Flashgate: Internal Investigation Clears Bunnell Cop, Citing Another for “Honest Mistake”
FlaglerLive | November 10, 2011
An internal affairs investigation at the Bunnell Police Department found no malicious intent or serious wrongdoing when the contents of man’s flash drive—turned into the police department as a lost item—were deleted before the drive was returned to the man in July.
Chief Arthur Jones, who conducted the investigation and wrote the report, exonerated Cpl. Sergio Pina entirely. He sustained a claim of “improper procedure” against Lt. Randy Burke, the department’s second-in-command, but found it “evident that the decision by Lt. Burke top order the items deleted was an honest mistake without malicious intent that is not supported by department policy and or state law.” Burke was given “verbal counseling,” Jone said.
The flash drive case is the latest in a continuing series of variously embarrassing or disturbing incidents and findings at the department, some involving evidence, going back several years. The matter was complicated by the fact that the flash drive belonged to Roosevelt James, a former police officer in Bunnell who didn’t made it past his probationary period. Several items on the flash drive were police documents, though most of those were public records. All were deleted before the drive was returned to him, 26 days after it had been turned into the department.
James lost the drive on June 21. Sean Patton, an investigator with the Department of Agriculture, found the drive in a Publix parking lot, examined some of its contents to determine who it might belonged to, and noticed Bunnell Police Department documents. So he turned the drive over to the department. Pina is the department’s assistant evidence custodian. He contacted James to retrieve the flash drive, but by the time James made it to the department the following day, he was told that the drive was still with Pina, and then, subsequently, was told that the drive was under review by Burke. James didn’t get the drive back until July 18. Files had been deleted, “including,” James wrote, “files I saved while being employed as a police officer for the city of Bunnell, personal information, school work, previous addresses and work information.”
James asked for an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He did not get it. But Jones launched an internal investigation.
The flash drive, the investigation states, “contained copies of arrest reports, charging affidavits, and police information belonging to an Ofc. James of the Bunnell Police Department”—in other words, documents gathered during James’s tenure there. James turned the flash drive over to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office’s technology department so it could try to recover lost files. It did, but not all of them, and the retrieval did not show when the files had been deleted. But James “could not describe or give specific descriptions of the missing items,” the investigative report states.
Pina, in his statement to Jones, had said that some of the documents included juvenile information which would not normally be disseminated to the general public. Pina contacted Burke on June 22, as the department’s highest-ranking officer at the time (Jones was on medical leave), and told him of the contents. Burke “confirmed the fact that he instructed Cpl. Pina to delete the Bunnell Police Department reports from the flash drive,” the investigative report states.
On Sept. 9, Jones met with Sid Nowell, the city’s attorney, and Dan Davis, the city clerk. He wanted to find out if the documents on the flash drive had been exempt from the state’s public record law, which might have given Burke more legal cover for his action. “Both Mr. Davis and Mr. Nowell agreed that the documents were not exempt under the current public records law and should not have been deleted,” Jones’s report states. “The other documents in questions [sic.] were copies of official documents related to Mr. James’ tenure as a former Bunnell Police Officer and would not be exempt either.”
Jones concluded: “The responsibility for the decision and any violation of policy is removed from Cpl. Pina and falls under the authority of Lt. Burke. It is evident, however, that the decision by Lt. Burke to order the items deleted is not supported by department policy and or state law.”
The internal investigation was completed and sent to Bunnell City Manager Armando Martinez on Sept. 20. A letter was sent to James summarizing the findings, but without apology. Jones said “pretty much we did that in my office between he and I,” meaning that he extended an apology “for any mistake he considered the department to have made, yes.”
“I’m just done with the whole situation,” James said on Thursday, saying he never did get an apology, nor had expected one.