A Rape in Palm Coast, a Shooting in Flagler Beach, Yet Sheriff’s Office Suppresses All But Trickle of Information
FlaglerLive | September 7, 2016
In a 24-hour span on Monday and Tuesday (Sept. 5 and 6), a man who reported being shot and, in a separate incident, a woman who reported being raped twice. The man and the woman both ended up at Florida Hospital Flagler at separate times. Both cases triggered investigations by the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff’s office, however, has released almost no information in either case, though local media have been requesting it, while a director at the sheriff’s office called the rape “a high-profile case” that nevertheless warranted its information being censored for now.
With regards to the rape allegation, the sheriff’s office provided an incident report, but it was entirely blacked out but for a couple of lines, down to the age and race of the victim–information that does not fall under the sheriff’s authority to censor even by the most suppressive interpretation of the open-record law. The censoring was remarkably blunt even for an agency that has become increasingly heavy-handed with the censoring software (but not with PR items on its relatively new Twitter feed, its Facebook page, and in the sheriff’s regular videos promoting the office). It was the more striking when coupled with the sheriff’s office’s cavalier attitude regarding the reports on the shooting allegations.
With regards to the shooting victim, Laura Williams, the sheriff’s public information officer, wrote the following to the Observer, the News-Journal and FlaglerLive, as all three organizations had requested the reports: “Flagler Beach PD tells me it has closed this case. However, I’m still trying to find out whether we are investigating it as a criminal investigation. Because I’m not hearing back from either the detective assigned to it or the sergeant in charge of it, I’m calling it a night. I will be happy to resume my inquiry first thing Thursday.” (Reports were finally released on Sept. 8. The story of the shooting is here.)
A trickle of information cited the two incidents in the daily Commander’s Report, posted at the sheriff’s office’s website each morning.
The report placed the alleged shooting at sometime between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. on Sept. 5 or 6 in Flagler Beach. “Florida Hospital Flagler reported a male coming in with a gunshot wound to the thigh,” the report summarized. “There were varying statements from the alleged victim and single witness. It is unconfirmed where the incident took place or the circumstances surrounding the shooting. It is believed the incident took place in Flagler Beach and the alleged victim stated that a ‘light-skinned’ male shot him in the leg after demanding his wallet. The investigation was turned over to Flagler Beach PD.”
It isn’t known where in Flagler Beach the alleged shooting took place (incident reports usually detail that information), when precisely it took place, whether the victim is a Flagler Beach resident, what age the victim may be, whether the witness was involved in the matter, whether the incident was a random attack or the result of more complex circumstances, whether a gun was recovered, whether charges are pending, or whether the matter may have been mis-reported by the victim, who (as has on occasion happened with such shootings) may have accidentally shot himself, or why Flagler Beach police closed the case. Williams issued her email too late ion the day, making it difficult to follow up with Flagler Beach police.
The alleged rape was reported to have taken place sometime between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Sept. 6. The commander’s report states that, at Florida Hospital Flagler, “a female victim [said] that she was accosted by an unknown black male at a motel in Daytona Beach and then transported to Palm Coast and again sexually assaulted. The victim at some point feigned an illness and the suspect transported her to FHF. The victim reported the assault to the nurses on duty and the suspect left the hospital. Preliminary report by Dep. Laverne. Investigation turned over to detectives.”
As is common when noting summaries of violent crimes, local media, including FlaglerLive, request the more extensive “incident report” in each case (see below) and, if applicable, what arrest or charging reports are available. Presumably, none were in these cases. But incident reports were prepared. In the case of the reported shooting, none was released.
Jim Troiano, who oversees the public information office, defended the entirely censored report (which is reproduced in full below).
“There’s a lot yet at hand that’s happening here,” Troiano said of the rape case. “It’s a high profile case.” (When he was interviewed in late afternoon, Williams’s response to media regarding the shooting had not yet been emailed. At 8:20 p.m., he emailed: “I received notification around 12:30 am.that we had an incident. Patrol deputies were still investigating and we had very limited information. At 2:30 a.m. I received notification that the call was turned over to Flagler Beach PD and they took over the investigation.”)
Troiano said the rape-allegation report was “redacted” entirely according to the open-record law, which gives police agencies room to censor details to protect the integrity of an investigation, and in the case of domestic violence or sex crimes, to keep the identifying details about the victims such as name, address, part of the date of birth but not year of birth or race, confidential. Local news organizations, including FlaglerLive, don’t publish the identities of sex crimes regardless.
Regarding the entirely blacked out report, Troiano said: “That’s all applicable to the investigation itself.” He described it as the first report where the deputy “articulates a lot” of specifics relevant to the investigation. But Troiano allowed that the victim is 24, black, and lives out of state, suggesting she was a tourist. He did not explain what led to the alleged assailant bringing her to Palm Coast, where he allegedly raped her the second time, whether that assailant is a local resident, or whether an arrest is in the works. He said the sheriff’s office was “not in a position to make an arrest” for now, and that “to push all the criminal investigation out would be negligent.” The information, he said has not been “vetted” for release.
He added: “We have no indication to believe that this is a random act of violence,” and said that “based on our facts so far it’s an isolated incident.”
“If we were to provide anymore information at this juncture—we have a victim to protect, we have a case to investigate,” Troiano said. “We are complying fully with public record laws.”
The condition of the victim is unknown.