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As Bunnell PD Tries to Clear Its Name, Missing Evidence Turns Up, Discrepancies Remain

| January 27, 2011

Amber Burl, left, was jailed in 2009 on a marijuana possession charge, though the Bunnell Police Department didn't have the evidence in custody. Police Chief Arthur Jones says the evidence was recently found again, though questions remain.

Evidence has a strange way of disappearing and reappearing at the Bunnell Police Department.

The State Attorney’s office on Dec. 30 completed a follow up report to its last year’s investigation of irregularities and mismanagement at the department, and the department’s inappropriate favoritism toward City Commissioner Jimmy Flynt. The follow-up doesn’t explore new ground. It relates an attempt by Bunnell Police Chief Arthur Jones to set the record straight on one piece of evidence missing at the time of the summer investigation. Amber Burl of Ormond Beach was jailed in October 2009 on a marijuana possession charge even though the evidence used against her was never produced by the police department. Burl’s case was one of several the State Attorney’s office was investigating because of similar irregularities.

The follow-up report notes that eight such cases are still being investigated by the State Attorney’s office, suggesting that the police department is not yet in the clear. And even when it attempts to get in the clear, serious questions arise, as in the Burl case shows from the follow-up report.

A little background is necessary to understand why the department was being investigated in general and what the Burl case involved in particular. The department came under the State Attorney’s scrutiny following allegations that its cops were improperly favoring Flynt’s wrecker business and bullying people in the community. Two cops–John Murray, who was second in command in the department, and Lisa Murray, his wife–were arrested and charged for misconduct, and in John Murray’s case, cocaine possession and evidence tampering. The State Attorney’s report (available here in full) showed a pattern of favoritism, slipshod policing, intimidation of drivers going through Bunnell, and a series of arrests and administrative charges imposed on drivers that could not be backed up with proper documentation.

The city has acknowledged that one aspect of the procedure–a $350 “administrative fee” the city imposed on drivers who were towed, separate from the towing charges–amounted legalized extortion. The city abolished the fee late last year and agreed to pay back drivers who’d had to pay it in the previous eight years.

But numerous issues remained with procedures at the police department. Burl’s case is one of them. Burl is today 21. She was 19 when, driving through Bunnell in October 2009, Lisa Murray arrested her after finding what the State Attorney’s investigation described as “a very small amount of marijuana (twisted in the bottom corner of a cellophane cigarette wrapper) and a multicolored pipe.” Burl’s car was towed by Flynt’s Saxon’s wrecker service, out of the normal rotation required by the sheriff’s rules, and without giving Burl a chance to have her mother get her car–both violations of state law. Yet when she got out on bail–and paid the city $350 and Saxon’s $260–the marijuana in the cellophane wrapper was right there in the car. So was the multicolor pipe.

“Burl said she was afraid because she thought she was being set-up and her mother told her to through it in the trash can at the restaurant,” the investigative report related. “She said after she threw away the marijuana and pipe they both left Bunnell immediately. Ms. Burl said as a result she was sentenced to probation and drug counseling classes and has been attending them since.”

The evidence, of course, never turned up at the Bunnell Police Department–until last October. That’s where the follow-up investigative report comes on.

On Oct. 28, the State Attorney’s office received a call from Jones, the Bunnell Police chief. Jones wanted to go over discrepancies between his own departmental audit and the original State Attorney’s report. He also wanted to tell the investigator that evidence in the Burl case had been found. The investigator noted the discrepancies–which had to do with dispatch reports and the sheriff’s office’s wrecker schedule not matching up with the police department’s–but also found that “many of the individuals named in the BPD findings were not considered in the SAO investigation,” and some that were still had no proper paper trail.

The more noteworthy matter was the Burl case. Jones produced photographic evidence of the multicolor pipe and cellophane bag containing the marijuana in question–the pipe and the bag that Burl had supposedly thrown away. Angela Hatfield, the police department’s evidence custodian, told the investigator that “she discovered the missing evidence when all of the original evidence, previously stored off-site, was transferred to the new evidence vault.” The manila envelope in which the evidence was located and presented to the investigator had never been properly sealed, according to protocol. There is no documentation of “how the evidence was submitted or placed in evidence,” the investigator wrote in the follow-up report.

The investigator showed Burl and her mother pictures of the discovered evidence. Burl was “adamant” she had found at least a part of the pipe and the marijuana in her car after leaving jail, and thrown out both, though she said part of the pipe in the photograph looked like hers. Ruby Thompson, Burl’s mother, didn’t recognize the pipe, but remembered seeing the metal bowl part of the pipe–not included in the evidence photo–and the marijuana, and having her daughter trash both.

This is not the first time that evidence has gone missing at the department, or that it has been improperly documented. A previous report by the same investigator–into allegations, since found to be baseless, that Frank Gamarra, a sergeant Jones fired, had stolen counterfeit currency–noted that the currency in question had not been properly documented once the department made its allegation against Gamarra. The investigator’s summer investigation had also noted similar issues–that evidence and reports had a way of appearing and disappearing as if by magic, including a bag of evidence that reappeared in a locked office the investigator had previously examined.

The latest follow-up investigation shows the pattern continuing.

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12 Responses for “As Bunnell PD Tries to Clear Its Name, Missing Evidence Turns Up, Discrepancies Remain”

  1. Nero Fiddled..... says:

    I don’t get it….., when will this fiasco end…..Jones should leave while he still has some dignity and a career. The City Commissioners are asleep at the switch, as they so often are. Every day that goes by makes them look more idiotic concerning the police department. They had an opportunity in October to turn over the policing to a well run Sherriff’s department, save $250, 000.00, and actually add personnel like a full time investigator for the City. They actually turned that down….and really with no concrete reasoning, other than some sentimental trash. Running the City is like running a business; you have to make sound decisions to be successful, the City Commission has not done that. The liability for the City grows each day that this police department exists………….and eventually their ignorance will have to be burdened by the citizens.

  2. chiarahall777 says:

    Just when you thought nothing else could possibly come out of this department, and here we go…. This is truly sad and disgraceful. And yet, even more sad is that the people involved are still allowed to keep their jobs. There is a serious lack of accountability here. This has gotten to the point that something else comes out on a daily basis and it keeps getting worse.

  3. burntsmellresident says:

    I have never posted a comment in my life, but felt compelled to do so now. seems that the illustrious powers that be in our city continue to publicly display their ignorance. it is time for a change, and the citizens of this city need to make their voice be heard. I am to the point of being embarrased to ADMIt that I live in Bunnell. I hope the SA will investigate all that is going on, and possibly call up the Grand Jury.

  4. Honest Abe says:

    Well said burnt, I have been to these commission meetings so often and hear then garbage that bellows from the mayor’s mouth who appears to see everything through rose color glasses. I’ve actually heard her say once before in substance (MAYOR ROBINSON) THE CITIZENS WORK FOR US. She was reminded by the only true commissioner on that panel (TUCKER) I THINK IT WORKS THE OTHER WAY AROUND.
    We vote them in, we can vote them out. Flynt’s position is up for election first and if you are familiar with the MARTINEZ/FLYNT/MURRAY’S/PUPPET JONES connection…well it’s obvious, he need’s to go!
    It doesn’t start with the police department either, they are just the result of poor choices to lead their department. Look at Jones and his prior leadership skills. He was put in his current position because he would always say yes to the snake. Let’s see now that they have stripped MARTINEZ of his badge and gun (keep the money that goes with it though, Bunnell’s pockets are filled with cash….isn’t that right Ms. Henry? Ms. Crain-Brady?) if Jones can make any sound decision’s on his own. It would appear from this article that he is still batting a ZERO.

  5. Just the Facts says:

    For the Mayor to say “the citizens work for us” is just completely disrespectful and crazy. Every public servant is a SERVANT” of the people. Mayor Robinson has been seen hanging out with Jimmy Flynt and the Vice Mayor as they drive around in the car with Martinez. The system of government is set up to have checks and balances. This concept is totally out of focus as Bunnell is run more like a dictatorship. While Mr. Martinez may believe that he is the Fidel Castro of Bunnell, it is time for the citizens of Bunnell to use their checking power and oust the local government and Martinez who only cares about fattening his pocket at the cost of the innocent.

  6. Anonymous says:

    It is unbelievable how Martinez can make 90 Thousand Dollars a year as a Bunnell City Manager. In Bunnell! Really? I hope the state does take a look at these crooks, it is just like Bell California 90K? really? And tehere is a County Manager as well. Where is the managing boys?

  7. resident says:

    bunnell cops are a disgrace… Only purpose they have is to make the town money with speed traps and other crooked meens.

  8. just a citizen says:

    Re: resident……
    You are the disgrace…learn how to spell it helps with comprehending the real problem. The cops themselves are not the problem.

  9. Insider says:

    I agree with the comment about calling up a Grand Jury. There needs to be a full court press to get these people out and turn that city over to the county. There is nothing but corruption throughout the entire city. Not one officer, to include the chief, has completed an integrity check such as a polygraph prior to being hired. It’s an absolute disgrace to the law enforcement community that actually takes pride in wearing a badge and doing the right thing. Jones and Martinez are a cancer that needs to get blasted with some radiation. PATHETIC!!!!!

  10. Kurt says:

    is the fbi not supposed to look into all this stuff? who is suposed to make sure things like this dont happen at sheriffs deparmtents? why are they allowing this to go on for ever?

  11. chiarahall777 says:

    Dear Resident, Bunnell Cops ae not a disgrace. What is being allowed to happen is. The upper managment is suppose to be an example for those that patrol and deal with the public directly. Impressionable young officers may feel that this behavior is acceptable because they learn by example. Veteran good cops, past and present are working in fear of retaliation if they step up and say anything about what is being practiced. You cannot blame the “cops” for what they are told to do. They may be in fear of their jobs and as we all know this is a horrible time to be out of work. Its not fair, but its reality. As we’ve seen in the past few months here on this news outlet that the upper eschelon needs to be dealt with to set the rest of the force back on the right track. You cannot continue doing the same thing and expect different results. Its unfair to lable the cops as a disgrace, this isn’t a simple situation. Work a day in their shoes, deal with what they have to deal with out on the beat and back in the station and you may see its not so easy to pass judgement.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Any employee that challenges upper management in this City is quickly pushed out or terminated. Its not hard to know who is in control there… any employee who has served for more than 3 years at the City is highly suspect. This is a corrupt little town – good people won’t stay long.

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