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Deputy Responsible for False Arrest of Dakota Ward Is Suspended For 3 Days as Investigation Concludes

| April 15, 2016

deputy james gore

Deputy James Gore in an image released by the sheriff’s office a few years ago.

James Gore, a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy who two weeks ago was disciplined in an unrelated matter, was suspended for three days without pay and charged with “unsatisfactory or incompetent performance” as a result of his investigation that led to the false arrest of an 18-year-old Bunnell resident late last month.


Dakota G. Ward was arrested on March 26 for failing to appear in court on a summons regarding an alleged battery that took place on Dec. 15. Ward was not involved in the battery. Rather, it allegedly involved Chad Cox, the victim, and De’Coda Ward. Gore responded to battery incident. De’Coda Ward was gone by then. Cox gave De’Coda’s name to the deputy, and wrote it down according to its proper spelling. The deputy instead entered the name “Dakota” Ward in a law enforcement database, and thus started ensnaring the wrong Ward in the system.

The suspension is the result of an internal affairs investigation the sheriff’s office released this evening–after improperly withholding the document, a public record, hours after it was requested so a press release casting a light more favorable to the sheriff on the incident could accompany the documents. It is not unusual for public agencies to release sensitive or discrediting documents Friday afternoon or evening, when the public is least attuned to the news cycle. (The Sheriff, who is attending his son’s wedding, has not had a good day: the Florida Ethics Commission this morning upheld a recommended stiff fine against him and a public censure and reprimand stemming from a protracted case dating back to 2013.)

The press release also stunningly and explicitly attacks Josh Davis, the attorney who represents Ward and his family, blaming Davis for refusing to “participate in this investigation after being asked on several occasions to provide testimony,” even though it is not unusual for attorneys, who are under strict ethical guidelines to protect attorney-client confidentiality, to decline to participate in such proceedings.

The release also states, as if Davis himself were under investigation: “Davis stated to the media that he made several contacts with the Sheriff’s Office and got no resolution for his client. That statement was not corroborated and Davis declined to speak with the internal investigator.” Yet the internal affairs investigation itself names a deputy to whom Davis had spoken of the false arrest on the 31st.

“I have one responsibility and that’s to represent my client zealously,” Davis said in a brief interview this evening, after the sheriff’s office had issued the release. Referring to Kim Davis, who conducted the internal affairs investigation, Josh Davis said: “I talked to Cpl. Davis, we spoke, and that’s what I told her, that I wasn’t in a position right now, especially with the upcoming litigation to be speaking to her on any of those matters. My obligation is to my client and that’s what I’m charged with by the Bar. Whether they know how to do police work or not is up to them.”

Notice has already been sent that the sheriff’s office will be sued over the issue, Davis said. “That could have been interpreted to be against the best interest of my client,” he said of participating in the interview. “I err on the side of holding up my ethical obligation, so my ethical obligation is to Dakota Ward, period.”

The investigation documents that the sheriff’s office did not know of the false arrest until Jonathan Simmons, the Palm Coast Observer reporter, contacted the sheriff’s office on March 31 to inquire about the mistaken identity, having himself been contacted by Josh Davis at the end of March. (Davis contacted several local media outlets, including FlaglerLive). By then, Davis had already carried out what he wryly referred to as 10 minutes’ worth of investigative work to clear up Ward, by getting the individual whom Ward was accused of battering to sign an affidavit swearing that Ward was the wrong man.

Dakota Ward had gone to school with De’Coda and had routinely been subjected to false disciplinary accusations and measures that his mother had to clear up time after time. This was the first time he had faced a criminal allegation because of the confusion.

Three and a half months elapsed between Gore’s report on the initial battery, when the seed of the false identity was planted, and the day he was contacted by the State Attorney’s office to alert him about the mistake. The internal affairs investigation reveals that Gore, who has been with the sheriff’s office since October 2011, claimed he had received an email from the State Attorney’s office on March 31 alerting him to the “a supplement and a different name for a case he said he was unfamiliar with,” the investigation report states. Gore responded “that he was out sick and that he would be back on Monday.” The 31st was a Thursday.

In fact, Gore had received the email from the State Attorney’s Dominic Piscitello two days earlier, on the 29th, telling him explicitly that “we are being told that, Dakota Ward, was not the person who was there. Instead, the person’s name is spelled Decotah Ward. Do you have information regarding this case? Do you recall being given a spelling for the name yet.” (Gore would tell an investigator that he did not recall reading that email.) On the 31st, Piscitello wrote again to request a supplemental report “if there is a different name.”

Meanwhile, Liz Williams, the Flagler Beach detective, starting on the 29th, was urging the State Attorney’s office for any information she could pass on to Ward, whose family she knew, regarding “what efforts are being made to clear this matter up.”

In his interview with Cpl. Davis, the internal affairs investigator, Gore explained that he searched for Ward’s name in a law enforcement database base, going on the common spelling for “Dakota.” He came up with a hit on “Dakota G. Ward.” The alleged victim of the battery had written a statement about the incident and used the correct spelling of De’Coda’s name, but Gore did not notice. He said he usually skims over such statements. “He said he didn’t recall if he used the statement or the verbal from Chad Cox [the alleged victim] to complete the case report.” He also could not remember if he’d asked Cox and another witness for a description of the alleged assailant.

Cox had told Gore that his alleged assailant lived at Capri Trailer Park. But Gore did not go to the trailer park after taking Cox’s statements because, he said, according to the investigative report, “he wasn’t going all the way down to Bunnell for a misdemeanor to make contact with all the parties.” Rather, he would send the charges to the State Attorney’s office.” When Gore saw that the address for Dakota Ward (the falsely arrested one) in the database did not match the address Cox had given for De’Coda, the deputy assumed Dakota Ward had not updated his driver’s license. “Deputy James Gore disregarded the [database] address for Dakota Ward and took the victim’s word and completed the Charging Affidavit,” the investigative report concludes.

The investigation also found that Gore neglected several steps that deputies are expected to take when developing a suspect, such as confirming the suspect’s identity with the alleged victim, locating all parties involved, and reviewing the alleged victim’s written statement.

On February 17, a criminal summons was issued for Ward to appear before County Judge Melissa Moore-Stens on march 22. He did not do so, of course. On March 22, Moore-Stens signed a warrant for his arrest, and on March 26, he was arrested.

The sheriff’s office began correcting the mistake on April 1, when Dakota Ward’s booking image and information was removed from the jail’s website.

Gore, who has 10 days to appeal his suspension, had been disciplined on March 30 by being removed from the Field Training Officer program–in which deputies supervise and evaluate new recruits–and suspended from the SWAT team “for attendance and performance issues.” The day when that suspension was handed down corresponded with one of the days Gore said he was sick.

The investigative report has mistakes of its own, listing some incidents on its timeline as taking place on April 31, 2006. The sheriff’s office on Saturday sent a corrected copy of the report.

“The Sheriff’s Office has nearly completed administratively expunging this arrest record and any related reports. His arrest photo was immediately removed from the sheriff’s Web site April 1,” the release states.

The release leaves silent the fact that Ward still has a criminal record in the court system, and that that record may not be removed without formal expunging proceedings, which can be costly, take time, and are afforded an individual only once in his lifetime.

“This was a terrible mistake and we offer our sincere apology to this man and his family and we are doing everything in our power to rectify this matter,” Manfre is quoted as saying in the release. “It’s clear from this investigation that this was an isolated incident and had standard criminal investigative procedures been followed, these mistakes would have never occurred.”

James Gore Internal Affairs Investigation.

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30 Responses for “Deputy Responsible for False Arrest of Dakota Ward Is Suspended For 3 Days as Investigation Concludes”

  1. wow really says:

    Happy That was Cleared up. So sorry for the Family. He should have been able to clear his name with his social security number in the data base. The cops are so used to being lied too they do not even listen to the people and find out the truth. Everybody is a liar in their eyes. They will tell you, TELL IT TO THE JUDGE< okay and then your life is destroyed in the mean time. There has to be a better way.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Poor Dakota Ward! If I were him I think I’d consider moving, as far away from Da’Coda Ward as humanly possible.

  3. Retired Law Enforcement says:

    I’m a retired police investigator from New York. During my career as an investigator I handled numerous cases from simple theft to multiple homicides in some of the worst areas of New York on the crest of the “CRACK ATTACK” which devastated the city in the late 80’s and early 90’s. After almost 25 years I had enough and retired to “paradise” and brought with me the comradery and understanding only “COPS” understand. After a few years here I have come to find out there is a big difference between Police officers and Deputies.
    When I retired from service and relocated here I left “the job” there but brought my understanding and caring for cops with me and always have tried to give the “benefit of doubt” to my brother s in blue or as it is here green. I have had over the last few years a couple of interactions with the FSCO. I always tried to be friendly and let them know I was in your shoes and understand “the job” and what it can do to a person, something only real cops know. I always tried to be friendly, but unfortunately the most I ever received was “yeagh glad to hear it” the he walked away. I thought its one guy with the tightest flattop I ever saw and brushed it off. but the “attitude” apparently is uniform in the FSCO.
    Over the last few years I continually read embarrassing incidents involving the FSCO whether it be the petty infighting of the administration, the expendable employees who live in fear of the next screw up of the sheriff or the complete lack of faith of the community. This incident proves how “out of touch” and how amateurish they have been allowed to become.
    I have to hand it to that kids lawyer Davis. When I was an investigator I really didn’t care for “public defenders” or lawyers in general, but I have to hand it to this guy. If I or my family were in the same situation and in Flagler County these days any of us could be I would definitely want Davis. The sheriff and his public relations machine can say whatever they want about that guy but HE DID HIS JOB, THE SHERIFFS OFFICE DIDNT!

  4. just me says:

    The release leaves silent the fact that Ward still has a criminal record in the court system, and that that record may not be removed without formal expunging proceedings, which can be costly, take time, and are afforded an individual only once in his lifetime.
    “This was a terrible mistake and we offer our sincere apology to this man and his family and we are doing everything in our power to rectify this matter,” Manfre is quoted as saying in the release.

    One more reason NOT to reelect this lawyer as our sheriff. Also how the HELL can our system that WRONGLY accuses one of a crime not have a quick and FREE way of taking you off the record of being arrested for something you did NOT do.

  5. Gkimp says:

    Retired cop, thanks for your service brother. I had the same experience with a high ranking deputy. I spent 31 years in the job, met officers from all over the country and always been treated with respect until I tried to intoduce myself to one of these guys, I was hoping maybe he was having a bad day, but It doesn’t appear to be the case. The entire organizational culture of the agency needs changed.

  6. Just a thought says:

    Retired law enforcement- I don’t think a run in with one bad apple is grounds to deem them all bad apples. As we all know there will be good deputies/officers and there will be bad ones, as with any career. One bad doctor doesn’t make all doctors bad. This deputy did what he was trained to do or what he thought was right. I honestly think this could have happened to any deputy given the circumstances.

    Every day tons of charges are forwarded to the state attorney’s office. It’s interesting that this was not caught by them. There should be some kind of fail safe in place so this doesn’t happen. As we all know there are thousands of people with the last name Smith. There has to be some way at the state attorney’s level that these things get sorted out incase they do slip through at the deputy level. The article makes it seem like the state attorney’s office caught this and the deputy ignored it leading to the arrest, but in fact they didn’t. The warrant was issued on the 22nd, Ward was arrested on the 26th and the e-mails reaching out to the deputy were on the 29th and 31st. Pinning this entirely on the deputy isn’t right.

    This is how this sheriffs office is ran under this administration. Im not usually not a “blame the sheriff” kind of person but if you look at everything that’s “slipped through the cracks” under this administration it’s obvious it’s more about the political aspect than the community. Personally, I don’t think sheriff should be an elected position. I think the sheriff should be someone with an extensive law enforcement background and a passion for the career and the community. It blows my mind our sheriff is an attorney. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the guy but at the end of the day he’s an attorney.

  7. Joe Costello says:

    First and most importantly, my sympathy and regret to the young man who was mistakenly arrested in this incident. I’m confident his attorney will work diligently to ensure he is compensated as is determined to be fair in future court proceedings and that the arrest will be fully expunged.
    To the retired law enforcement who have walked in those shoes, or those who have never had the desire or cared to do so but certainly have a right to their opinion, let’s all call this exactly what it was, a mistake. I’ve chosen this profession for over 30 years now and have seen and made many mistakes myself. I guess that makes me human just like Deputy Gore, who if I can say (and I can because freedom of speech exists for me too) is an asset to FCSO and more importantly Flagler County. I appreciate news and facts, but when the comments are directed about tearing someone down and kicking them while they’re in that position, I take offense, especially when it’s directed at someone who has the want and opportunity to make a positive difference in many lives. Let me personally apologize to Mr. Ward on behalf of Deputy Gore who I’m sure feels worse than any commenter can imagine. When you have the opportunity to lift someone up or put them down, remember “he who is without sin, cast the first stone”. Keep your head up James, learn from your mistakes and move forward.

  8. oksowhat says:

    thats called the BUS rolling over the worker bee who is limited in the resources while the chain of command sits on their asses until something happens then they jump up put all his business out there and take jabs at the media as well as lawyers at the hand of the sheriff… this is an election year, he is flooding flaglerlive and the social media with his little “look I’m a leader” publicity stunts.. from pretending to be a community oriented sheriff with kids to hosting an NAACP meting at this operations building… what a joke… this was a mistake that in the end the punishment could have been handled internally with the same results…..however with the election coming up anything and anybody goes…. lol

  9. RT says:

    @ Retired Law Enforcement,

    You are somewhat right. It’s a different animal these days with Manfres hiring practices. Many are too young, too new, and lack the experience to know of that “comradery” and “understanding” you speak of. Maybe in time they’ll get it. That said, there are some there that do get it and for them it’s probably a daily struggle.

  10. TyFlorida LEO says:

    I worked with Mr. Josh Davis when he was an intake prosecutor for the State Attorneys Office here in Flagler. He is an honorable ethical man who is a great attorney. The fact that Mr. Unethical Manfe would try to turn this on Josh Davis is another example of Manfres huge ego. Does this man know no bounds? You would think he would have learned a little humility after being chastised at the funeral of the beloved late Joseph Delarosby. At that funeral Mr. Delarosby Sr. publicly recognized Manfre as what he is…an uncaring egotistical power hungry bafoon. Josh Davis thanks for exposing unprofessional activity and injustice.

  11. The Geode says:

    What do you expect? Flagler County has a bunch of KIDS doing a “grown-up’s” job…

  12. Donald Trump's Tiny Fingers says:

    Wow, three days unpaid suspension for ruining someone’s life. That’s harsh.

  13. Concerned Citizen says:

    Our Sheriff’s Office needs a major over haul from the top on down. First we have a corrupt Sheriff (No surprise there) who does his own thing yet expects deputies to do their job with poor leadership. After all if they see their boss working dirty why can’t they do it? Right?

    Next he fires or forces resignations on almost all of the experienced decent supervisors and long service deputies leaving young inexperienced rookies to run things. What could possibly go wrong with that picture?

    And lastly lets not forget the numerous communications failures that he won’t accept responsibility for and refuses to correct.

    He deflects blame and responsibility yet touts that his department is Ethical. If it seems I am hitting hard on the Sheriff then yes I am. Leadership starts at the very top. You lead by example.

    If no one will start a recall process on this inept crook then at least PLEASE REMEMBER this at election time. And while we are making change someone should turn the whole department over to FDLE or whoever is responsible to audit and investigate this agency for wrong doing and civil rights violations.

  14. Judge, Jury, Executioner says:

    How about this “the deputy assumed Dakota Ward had not updated his driver’s license.” Maybe Barney Fife should have looked at the drivers license photos in the database.

  15. Anonymous says:

    There is no excuse for this type of error. This is a kid that does not have the mind of an adult and has no business in law enforcement other than to shadow. I see all the time in the media that Manfre is hiring kids like this and this does not make me feel safe! Not to insult this young man, but he is NOT a MAN! I feel for the poor kid who faced wrongfully being arrested, booked etc. Three days of suspension is a small price to pay.

  16. Anonymous says:

    The cop was just doing his job. He’s pulled me over in the past and was very understanding and very reasonable with his reason for stopping me but, the officer should NOT BE at fault for this. It’s not like he went out of his way to get this Dakota arrested. He could give a shit less who Dakota or de coda is he’s just doing his job give the man a break he puts his life at risk for this city everyday he’s on duty when Im sure both Dakota and de coda are sitting home doing nothing with themselves. So I wanted to say thank you to the officer for doing your job even if there was a mistake!!

  17. Shark says:

    I wonder how much this is going to cost the taxpayers ???????????????

  18. Shark says:

    They are probably on par with Barney Fife !!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. GET MANFRE OUT OF THERE--NOW! says:

    Internal Investigation?? That is like grading your own paper. Why not an external investigation? Looks like Josh Davis did more and did it more quickly than law enforcement. This is the kind of thing that happens when you have kids doing a mans job. For refusing to drive “all the way to Bunnell” warrants dismissal as far as I am concerned. Bunnell is just miles away from any city in this county and there is no valid excuse for this not to have been done. I am sure when the kid was booked in the county jail he was saying I didn’t do anything. There is NO way the FCSO can say they didn’t know about it until the Observer made them aware. More investigation needs to be done and prove this investigation report is not accurate. This kid has the build of a middle school kid how could be possibly feel safe with kids like this out there supposedly protecting us? Why has Manfre fired men who were experienced to put kids like this on the force? Thank goodness we have the right to bear arms. Manfre needs to go…..the Governor needs to remove him from office NOW before something more happens.

  20. Bc. says:

    Flagler needs a new top cop one with policing experience not some wana be cop Ex prosecutor from NYC. With little or no experience in management. Most deputys I speak with with loath this guy. Vote him out for the good of Flagler county

  21. Dave says:

    A good example is set at the top of the management chain and in this case, that is the Sheriff of the County.

  22. Joe says:

    Anonymous says “he could give a shit less who Dakota or Da’cota is….THATS THE PROBLEM….guilty until proven innocent, I’ve spent 63 days in flagler county jail for a crime I didn’t commit, these cops and this system in flagler county is a joke

  23. FlaglerBear says:

    I recall about 3 years ago when I first relocated here. With 34 years of experience in law enforcement, I sent some e-mails out to local agencies offering my services (for free of course) as a reserve or auxiliary officer thinking I could do some good in the community. I did not get the courtesy of a response. I guess if you’re not from around here, you don’t even get a “screw you”. Screw you, I stayed retired.

  24. Donald Trump's Tiny Fingers says:

    ‘But Gore did not go to the trailer park after taking Cox’s statements because, he said, according to the investigative report, “he wasn’t going all the way down to Bunnell for a misdemeanor to make contact with all the parties.”’

    Hrm yes this fine upstanding officer was certainly just doing his job.

  25. Furious says:

    To anonymous. I understand the officer was doing his job, but you putting the falsely accused Dakota onto the same category as the actual Decoda is why the 19 year old kid had to hire a lwayer. Before you talk about a person you have never met you should get your facts right. The wrongly accused Dakota works a full time job until the early morning hours, goes to school full time to better himself and pays for it all on his own without getting any government help. This was not the mistake of just one person. The statement that you made is what he is now going to have to fight against for the rest of his life because of a mistake and an assumption.

  26. Concerned says:

    And the………rolls downhill.

  27. David S says:

    I hope that everyone involved with this takes a good look as to how this started from the beginning to the end FCSO is going to pay for this mistake I feel sorry for this individual .Please to all of the people in Flagler County vote for someone who has law enforcment experiance we need it.

  28. Tom says:

    Deputy Gore is getting the shaft. Why? Nothing I have read convinces me otherwise.
    Ward is the bad guy, not Gore

  29. Angry Dad says:

    Setting aside for a moment all the comments on the poor management (or lack of management), the youth and inexperience of Sheriff Manfre’s force, and other criticism, the real outrage here lies in the fate of the falsely arrested. In my family, a recent false arrest of a person who did not meet any of the criteria for the crime charged, resulted in a complete dismissal for no evidence as well as a written deposition from the alleged victim of the crime that no crime had ever taken place. Sounds good huh? Not so fast. The person arrested has had to engage an Attorney (at a cost of thousands of dollars a full time student can no afford) to pursue expunging the arrest record. Furthermore, an essential college internship required for all who pursue a Master’s in Social Work to work with crime victims can not be permitted because of the arrest for a crime that did not happen but for which an arrest was made. I am going to dig into this and if this injustice proves to be as widespread as I suspect, I will move heaven and earth to obtain justice for the falsely arrested. Perhaps a well funded class action suit is in order. Perhaps Attorney General Bondi needs to get involved. If enough real victims step up this will truly rattle the pillars of Flagler County justice. Stay tuned. More to follow. Looking into a web site and interested Attorneys.

  30. lenamarshall says:

    Angry Dad, good luck getting Ms Bondi here.

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