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.
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.
Investigators looking into the death of Corey Jones are focusing on officer Nouman Raja’s decision to shoot the 31-year-old drummer while he was running away, The Palm Beach Post has learned.
Evidence indicates Jones may have dropped his weapon when the Palm Beach Gardens officer fired the fatal shot, according to interviews with Jones’ family, their lawyers and a source with knowledge of last week’s incident, which has captured national attention.
At its heart: Why was Jones’ gun found so far away from his body?
When Raja pulled up to the scene at about 3:15 a.m. Oct. 18, in plainclothes and an unmarked white van, Jones was on the phone with AT&T roadside assistance, his cellphone call log indicates. But Jones got out of the vehicle with his legally purchased gun, police and lawyer statements show.
In all, Raja fired six shots, three of which hit. When and where Jones was struck is crucial.
One of the bullets shattered his left arm. Jones was left-handed, so he likely would have been carrying the gun in that hand. That bullet could have forced him to drop it immediately.
Another bullet struck Jones’ right arm, near the shoulder. That wound wouldn’t have been fatal.
A third bullet struck Jones in his right torso, tearing his aorta, which carries blood from the heart. That bullet would have killed him — and, with his aorta shattered, likely forced him to drop immediately to the ground.
If he were still armed when the fatal shot struck, the gun would have been near his body. But it wasn’t. It was about halfway between Jones and his car, family lawyer Skinner Louis said — about 40 to 50 feet from his body. Louis was briefed on the investigation by the State Attorney’s Office.
Another critical question is where Raja was standing when he fired both volleys.
During his walk-through statement to investigators, he couldn’t clearly say where he was when he fired, according to Louis and one other source.
“Where Raja was placed is very important,” Louis said Tuesday, since it could indicate the angle at which he fired, revealing whether Jones had turned toward the officer.
Raja told investigators at the scene that he fired the second set of shots because he saw a “flickering sliver of a laser,” an unidentified source told WPBF-Channel 25 last week. So even if Jones had dropped his weapon as he fled, the officer may have believed Jones was still armed and continued to fear for his life, causing him to unleash the second volley of shots.
Jones’ death has triggered an extraordinary investigative effort for an officer-involved shooting in Palm Beach County, involving four agencies, including the FBI.
The State Attorney’s Office, for example, usually relies heavily on the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office investigation in shootings. But it has investigators going to extraordinary lengths to find witnesses, reaching out to everyone who stayed at a wing of the Doubletree Hotel near the shooting scene that night, The Post has learned.
The State Attorney’s Office and PBSO have refused to comment on details of the investigation.
On Tuesday, Raja met with police union lawyers while PBSO investigators removed evidence from his personal vehicle, according to WPTV NewsChannel 5.
The family’s focus on Tuesday, Louis said, was to get answers from AT&T, which Jones called six times to summon a tow truck to the Interstate 95 off-ramp at PGA Boulevard. The phone records show Jones made his final phone call at 3:10 a.m., five minutes before he was shot and killed. That call, which records show lasted 53 minutes, might have been recorded.
AT&T officials on Monday confirmed to The Post that they are cooperating with law enforcement but declined to comment further.
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 them details of the shooting. Based on that conversation, they believe Raja wasn’t using his department-issued weapon when he shot Jones.
A Rally for Transparency is scheduled outside the State Attorney’s Office at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Louis said the phone logs belie Raja’s account, and that Jones was laid-back, and calm even as he tried over and over again to reach a tow truck operator. He refused an offer of help from his brother, C.J., in a call that started at 2:52 a.m.
“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.
The family has many questions about the case, Louis said, but “Some questions may never be answered.”
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 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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Although it’s not on the agenda, the city of West Palm Beach’s network of surveillance cameras should a topic of discussion at tonight’s city commission meeting.
Several members of the city’s northwest neighborhood, which has been experiencing a rash of shootings, and Commissioner Paula Ryan plan on bringing up the issue in public comments, they told The Palm Beach Post on Friday.
One of the cameras wasn’t working when two people were shot outside the Dunbar Village apartments about 100 yards away. And locals say the city has been dragging its feet on a proposal to expand the number of cameras
Teresa Johnson, executive director of the Northwest Community Consortium, said last week that they wanted to “speak to the urgency” of installing more cameras. The city has 30 cameras across downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Since June 2, 26 people have been shot – nine fatally – in the northwest area. On Wednesday, two people were killed and two others wounded.
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.