

» The 5 candidates from Florida

 

13. Despite a scare from Erika, county’s hurricane drought hits 10 years

Florida made it through another hurricane season with no storms making landfall, marking an unprecedented 10 years since a hurricane has hit the state. But there were some tense moments when Tropical Storm Erika was forecast in late August to become a hurricane and make a beeline for Palm Beach County. The storm fizzled out over Cuba and never reached hurricane strength but it was a lesson in why it’s important to be prepared.

 

14. Jailhouse snitch story sparks First Amendment fight

The Palm Beach Post reprinted jailhouse phone transcripts filed in a criminal court case and a judge ruled it must unpublish them, forcing quotes in a story retracted from the newspaper’s website six weeks after initial publication. Circuit Judge Jack Schramm Cox’s ruling, which the paper appealed with backup from the public defender, said no one can share the documents, limiting lawyers looking to use them to defend a man against murder charges. It all started when The Post’s Jane Musgrave wrote a detailed account of prosecutors’ use of a jailhouse snitch, Frederick Cobia, and cited Cobia’s phone calls that had been introduced into a court file by public defender Elizabeth Ramsey. When Ramsey files documents mentioning the transcripts after the judge’s ruling, she is charged with contempt. An appellate court has dismissed Cox’s ruling, and transcripts are once more posted on The Post’s website.

 

15. Heroin deaths rise as sober homes proliferate

The role of Palm Beach County and particularly Delray Beach in the addiction recovery industry became more pronounced as heroin overdoses, many of them fatal, rose precipitously. The Post found huge profits in the uncontrolled industry drew the attention of an FBI task force. “Addiction Treatment: Inside the Gold Rush” described one family’s $300,000 urine drug-test bill for nine months worth of tests. One insurer decided to drop its addiction-treatment coverage, which it said had been abused by addicts.

 

16. Courts throw out state Senate, congressional maps

Years after voters changed the state Constitution to require politics be taken out of map-making for voting districts, lawsuits challenging maps drawn by Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature forced change. Leon County judges, backed by the Florida Supreme Court, rejected the maps for Florida’s congressional delegation and its state Senate. The courts backed a congressional map backed by voter-rights group and in December was considering similar action concerning Senate maps. For Palm Beach County, the new maps mean fewer representatives in Congress and the state Senate.

 

line of fire17. Sheriff skips symposium on police-involved shootings after newspaper probe

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw skipped a symposium called by County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor after The Palm Beach Post’s April Line of Fire series, with WPTV NewsChannel 5, documents all police-involved shootings dating to 2000. Bradshaw sought FBI assistance with one investigation and later invited the FBI to assist in the probe into the shooting death of Corey Jones in Palm Beach Gardens. He also called an industry think tank to review his agency’s approach to investigating its own and initiates meetings with hand-picked community members.

 

18. Harbourside Place celebrates first anniversary in Jupiter

Harbourside Place in Jupiter
Harbourside Place in Jupiter

The $150 million outdoor entertainment center on the Intracoastal Waterway continued to draw praise and criticism. Proponents call Harbourside Place an economic engine that is creating about 1,500 jobs, bringing newcomers to Jupiter and adding about $800,000 annually in property tax revenue to the town. Opponents say Harbourside Place is causing too much noise from concerts, is an architectural “monstrosity” and is bringing too much traffic. The town twice fined developer Nick Mastroianni for allowing the music to be played above town limits, for a total of about $36,000. Mastroianni says the town has designated Harbourside Place an entertainment district, and the music is needed to attract customers and tenants.

 

19. Grandmother, 53, kills daughter, two grandchildren in Greenacres

A 53-year-old grandmother killed her daughter and two grandchildren June 28 before turning the gun on herself. The victims were found by a family friend, who walked into a home. Police do not have motive for the shootings. Among the dead were a 7-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl. The deaths brought the homicide total to six in Greenacres this year, one more than the city had in the past four years combined.

 

20. United Technologies chooses Palm Beach Gardens for mega-project

Rendering shows what the Center for Intelligent Buildings on the Briger Tract in Palm Beach Gardens will look like.
Rendering shows what the Center for Intelligent Buildings on the Briger Tract in Palm Beach Gardens will look like.

Gov. Rick Scott in July announced United Technologies had selected Palm Beach Gardens for its 241,400-square-foot Center for Intelligent Buildings. The center at Donald Ross Road and I-95 on what was once known as the Briger tract will be a showcase for the Fortune 50 company’s brands. Palm Beach County commissioners voted this spring to lift restrictions that called for the land to be used for bio-science and biotechnology, despite some objections raised by The Scripps Research Institute. Palm Beach Gardens, Palm Beach County and Florida offered United Technologies millions of dollars in economic incentives to choose the location over other options in the Southeast. In exchange, United Technologies promised to create 380 jobs and retain 70.

 

21. West Palm’s bloody summer: 10 die, 28 wounded by feuding ‘cliques’

Ten people were killed and 28 wounded in shootings in a 2-square mile section between Fourth Street and 36th Street centered on Tamarind Avenue. City officials attributed the violence to feuding “cliques” of teenagers and twenty-somethings. West Palm Beach police reacted by quadrupling the number of hours police patrolled the area.

 

22. Former private school teacher given life for abusing young girls

Former Rosarian Academy teacher Stephen Budd was convicted of capital sexual battery for molesting two girls, ages 8 and 9 during the 2006-2007 school year at Rosarian. The girls testified that he gave them play money called “Budd Bucks” that they could use for candy and prizes in exchange for sexual contact. Another woman testified of Budd’s abuse when she was 7 at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School in Riviera Beach.

 

23. North Palm ophthalmologist in scandal with New Jersey senator

North Palm Beach ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen was jailed in April on 76 charges that he scammed Medicare out of more than $105 million. He was released after extensive negotiations. Earlier in April, he and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., were indicted in Newark, N.J., on more than a dozen charges for engaging in what prosecutors claimed was a mutually beneficial bribery scheme. The senator, a longtime friend, had traveled with Melgen to the Dominican Republic, where they were accused of engaging with underage prostitutes. Melgen argues that his Medicare charges stem from a dispute with Medicare over how much he could charge patients for a pricey eye medicine.

 

24. Palm Beach County sizzles to record high temperatures

The Sunshine State lived up to its name in 2015 as the year is expected to be the warmest on record dating back 121 years. Through November, temperatures statewide and in Palm Beach Broward and Miami-Dade counties were higher than average, including a 90-degree day Nov. 10 in West Palm Beach that broke a record of 88 degrees set in 1987.

» Interested in weather? Read Kim Miller’s WeatherPlus blog

 

 

Former Boynton Beach police officer Stephen Maiorino was acquitted of all charges on Oct. 6. (Brianna Soukup / The Palm Beach Post)
Former Boynton Beach police officer Stephen Maiorino was acquitted of all charges on Oct. 6. (Brianna Soukup / The Palm Beach Post)

25. Former Boynton Beach police officer acquitted of rape charges

A jury found former Boynton Beach police officer Stephen Maiorino not guilty of rape, kidnapping and unlawful compensation or reward. Maiorino was accused of raping a 20-year-old woman near Interstate 95 while on-duty in 2014. The woman testified that Maiorino threatened her with arrest then drove her to a field and raped her at gunpoint. Maiorino, who resigned from the police department before his trial, said the sex was consensual. Despite the acquittal, Boynton Beach city commissioners awarded the woman $850,000.

 

 

 

Hundreds gathered on Lake Worth beach for the full lunar eclipse on Sept. 27. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
Hundreds gathered on Lake Worth beach for the full lunar eclipse on Sept. 27. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

26. Rare lunar eclipse creates coastal flooding, rising sea levels

A rare lunar eclipse that coincided with the moon’s perigee in September was not only a rare sight to behold, but brought attention to the problem of coastal flooding because of rising sea levels. Roads from West Palm Beach to Miami were underwater during high tide cycles. Even some homes along the Intracoastal were threatened with flooding. It was a situation that repeated itself throughout the fall when the moon was full.

» WATCH THIS: Time-lapse flooding video

 

27. Palm Beach County School Board picks new leader

Robert Avossa, the 43-year-old superintendent from Fulton County, Ga., was the unanimous pick of the Palm Beach County School Board to replace E. Wayne Gent as superintendent, the county’s third superintendent since Art Johnson’s departure in 2011. Within months, he hired a former boss for $50,000 to be the district staff’s “executive coach” and announced a $570,000 consultant to review all district operations.

 

28. School district takes on charter schools

The Palm Beach County School Board went to court over its right to reject charter schools, appealing the state school board’s ruling that it couldn’t reject schools for failing to provide “innovative” programs. The ruling by an appellate court is expected to set statewide precedent. The board also ordered an investigation of Eagle Arts Academy, a Wellington charter school, after The Palm Beach Post showed the school’s founder profited by steering school money to his own companies.

 

 

Heather Hironimus cries as she prepares to sign the consent form to allow her son be circumcised on May 22. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post
Heather Hironimus cries as she prepares to sign the consent form to allow her son be circumcised on May 22. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post

29. Circumcision fight leads to ‘cyber-terrorism’ complaint

Heather Hironimus of Boynton Beach took her 4½-year-old son on the lam rather than have him circumcised but ultimately cut a deal to escape prosecution for interfering with child custody. Backed by groups that considered circumcision to be unnecessary and deeply damaging, she took the boy despite a 2012 accord that allowed the boy’s father to have him circumcised. The father, Dennis Nebus, claimed the groups’ harassment amounted to “cyber-terrorism.” A judge ruled the circumcision could go forward but, because of a gag order, it has not been publicly acknowledged as to whether the surgical procedure was done.

 

 

 

Mark Stenner addresses seniors at their May 22 graduation ceremony.
Mark Stenner addresses seniors at their May 22 graduation ceremony.

30. Plagiarizing high school principal loses job

West Boca High Principal Mark Stenner is removed after reports surface that he plagiarized a 2015 commencement address, relying on a speech made popular on the Internet. Follow-up reports show he plagiarized a different speech in 2014. New district Superintendent Robert Avossa recommended Stenner’s transfer to a non-instructional job.

 

Corey Jones family: Records show officer the aggressor

Corey Jones, 31, was shot and killed by a Palm Beach Gardens police officer, Oct. 18, 2015. Photo courtesy of WPTV.
Corey Jones, 31, was shot and killed by a Palm Beach Gardens police officer, Oct. 18, 2015. Photo courtesy of WPTV.

Records of Corey Jones’ last calls prove a Palm Beach Gardens police officer was “likely the aggressor” in an encounter where the officer shot and killed him last week, his family’s attorneys said Tuesday.

The records, obtained exclusively by The Palm Beach Post Monday, show Jones had dialed AT&T’s roadside assistance line six times trying to get a tow truck to assist him with his broken-down vehicle in the early hours of Oct. 18.

The last call, at 3:10 a.m., was 53 minutes, which indicates the line was still open when Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja said he was forced to shoot Jones because Jones charged at him with a gun.

Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja shot and killed Corey Jones, 31, on an Interstate 95 off ramp at PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens on Oct. 18, 2015.
Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja shot and killed Corey Jones, 31, on an Interstate 95 off ramp at PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens on Oct. 18, 2015.

Jones family attorney Skinner Louis says the records belie Raja’s account, and that Jones was laid-back, calm, and refused an offer from his brother, C.J., to pick him up from the southbound exit ramp of Interstate 95 at PGA Boulevard just before he was killed.

» RELATED: Complete coverage of the Corey Jones shooting

“He wasn’t angry, he wasn’t agitated. He just thought maybe he was calling the wrong number,” Louis said of Jones’ long wait to speak to someone from roadside assistance. “So his brother sent him another number to call.”

Louis says he and Jones’ family members believe that Jones, who was left-handed, likely had his phone to his ear when Raja parked an unmarked police van perpendicular to his car and got out.

Jones had purchased a gun three days earlier and had a license to carry it, Louis said, but he said Jones never fired it.

“At the time Raja parked… (Corey) probably put his phone down and reached for the gun with his left hand,” Louis said.

Louis was a high school friend of Jones’ and is now part of the family’s legal team, which includes famed civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump. Louis said on Tuesday that the attorneys’ focus on Tuesday was to get answers from AT&T.

AT&T officials on Monday confirmed to The Post that they are cooperating with law enforcement on the case but declined to comment further.

The family attorneys also expected Tuesday to speak with Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg. They initially met with him last week, and prosecutors provided the family with details of the shooting. Based on that conversation, they believe Raja wasn’t using his department-issued weapon when he shot Jones.

Louis says the most important parts of the investigation at this point remains the sequence of shots Raja fired and where he was standing when he fired them.

Jones, he said, was struck by three bullets – including one that shattered his left elbow and fractured his arm.

“That would have separated him from his gun if he had it in his hand,” Louis said.

Prosecutors told the family last week that the gun was found in the grass between Jones’ body and his car, an 80- to 100-foot distance.

Exclusive: Corey Jones phone records show last call

By Daphne Duret and Lawrence Mower

Palm Beach Post Staff Writers

Corey Jones, 31, was shot and killed by a Palm Beach Gardens police officer, Oct. 18, 2015. Photo courtesy of WPTV.
Corey Jones, 31
Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja shot and killed Corey Jones, 31, on an Interstate 95 off ramp at PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens on Oct. 18, 2015.
Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja

Corey Jones was on the phone with AT&T’s roadside assistance — and possibly recorded — when a Palm Beach Gardens officer confronted him on an Interstate 95 off-ramp last week, triggering the events that led to his death.

A copy of Jones’ phone records obtained by The Palm Beach Post show that at 3:10 a.m., Jones called #HELP, the phone company’s recorded line to request assistance.

Jones, 31, was shot and killed by officer Nouman Raja about five minutes later, according to police, but the phone records show the call lasted 53 minutes.

Since AT&T alerts callers that the line might be recorded, it could have captured audio of the moments before, during and after his death, making it a critical piece of evidence in a shooting in which no video recordings apparently exist.

It’s unclear, however, whether the line was recorded, or whether investigators have obtained any recordings. Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office spokesman Mike Edmondson on Monday declined to comment on whether the prosecutors’ office had obtained the phone records. Jones’ phone was, however, recovered at the scene and had not been returned to family members as of Monday.

An AT&T official said late Monday she could not comment.

Clarence Ellington, Jones’ best friend, said Jones’ family has seen the records and were meeting late Monday with the family’s legal team.

“The consensus is the same, and that’s that we’re angry,” Ellington said.

Jones used a cellphone belonging to his employer, the Delray Beach Housing Authority. Call logs for the government agency were provided to The Post under the state’s open records law.

The call to roadside assistance was one of many Jones made early that morning, after the drummer’s sport utility vehicle broke down while driving back from a gig in Jupiter.

The first indication of car trouble came at 1:35 a.m., when he called band mate Mathew Huntsberger for help.

Nine minutes later, he called *FHP, the Florida Highway Patrol’s main line. The records indicate that the call lasted four minutes, but an FHP spokesman wasn’t able to obtain the content of the call late Monday.

Starting at 2:09 a.m., Jones called the AT&T #HELP four times, spending about 36 minutes trying to get help.

Those calls were probably fruitless, however, since he called #HELP again, at 2:45 a.m., a call that the log says lasted 32 minutes, even though he dialed three other numbers after that call began.

The final call went to the help line at 3:10 a.m. and records show it wouldn’t have ended until 4:03 a.m., long after the 3:15 a.m. shooting.

It was the last call Jones would make.

Four agencies, including the FBI, are investigating what happened next.

Jones, a Delray Beach housing inspector with no history of violence, was sitting in his car on the off-ramp at PGA Boulevard when Raja pulled up and parked perpendicular to him, blocking multiple lanes of traffic.

Raja, who was on a burglary surveillance detail, had stopped for an abandoned vehicle, Palm Beach Gardens police said. He wasn’t in uniform and didn’t have his badge when he stepped out of an unmarked white Ford van, according to Jones’ family lawyers, who were briefed by State Attorney Dave Aronberg.

Police said Raja spotted Jones’ gun and fired, killing him. Lawyers said Raja fired six times, including while Jones was running away. Jones’ body was found 80 to 100 feet away from his vehicle.

His gun, which he had bought legally and for which he had a concealed carry permit, was found an unspecified distance between his body and his vehicle.

The incident has captured national attention, the latest example of a young black man killed by police under questionable circumstances. Experts and the public have questioned Raja’s decision to confront Jones, who might not have known Raja was an officer.

The phone records provide some insight — and confusion — into Jones’ final hours.

He left his Jupiter gig and had just gotten on the highway when at 1:21 a.m. he called Manoucheka Sinmelus. She told The Post that Jones was on his way to pick her up from her home in Delray Beach. He didn’t mention car trouble. The call lasted about seven minutes. She has not spoken to authorities because they haven’t contacted her, she said.

The phone records have some discrepancies that aren’t easily explained, however.

Two phone calls seem to overlap with other calls. At 2:29 a.m., the logs show he spent 16 minutes with #HELP, but he called another phone number just eight minutes later.

Then, at 2:45 a.m., the logs show he spent 32 minutes on the line with #HELP, yet he called his brother just seven minutes later.

Edward J. Imwinkelried, an expert in scientific evidence and law professor at The University of California-Davis, said investigators should focus on the overlapping calls.

“If I was the investigator on the case, I would want to see how that is possible,” Imwinkelried said.

The most plausible explanation would be that Jones made the other calls while he was on hold with roadside assistance, Imwinkelried said. The first thing investigators would need to do, he said, is speak with everyone on Jones’ call log, including his brother, and obtain their phone records as well.

Then, he said, investigators would need to go to AT&T and have them explain the call log, and ask them if any recording of Jones’ calls exist.

Why are conservative bloggers posting photos of Riviera Beach mayor?

A picture of Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas Masters is getting national attention – but not for a good reason.

It’s a picture of him with a cop-killer.

Last year, Masters attended the funeral for Michael Brown, whose death at the hands of a Ferguson, Mo., police officer sparked a wave of protests and a national conversation about police deadly force.

At the funeral, Masters, in his bishop’s attire, posed for a photo with a young man, Joseph Thomas Johnson-Shanks, who uploaded the photo to his own Facebook page.

According to his spokeswoman, Masters had no idea who the man was and didn’t ask. He didn’t appear to be tagged in Joseph-Shanks’ photo.

But Johnson-Shanks is now dead, having been shot and killed by police in Kentucky after being suspected of killing Kentucky State Trooper Joseph Cameron Ponder Sunday night.

Johnson-Shank’s Facebook page has since been taken down, but not before many people saw and downloaded one of his pictures – the one with Masters.

The picture has since been posted on many rightwing websites.

“That person asked to take a picture with him and posted a selfie,” said Masters’ spokeswoman, Rose Ann Brown. “That happens to him frequently, particularly when he’s wearing that attire, that bishop’s attire.”

She said Masters didn’t know the man, but is aware the picture has been making the rounds online.

“You never know who’s asking to take a picture with you,” Brown said. “It could happen to anyone.”

Police union calls for WPB spokesman’s firing

FILE ART John Kazanjian, president of the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association, addresses the Boynton Beach City Commission during the public audience portion of its meeting Tuesday, June 3, 2014. Members of the Boynton Beach Police Department and the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association protested outside Boynton Beach City Hall beforehand. "My members are frustrated," he said. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)
FILE ART John Kazanjian, president of the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association, addresses the Boynton Beach City Commission during the public audience portion of its meeting Tuesday, June 3, 2014. Members of the Boynton Beach Police Department and the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association protested outside Boynton Beach City Hall beforehand. “My members are frustrated,” he said. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

The head of the county’s largest police union is calling for the firing of West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio’s spokesman in the wake of his accidental release of the names of undercover officers and confidential informants last week.

“If this happened by one of us, they’d be looking for our termination,” Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association President John Kazanjian said today. “Putting this transparency thing out … that’s just not acceptable.”

In a press release, he said he expects the city will terminate Muoio’s spokesman, Elliot Cohen, who released the records to the city’s website.

“His release of personal confidential information about our members and their cooperating citizens has not only betrayed the trust of those citizens, but has jeopardized those citizens’ and our officers’ lives,” he wrote in a press release.

“We fear this breach is irreparable.”

Kazanjian said a confidential informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency has already been moved to a safe location after the names and addresses of informants and undercover officers were included in thousands of pages of emails the city released online last week.

The emails were part of an unrelated records request that Cohen, in a departure from normal city policy, released on the city’s website, under the heading “transparency.”

“Somebody needs to take responsibility,” Kazanjian said. “They circle around the wagons all the time and they come up with excuses. … To me, Elliot Cohen needs to go.”

The city isn’t backing away from Cohen, though.

“This incident revealed a flaw in our process, and it is not a personnel issue,” City Administrator Jeff Green said in a statement to the PBA. “Mr. Cohen remains a valued member of our leadership team here at the city. We understand your concern over this incident.”

However, Cohen played a central role in the release of the emails. Until yesterday, he handled all public records requests from the media. The city clerk handles all requests from the public, and Green said Tuesday that had the clerk handled the records request, the mistake probably wouldn’t have been made.

Cohen also posted the records on the city’s website, rather than sending them directly to the reporter who requested them. Muoio said the idea to post public records online was hers, but Cohen supported the idea.

Kazanjian said he wants to talk to the mayor about the problem. In the meantime, the release has damaged police relations with the community, he said.

“It’s going to be harder to do police work out there with the confidential informants,” Kazanjian said.

 

West Palm mayor: I’m to blame for sensitive emails posted online

(L-R) West Palm Beach mayor Jeri Muoio, city administrator Jeff Green, and city spokesperson/media contact Elliot Cohen hold press conference Tuesday afternoon to respond to the recent confidential information leak through the city's public record requests site, September 15, 2015. (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)
(L-R) West Palm Beach mayor Jeri Muoio, city administrator Jeff Green, and city spokesperson/media contact Elliot Cohen hold press conference Tuesday afternoon to respond to the recent confidential information leak through the city’s public record requests site, September 15, 2015. (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio said in a press conference today that it was her idea to post records requests online, which resulted in the disclosure of sensitive police emails.

“All of us here in city hall … are very upset that these emails were out in the public,” she said. “They should not have been.”

Muoio said no one, including her spokesman, Elliot Cohen, who posted them online, was to blame for the mistake. Instead, the “process” failed.

The result was the release of closely guarded police secrets, including the names of targets in ongoing criminal investigations, the names of undercover officers and the identities of undercover informants.

Multiple investigations have been compromised, and the disclosures put multiple people’s lives at risk. Some of the investigations involved the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

City Administrator Jeff Green said city police have reached out to the other agencies to try to contain the damage from the release.

“(Police Chief Bryan Kummerlen) did say it was certainly something that hurt us in some respects and that they are working with the other agencies to try to limit whatever damage was done,” Green said.

As Muoio and Green explained, nearly all public records requests are handled by the city clerk.

But records requests from the media were handled by Cohen, per “policy,” Muoio said. That included a WPTV NewsChannel 5’s request for emails about the city’s faulty surveillance cameras.

Cohen asked the department’s embattled Information Technology department to carry out the request.

The IT department did the request, but it “wasn’t clear” what the next step was, she said. Someone should have sent the records to each department, such as the police department, to redact the records, she said.

“It’s not IT’s job to sort out the departments, and that’s where the breakdown was,” Muoio said.

Instead, IT gave the records, which disclosed the names of confidential informants and undercover officers – some of the department’s most closely guarded secrets – to Cohen, who posted them online, under the heading “transparency.”

That was a departure from normal policy, which is to give public records to the requester alone. Muoio said it was her idea to post them on the city’s website – an idea that she said she’s reconsidering.

“It was something that I thought about and discussed with Elliot and Mr. Green, and we just decided to move forward with it,” she said. “Apparently that may not be the best idea for our community.”

She said the move was to provide the public more information about the problem camera system – not an act of retribution against reporters. That’s how many in the media perceived it, however, since by publishing the records requests for all, including competitors, to see, it effectively eliminated any chance that reporters could generate scoops from the requests.

She said that to prevent future mistakes, the city clerk will handle all records requests from the media. The department will also store all police emails on a separate server that only they have access to.

She stood by Cohen, who also made the news last week after he blamed police for problems with the city’s surveillance cameras. Muoio had to hold a press conference last week to correct the record and say that the city, not police, were responsible for the problems.

“Elliot continues to be a valued member of our leadership team and will continue to be,” she said.

City spokesman exposes sensitive police records, informants

City of West Palm Beach Communications Director Eliot Cohen stands in front of electronic equipment in TV control room of city hall auditorium on December 13, 2013. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)
City of West Palm Beach Communications Director Elliot Cohen stands in front of electronic equipment in TV control room of city hall auditorium on December 13, 2013. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)

For three days last week, sensitive emails into local and federal criminal investigations were posted on the City of West Palm Beach’s website, exposing the targets of drug stings, the identities of detectives’ confidential informants and undercover officers.

The emails were taken down Friday, but they’ve left police scrambling to repair the damage.

On Monday, Mayor Jeri Muoio released a vague statement implying that her spokesman, Elliot Cohen, released the emails before they had a chance to be redacted. He wasn’t responsible for redacting them, she said.

“Elliott simply passes on the documents he receives from the departments,” she wrote in an email. “In this case, it appears the departments did not have the opportunity to review the information before it was released, as a result it is essential that we review our process to see if any changes need to be made.

 

The records, which were posted on a link from the city’s home page, included explosive details that seldom see the light of day.

Read the whole story

 

West Palm Beach camera unhelpful during August double-murder

A city surveillance camera was transmitting a shaky, blurry and unintelligible image to West Palm Beach police when two teens were shot and killed three blocks away late last month, video reviewed by The Palm Beach Post reveals.

The camera, at the corner of Tamarind Avenue and Lincoln Road, wasn’t useful during the five minutes before and after the moment Johnny Davis, 19, and Jernale Turner, 17, were shot and killed during a brazen, middle-of-the-day drive-by shooting Aug. 26.

Its black-and-white footage, seen in the video above, is so blurry and shaky that it’s unclear where the camera was pointing. No people, vehicles or any other moving objects are seen in the 10 minutes of footage The Palm Beach Post obtained through a records request.

 

Police haven’t made an arrest in the shooting, which left two other people wounded.

Even if it was working, it’s unclear whether the camera would have helped detectives. The camera is about three blocks from where Davis and Turner were killed, on 19th Street and Tamarind. If the shooter didn’t drive by the camera before or after the shooting, it’s unlikely it would have been useful.

But it was the first visible example of problems with the city’s roughly 30 surveillance cameras scattered throughout the city – a system that Mayor Jeri Muoio has vowed to fix and expand.

In May, the camera in the Dunbar Village complex was found to be faulty, too, when it failed to save any footage. Police haven’t made an arrest in that case, either.

That camera is about a block away from where Davis and Turner were killed, and it was working when the shooting occurred. But it was pointing east, away from the scene, and doesn’t appear to have recorded anything useful.

News that the camera wasn’t working during the May shooting sparked a war of words between West Palm Beach police and city spokesman Elliot Cohen over who was responsible for the cameras.

The city is responsible for maintaining the cameras, while police are responsible for where the cameras are placed and pointed.

The city has acknowledged that the cameras haven’t been maintained over the years, and some are blurry or haven’t worked.

“We will continue to be up front about the camera troubles and how the mayor has made it a priority to fix,” Cohen said Thursday, “and I’m sure moving forward it will be easy to find numerous examples across the board where they weren’t pointed in the right direction, were too dirty to be useful, or simply didn’t work.”

To get an idea of the quality of the surveillance system, The Post requested random footage from six cameras located in the Northwest Neighborhood and Coleman Park, where 28 people have been shot, 10 fatally, since May.

All but the camera at Tamarind and Lincoln appeared to be working and recording color images, but two didn’t appear to be useful.

One camera, atop the Salvation Army building at 600 Rosemary Ave., was pointing into a tree. And the Dunbar Village camera was dark and blurry.

PBSO deputy accused of roughing up 911 caller cleared

Augusto Garcia
Augusto Garcia

Russell Brinson, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy accused last year of roughing up a man who had called police for help, was cleared of any wrongdoing in the case.

In May 2014, Augusto Garcia had called police to report two suspicious people milling around his car. Brinson responded and, believing Garcia was a suspect, grabbed his arm, twisted it behind his back and took him to the ground, records show. He put a knee in Garcia’s back while handcuffing the man.

Brinson said Garcia refused to obey commands to take his hands out of his pockets. Garcia said he never had a chance to explain before Brinson swept his legs out from under him. He had to be hospitalized for back pain.

The deputy, who had 18 uses of force, including a shooting, in one 20-month span, was cleared in December.

But the U.S. Department of Justice assumed the case was still open in May, when they decided not to launch a formal investigation in the case. The Palm Beach Post obtained records in the case this week.

Brinson has since been reassigned to the airport.

 

Outside group has started its investigation of PBSO

The Washington-based think tank hired by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office started its investigation into the department late last month.

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw is spending $100,000 for the Police Executive Research Forum to examine his department’s internal affairs unit and the unit’s investigations after The Palm Beach Post and WPTV NewsChannel 5 found the unit cleared all but one fatal shooting by a deputy in 16 years.

The team from PERF started July 28, and their six-member team could spend up to four months interviewing PBSO staff, comparing the department’s policies with “best practices” and hosting six focus groups to get public input. Their findings will be released in a public report.

Their first visit lasted four days. The dates for the focus groups have not been announced.

Police internal affairs units are tasked with investigating whether officers violate department policy, and their findings can lead to officers being disciplined or fired. They do not handle criminal investigations.

The Post-WPTV investigation found that some of the unit’s investigators would skew or ignore evidence that would appear unfavorable to deputies who shoot.

After deputy Jason Franqui shot 16-year-old Jeremy Hutton, who suffers from Down syndrome, in 2010, for example, investigators said video confirmed Franqui’s statement that he shot as Hutton was driving toward him in a minivan.

But the video actually shows the opposite: Franqui fired all six rounds while Hutton was driving away from him.

The investigators’ reports also often left out critical information. In Hutton’s case, the report didn’t mention that Franqui’s rounds went into the back of the minivan, or that two of the rounds went into a passing motorist’s vehicle.

Although PBSO has a strict policy against shooting into moving vehicles, investigators found nothing to fault in the shooting.

Bradshaw agreed that some of the unit’s reports were inadequate, and he said future reports into shootings will be more thorough.

But he said better reports wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the investigations.

Since 2000, the department has cleared all but 12 shootings, a 90 percent clearance rate, The Post found. Since 2010, the rate is 100 percent.