Bunnell PD Seizes Ex-Cop’s Lost Flash Drive, Deleting Files Against His Consent
FlaglerLive | July 28, 2011
An ex-Bunnell police officer has requested a formal investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) of the Bunnell Police Department’s holding and handling of his private flash drive for almost a month. The drive was lost in Palm Coast six months after the Palm Coast resident had lost his job with the department. The flash drive was found, turned into the Bunnell Police Department, and subsequently held there for 26 days, against its owner’s consent. Its contents were allegedly examined without a warrant and mostly deleted.
Bunnell officials say they have the case under review.
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The ex-officer at the center of this latest controversy to hit the Bunnell Police Department is Roosevelt James. In January, “he was offered the opportunity to resign, he didn’t take it, and he was terminated,” according to Bunnell City Attorney Sid Nowell. “They basically said he didn’t pass his probationary period.” As James put it: “Their reason was that I didn’t respond to training.”
James tried out for the police department and failed: That’s not in dispute. When he was on the force during his probationary period, he documented a lot of what he did for his own personal records. He saved those records electronically. That’s not in dispute, either: employees in all walks of life often document their work as a matter of routine and protection. It would not be unusual for a police officer to do the same in Bunnell, whose police department has been investigated by the State Attorney’s office for, among other things, poor record-keeping and shoddy policing. That pattern has continued.
Here’s where it gets strange and, the way so many matters involving the Bunnell Police Department do these days, disturbing.
On June 21, James, who lives at European Village, lost a computer flash drive somewhere in Palm Coast. “My flash drive contained various documents and files,” he wrote in a time-line of the incident, “including files I saved while being employed as a police officer for the city of Bunnell, personal information, school work, previous addresses and work information.”
At 10 a.m. the next day, James got a text on his phone from Bunnell police officer Pena telling him that someone had found the flash drive and dropped it off at the Bunnell police station. At 2:30 p.m. the same day, James signed in at the Bunnell Police Department to pick up the flash drive. It wasn’t there. He was told the officer still had the flash drive and wasn’t at the station. James and Pena exchanged texts, confirming that Pena still had the device.
Over the next five days, according to James, he tried again to pick up the drive at the station, but was then told, according to James, that “it was under review by Lt. Burke,” the second-in-command at the station. On June 29, James got yet another text from Pena, “stating that my flash drive was put into evidence and that I was going to have to wait until 7/5/2011 to pick it up from evidence,” James wrote.
James again tried to pick up the drive on July 16, signing in at the police department. He was told the drive was, in fact, in evidence, but that he couldn’t have it: the person responsible for the evidence room, now located in the old city hall, was not available.
On July 18, James finally retrieved the flash drive. He examined it on the same day “and found the entire contents had been erased and only three files remained, none of which I could open,” James wrote.
“It is evident the Bunnell Police Department failed to follow their own policy and procedure by not entering my property into evidence immediately after receiving my flash drive,” James wrote in a chronology of the incident, “failing to allow me to retrieve my property in a timely manner, and then deleting its contents.” He forwarded the chronology to members of the Bunnell City Commission, the FDLE’s computer crime center and the police department.
Arthur Jones, the Bunnell police chief—who spent most of the weeks coinciding with the incident’s timeline on vacation—had few comments about the incident. “I’m waiting for Mr. James to come into the police department to file a formal complaint,” Jones said earlier this week. “I don’t know that anything has happened at this point. I’m right now looking into it as an inquiry.” Jones said he’d contacted James twice.
Jones added: “Anything dealing with police property is just that, police property, and at this point we’re not sure as to what Mr. James is alleging so I cannot speculate.”
Last Friday, Armando Martinez, the city manager, asked Jones to look into the matter and report back to him. “I was concerned about it but I’m not going to jump to conclusions until all the facts are in,” Martinez said.
Nowell, the city attorney, who has also been looking into the matter, said the flash drive was first found by a private citizen, who, Nowell presumes, looked into the flash drive to find out who it belongs to, then turned over to the department and looked into again. At either point, files could have been altered or deleted, Nowell said, without malicious intent. Nowell also raised questions.
“In his capacity as an officer he kept official PD documents, I’d like to know why,” Nowell said. “I’m not questioning the right of a private citizen to have them.” But Nowell wanted to know what specific police department documents had been kept and why. “He might have a legitimate reason.”
Private files were deleted as well, James is claiming.
“I’ve asked the chief to find out why Pena or anyone else would purposely delete private information,” Nowell said, noting that it was too early to reach any conclusions. “I do not believe anything nefarious was being done,” he said.