State senator blasts Palm Beach Post, calls reporting ‘criminal’

State Sen. Bobby Powell blasted The Palm Beach Post’s recent report on fraud in the 2016 August primary election Tuesday night, saying the reporting in a Sunday story “should be criminal.”

At a public forum, Powell and state Rep. Al Jacquet took aim at The Post and State Attorney’s Office investigators looking into absentee ballot fraud in the primary election. Detectives found nearly two dozen fraudulent signatures on absentee ballot request forms but couldn’t identify a suspect, The Post reported.

State Rep. Al Jacquet, left, and state Sen. Bobby Powell at a legislative wrap-up forum on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.

“It’s distasteful,” Powell told the audience of roughly 80 people. “It should be criminal that newspapers can print something like that and implicate.”

EXCLUSIVE: Read The Post’s report into last year’s primary election

Jacquet took aim at the detectives who questioned voters, calling their behavior “criminal” and “unconstitutional.” Fourteen Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office detectives were assigned to interview voters.

“Someone comes to your door in uniform, bangs on your door and says, ‘Who did you vote for? How did you vote for them? Why did you vote for them? Did they give you anything to vote for them?'” Jacquet said. “This is not only criminal, this is unconstitutional civil rights violations. This is singling out one group of folks and literally intimidating them, suppressing their right to vote.”

Powell said the story was “flawed.”

“The story was not truthful, and it was done in order to damage the credibility of myself, (County Commissioner) Mack Bernard and Al Jacquet,” he said.

VOTER FRAUD: Read the State Attorney’s investigation into the primary election

Jacquet received enthusiastic applause after he said that voter suppression tactics wouldn’t work in the next election.

I guarantee you that’s not going to happen,” Jacquet said. “We’re just getting started.”

The Post on Sunday reported that prosecutors were ending their investigation into voter fraud in the August primary, despite finding 22 people whose signatures were forged on absentee ballot request forms.

The reason the case was dropped is because the lead detectives on the case, a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s sergeant and West Palm Beach detective assigned to the state attorney’s public corruption unit, couldn’t find a suspect.

Detectives didn’t follow up on basic leads, didn’t interview people who might have known about the fraud and waited eight months before following up with voters who made complaints.

Detectives also never followed up on The Post’s March story, in which voters said Jacquet and Bernard went into their homes, helped them fill out their ballots and collected them. Collecting other people’s ballots is a felony, the report states.

Powell, who said he brought copies of the report to Tuesday’s forum, said that the state attorney’s report does not “in any point indicate that our campaigns were under investigation.”

Read how 30% of Florida’s voting is ripe for fraud

The report does not mention Powell, and only mentions Bernard and Jacquet briefly.

But 17 of the 22 victims, which included a state attorney’s employee and her three family members, were in a narrow area where Jacquet’s, Powell’s and Bernard’s districts intersect.

And the only “person of interest” in the case was Delano Allen, whom detectives never interviewed. He was seen on video dropping off bundles of absentee ballot request forms.

Detectives never mentioned in their report that Allen is Powell’s longtime legislative aide.

Powell on Tuesday came to Allen’s defense, saying that other people must have been dropping off ballot request forms for other campaigns, too.

Delano Allen is my legislative aide,” he said, gesturing toward Allen. “In the paper they indicated that he dropped off ballot requests, almost saying that’s illegal. I’m sure that during the election season, that many Democratic clubs, Republican clubs, many other people dropped off absentee ballot requests. But when it came down to implicating him as to turning in one ballot, he turned in none. That was not reported. Unacceptable.”

It’s not illegal to drop off ballot request forms. The report does not mention Allen turning in absentee ballots. That would be illegal.

After he made his remarks, Powell criticized a Post reporter, telling the reporter that the newspaper didn’t mention that detectives found six fraudulent absentee ballots, which were from outside his district.

But detectives actually found that the ballots were not fraudulent.

“It was determined that 6 absentee ballots were possibly altered, forged, or obtained in a fraudulent way,” the report states. “It was determined through the course of the investigation that there was no criminal activity associated with these absentee ballots.”

After Powell spoke, Jacquet questioned why the three Democrats were even singled out for absentee ballots.

When you go to the division of elections and see the number of absentee ballots that counted in the recent election, the number has continued to skyrocket, because voters are now realizing that they don’t have to stand in line for two, three hours,” he said. “Why single out one group?”

But the candidates’ performance in absentee ballots was well above normal. Their opponents cried foul, and elections experts considered the results suspicious.

In some precincts, Bernard and Jacquet won nine of every 10 absentee ballots cast. They also drastically outperformed the top-ticket U.S. Senate candidates. In one Boynton Beach precinct, for example, 135 more people voted for Jacquet than for all the U.S. Senate candidates combined.

“When you have that type of down-ballot voting that exceeds the top of the ticket, it raises some suspicions,” University of Florida professor Daniel Smith told The Post in March.

Tuesday’s event was intended to give constituents a wrap-up of the Legislative session. But Powell said they first had to address the “elephant in the room.”

The audience included various local elected officials and former candidates, including Edwin Ferguson, a lawyer who lost to Jacquet in the August Democratic primary.

Ferguson actually beat Jacquet at the polls by 132 votes. But Jacquet’s extraordinary 1,167-vote edge in absentee votes easily won him the race.

Ferguson, who is running for the county School Board District 7 seat, declined to address the controversy on Wednesday.

“We came up short,” Ferguson said. “We’ll try to do better next time.”

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.

How Florida treats mentally ill: Like 3rd World country

For the head of the county branch of a national mental illness support group, Florida’s approach to treating the mentally ill is shocking.

“I’m from the north,” Marsha Martino told about 60 people gathered Tuesday for a panel discussion on the mental health epidemic in Palm Beach County. “I have never lived in a place so devoid of services.”

“This is like a Third World Country.”

Martino lived in Maine and New Jersey before moving to Palm Beach County nine years ago. She has been executive director of the county’s National Alliance on Mental Illness branch since August.

Panelists at Leadership Palm Beach County meeting Tuesday March 29, 2016, are from left: NAMI worker Peter Davey, NAMI-Palm Beach County Director Marsha Martino, Circuit Judge Joseph Marx and PBSO Chief Deputy Mike Gauger.
Panelists at Leadership Palm Beach County meeting Tuesday March 29, 2016, are from left: NAMI worker Peter Davey, NAMI-Palm Beach County Director Marsha Martino, Circuit Judge Joseph Marx and PBSO Chief Deputy Mike Gauger.

She spoke to a Leadership Palm Beach County class of about 60 at The Palm Beach Post on a panel with Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Mike Gauger, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Joseph Marx and Peter Davey, a young man who has battled mental illness.

The system here makes it hard on the mentally ill, Martino said.

Released from treatment, a mentally ill person likely must wait six weeks for treatment. For some, the act of remembering an appointment six weeks away is an “insurmountable barrier,” she said.

In Maine, she said, a patient would be seen by a team of mental health professionals the next day.

Marx, who presides at first-appearance court, said he sees tragedy daily. When mentally ill individuals are arrested, they lose their job, which means they can’t pay for housing, which means they lose their daily shower and shave, which means they lose the chance to get a job, Marx said.

“They have nowhere to sleep. They’re sleeping in your neighborhood,” he said.

One repeat offender, arrested for having an open container, begged the judge to send him back to jail. “I’ve hit bottom,” the man told Marx.

The judge sought a bed for the man. Nobody had one. Finally, he found a place willing to provide a bed for free. He released the man, ordering him to appear in court two months later.

He did, the judge said. And he was good.

“Judge, you saved my life,” the man told Marx.

Without prompting, the man came back again 30 days later to show the judge he was still clean, still working.

“Nine out of 10 do not come back,” Marx said. “But isn’t it worth the effort?”

But such efforts don’t soothe the populace, Marx said. He hears: “Judge aren’t you getting soft on crime?”

“No,” he says. “I’m getting smart on crime.”

PBSO Chief Deputy Mike Gauger discusses mental illness as Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Joseph Marx listens at a Leadership Palm Beach County panel discussion on Tuesday March 29, 2016, at The Palm Beach Post.
PBSO Chief Deputy Mike Gauger discusses mental illness as Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Joseph Marx listens at a Leadership Palm Beach County panel discussion on Tuesday March 29, 2016, at The Palm Beach Post.

Parental denial is one of the biggest problems, Gauger said. He pointed to the Sandy Hook killer, Adam Lanza, to illustrate.

“Many families are absolutely in denial when it comes to substance abuse or mental health issues,” the No. 2 official to Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said. “That’s what Adam Lanza did. He locked himself in the room and to entertain him, his mother took shooting and to buy weapons.”

Lanza killed 20 children and six adults before killing himself in December 2012 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn.

Awareness is key, the panelists agreed. As is ending the stigma.

Paraphrasing the words of Mother Teresa, panelist Davey said, even when they act badly “love them anyways.”

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.

Read more

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.

 

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

 

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.