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Dubai, a Police State, Hosts Flagler Sheriff, 8 Deputies and 60 Other Teams in SWAT Competition

| February 12, 2019

Flagler County Sheriff's deputy Brandon Fiveash during competition at the UAE SWAT Challenge this week in Dubai. (FCSO)

Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy Brandon Fiveash during competition at the UAE SWAT Challenge this week in Dubai. (FCSO)

Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly and eight members of the sheriff’s SWAT team left for an international SWAT competition in Dubai on Feb. 6, and are returning after the competition ends on Thursday.

The trip is paid for entirely by Dubai police and the United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Interior, which invited the Flagler agency to be part of the challenge. “As a gesture of good will, we would like to extend to your Agency return flight tickets and accommodation for 8 compeditors [sic.] for the period of the UAE SWAT Challenge,” a Jan. 3 email to Staly from Dubai police reads.

According to the ministry’s undated invitation letter to the agency, the SWAT meet is the first of its kind, with five challenge categories testing various skills, featuring SWAT teams, special operations teams, police and military groups to “work together and promote knowledge and cooperation in the spirit of collaboration, exchange of ideas and mutual positive values, solidarity and respect.”

Dubai police, however, is not known for such forbearing ideals, though few Americans or participants in the challenge are aware: the UAE is an absolute monarchy and a police state with zero tolerance for dissent.

“They offered to pay my flight and expenses over there so I’m going to go on and see the competition and cheer for our team,” Staly said the day before departure.

The Sheriff’s Office announced the trip in early January in a release, though at the time it did not mention that Staly would be joining the team. The actual cost of the trip is still not known: FlaglerLive requested the numbers from the Sheriff’s Office, but the agency said the figures are not known yet, nor were the prices of the tickets on the electronic tickets sent the team. Chief Mark Strobridge, providing a rough estimate, said the value of the flight might be around $1,700 per person, round-trip. The team is staying at a Dubai Holiday Inn, where room costs run about $100 a night, Strobridge said.

The sheriff will be required to submit more precise figures, as constitutional officers are required by law to declare gifts. Deputies are not, in such circumstances. The sheriff’s policy states that “Personnel will not solicit or accept gifts, presents, or other gratuities in return for favor(s) or official act(s).” Since the deputies are not currently providing policing services, Strobridge said, the policy does not apply. He compared it to, for example, Chief Paul Bovino recently going to the FBI Academy for training. (Bovino is the acting sheriff in Staly’s absence.)

Staly acknowledged that “there’s a small cost” incurred by sending eight deputies to Dubai, with coverage of shifts locally, “but the value of the training as compared to the overtime cost is insignificant.” He added: “This is just a great training opportunity for our team, our people, it’s also a way to reward them, quite frankly, they train very hard.”

Flagler’s is one of four American teams joining teams from Italy, France, Argentina, Lebanon, Vietnam, Armenia, Latvia, Rwanda, Iraq, Russia, and Angola, among many others, and from four of the seven emirates, including Dubai of course. There’s also a team ominously representing a “State Security Committee” (from Belarus).

Sgts. Bernie Woodward and Ryan Emery reaching the finish line. (FCSO)

Sgts. Bernie Woodward and Ryan Emery reaching the finish line. (FCSO)

“This event is an opportunity for all of us to get to know each other and learn from one another,” major general Khalil Ibrahim Al Mansouri, assistant commander of Dubai Police’s criminal investigation department, told The National, the Emirates-based English-language daily. (Event organizers did not respond to an email inquiry to their media line.)

Det. Diego Morales, who is leading Flagler’s team in Dubai, said by phone today that the team has been treated with “nothing but courtesy” (Morales is familiar with Arab hospitality, having been to Dubai twice before, and elsewhere in the Middle East, on security assignments), and that the team itself has done well against others, even though it may not seem so strictly by looking at the standings.

“Different teams have different agendas,” Morales said. “There’s certain teams that only train for this, they put a lot of time and train for these specific events,” and some of these teams have no budgetary issues to worry about: they are free to train, whatever the cost, a luxury Flagler’s team does not have.

Oddly, if perhaps not surprisingly, Dubai Police’s A Team placed first in both Day 1 and Day 2 challenges (tactical and assault events), with Dubai Police’s B team in second place on Day 1. Flagler placed 34th and 23rd in the first two days’ events. Today, Day 3, in the Officer Rescue competition, Dubai’s A team fell to 11th place,  with two American teams cracking the top five: Osceola County Sheriff’s Office in second (Kuwait took first), and Alachua County taking fifth place. Flagler came in 38th.

Every day’s first-place winner gets $5,000, the second place team gets $3,000, and the third place team gets $2,000. Then, in the overall standings, the first-place trophy is worth $70,000, second place gets $30,000, and third place gets $20,000.

Morales says the competition is invaluable in other ways: “The main thing is networking, shaking hands with different people from all over the world in different units, what works for them, what doesn’t work for them, looking into their policies, what’s too aggressive, what are we doing right, so the learning experience there is tremendous,”  Morales said. “I can feel comfortable in saying we’re on the right track as far as tactics.”

Language has not been a barrier. A lot of teams’ members speak English–a universal language these days–and when they don’t, Dubai is providing police officers as interpreters. (Morales does not get the sense that they’re watching what their guests say.)

Monday night Morales had a conversation with a French team member who serves on one of France’s teams that responded to the November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris’s Bataclan theater, a music venue, among other attacks that left 130 dead (90 of them at the Bataclan) and more than 400 injured. “Conversations like that are priceless,” Morales said. “That is where true discipline is extremely important in what we do, knowing when to treat people right, do the right thing, have no tolerance for excessive force, and knowing when to flip the switch, and there are times when you have to be aggressive.”

Morales said he was steering clear of all politics or perception issues, as he and his team were in Dubai to compete. He was concerned that the trip would be seen in a poorer light. “I can understand there can be a different, negative outlook on it, but it truly is a positive thing and there’s a lot to bring back,” he said. As for the sheriff’s presence there, he said “he’s able to be involved in these conversations, he’s able to see the new tools, the tactics. When an incident happens, he gives me the ability to give him numerous different options.” Pairing that with what the sheriff is witnessing at the competition, “now he can sort through them and say OK, this is the best option, this is the route we’re going to go. This allows him to see why those decisions are being made, because you can’t see that from behind a desk.”

Sgt. Mike Breckwoldt and Sgt. Ryan Emery carry the equivalent of a human body during competition. One of the challenges was a timed officer rescue. (FCSO)

Sgt. Mike Breckwoldt and Sgt. Ryan Emery carry the equivalent of a human body during competition. One of the challenges was a timed officer rescue. (FCSO)

Chief Paul Bovino was long a member of the SWAT team. He stayed behind as the acting sheriff in Staly’s absence. He explained what led to the decision to go to Dubai.

“We have always used our limited SWAT training time to prepare for real world situations,” Bovino said. “I have always believed that our team must be prepared for the worst and our focus should be sharp. When we were presented with this opportunity for an all-expenses paid invite to compete on a world stage, we didn’t know what to really think about it. We discussed it over a weekend and with a very small window to prepare our SWAT Team leader Detective Morales selected the group and immediately started to focus efforts with a crash course in SWAT round-up style competition. The guys took it seriously, dieting and working on their skills even on their off duty time.”

Bunnell’s police chief, Tom Foster, a SWAT competition veteran who often goes to Orlando’s annual SWAT meet,  pitched in to give the men pointers. “We have a strong belief and practice of trying not to overuse tactical assets, but when they do deploy they do the work that not many can or want to do. We don’t focus on competitions, but this opportunity has really ignited a positive fire in the team and future participation in the local round–up could be in the cards since we have had such a positive experience so far.”

Along with Morales, the team is made up of Sgt. Ryan Emery, Sgt. Michael Breckwoldt, Sgt. Bernard Woodward, Cpl. Mark Moy, and deputies Chris Taylor, Brandon Fiveash and Daniel Malta.

The team took off just before one of the more serious controversies of Staly’s tenure exploded at the agency, when Anthony Fennick, an inmate at the jail since December, was taken to the hospital in an ambulance on Feb. 4 after complaining of illness for days, and was brain dead later that night. He died Saturday. “It is very tragic timing, there’s no doubt about that,” Strobridge said, adding that Bovino locally and Staly from Dubai have been directing the investigation.

As for Dubai’s and its police’s human rights record, Strobridge said: “It’s not going to change our constitution, it’s not going to change the way we police,” and noted that as an American ally, travel to the UAE doesn’t even require a visa, while the U.S. State Department considers travel there on par with travel to Europe. “Any immediate vetting we would have done, we would have hit those particular areas,” he said. “We have human trafficking in Florida, we have rape, robbery and murder in Florida.”

Dubai is one of the seven emirates that form  the United Arab Emirates, an American ally and a nation of immense wealth and glitz. But it is also a nation with a dismal human rights record whose police are known for arbitrarily detaining, imprisoning and torturing citizens and residents, particularly free-speech, human rights and religious-freedom advocates –the same police hosting Flagler’s and other SWAT teams, and against whom those teams are competing. Women have minimal rights: domestic violence by men against women and children is enshrined in law, provided beatings don’t leave marks, and marital rape is not a crime. More than 88 percent of its population of about 9 million is non-Emirati, as the nation relies overwhelmingly on poor migrants from South Asia for labor, many of them in forced-labor conditions, according to Human Rights Watch.

Follow the Dubai SWAT Challenge here and here, with results posted at the end of each day’s competition here.

27 Responses for “Dubai, a Police State, Hosts Flagler Sheriff, 8 Deputies and 60 Other Teams in SWAT Competition”

  1. Kathy says:

    Oh, now I see why Staly left for an event that he was not needed at…it’s his happy place…”But it is also a nation with a dismal human rights record whose police is known for arbitrarily detaining, imprisoning and torturing citizens and residents”

    Thanks for clearing that up, FlaglerLive!

  2. Lock him up says:

    A criminal investigation on this sheriff and his posse needs to be conducted. Did all participants receive paid air fare? Who paid for the motel and meals? Why not compete nationally? Why compete at all when training and real experience is sufficient? No matter how this is measured, it has been a cost to us tax payers! Who is responsible for selecting Staly’s 8 side kicks? This sheriff is out of control, has demonstrated neglect of duty and should be removed from office and criminally charged. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This reeks of collusion and corruption.

  3. McGruff says:

    Yeah, okay! Paid for or not. What an expensive way to play “army men”, or be voluntarily surveilled.

  4. Realist says:

    We are not paying Staly to be in Dubai.

  5. Time for some answers and action says:

    What a waste of time, money and resources for our FCSO and us tax payers. This story seemed to minimize the costs and never mentioned who paid for room, and food. This had to all be prearranged far in advance for all to have passports and be able to make family arrangements etc, but interestingly we tax payers never heard a word about it or the details. Staly needs to come clean. Seems like this all bit him in the butt…..had be been here doing the job we elected him to do, or neighbor would maybe still be alive today!!!! Thef Governor needs to step in and remove Staly form office and a forensic on this department needs to be done ASAP! This sure sends up big red flags. I can’ help be recall how Staly did his last two former employers in attempts to get their jobs. No ethics here folks.

  6. John says:

    Seriously, The sheriff and EIGHT deputies (what percent of staff) from little FLAGER county are selected to go to a global event in Dubai; no disrespect but what was the selection process. I’m hard pressed to believe there will not be costs to the county which go beyond overtime shift coverage. Are the deputies paid during this event or is PTO used?

  7. Dave says:

    What an absolute disgrace. Shame on anyone involved in this shameful trip. I hope it was worth it! Flagler citizens will not stand by any longer while our people die in the hands of the ones meant to protect us. Shame

  8. Right says:

    The Sheriff, is directing from Dubai, the investigation into the death of the young inmate? Lets get real.

  9. Willy Boy says:

    Personalities who want to be cops or politicians are the very types who shouldn’t be. It’s power tripping. You want to help someone be a doctor, nurse or fireman.

  10. SWARM says:

    Just think, one day these idiots will be busting down your front door because they got the wrong address. I’m so impressed…..NOT

  11. Concerned Citizen says:

    So Staly with no SWAT experience jumps on the plane and leaves Bovino to deal with the most recent mess? Sounds about right. Nothing like distancing yourself from yet another scandal by being out of the country.

    And I call BS on Stobridge not knowing numbers. You have your boss and 8 deputies out on leave. You have to schedule shifts to meet those demands. How can you not know numbers?

    This Agency keep having issues and the Sheriff wants to play. Remember this next election.

  12. William Moya says:

    This will be followed by a symposium, in the future, date and place to be determined , although China is at the top of the list, Turkey, Russia and Mississippi are still in play.
    While the complete list have not yet be finalized, these are some of the topics under consideration:

    Hispanics perennial enemies of the state.

    Progressive eggheads and other intellectual types should not be allowed to vote.

    The need to evoke god, the flag, and constitution, can never be overstated.

    The use of armored cars with heavy machine guns and its many uses.

    Terror and a tool the state need amplified, and develop in every aspect of society.

    We will keep you inform of changes and additions, as well as other upcoming events.

  13. Dave says:

    Why would our Flagler County cops go to train with police that do not share the same values? Dubai is a true police state with no regard to human rights or human life! Well I guess with our inmates being left to die it goes hand in hand. This is a disgusting act by the sheriff and 8 deputies.

  14. john dolan esq. says:

    We should not be militarizing our police department. Police are not soldiers. Stop the Wyatt Earp syndrome in Flagler County.

  15. Michael Cocchiola says:

    Staly and the NRA and UAE?? Learning police state tactics from the experts? Hmmm…

  16. Jimbo says:

    The Sheriff, since taking office has no regard to money. Everything he touches or does turns into additional cost to tax payers. Understanding security to the highest level but cost and value always has to be a factor. He has no regard to the tax payers money. Look at the Sheriff budget from 5-7 years ago and look at it now.As mentioned earlier, Flagler County was invited? Really?

  17. Rich says:

    As a former member of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office for almost 13 years and a member of the SWAT team for four plus years, I can say I am proud that the FCSO SWAT team is able to take advantage of such an opportunity. This is truly one of those “once in a lifetime” moments.

    For those of you that have expressed a negative outlook on this article and opportunity for the SWAT team, let me ask you when was the last time you put on a uniform, police or military, walked out the front door when the rest of the family was just getting up or just getting ready for bed, and then had to deal with a 12 hour shift filled mostly with other peoples’ miseries? People generally don’t call 911 to invite your neighborhood police officer / deputy to a birthday party. They call 911 to beak up the party after some of the attendees begin fighting in front of the kids. When was the last time one of you had to knock on a door to tell the person on the other side their loved one will not be coming home tonight, or any other night for that matter?

    The SWAT team doesn’t ask for recognition for the added training they endure. They take advantage of the training to save the lives of the community they have sworn to protect and serve as well as the lives of their shift partners and themselves. They need to stay vigilant always. I’m not saying they are paranoid by any means. They are just prepared for whatever scenario may come their way and tackle that scenario head on for all the reasons above and especially to go home at the end of their shift.

    To all the FCSO and especially the SWAT team: Do not feel ashamed of taking advantage of this opportunity. Enjoy it, make everlasting contacts, and come back refreshed and ready to hit the streets rejuvenated.

    To the family of Anthony Fennick, I am deeply sorry for your loss. No family should have to go through such a situation. I hope you get the answers you are seeking.

    Unfortunately, life goes on all around us while some enjoy it, some are saddened by it, and some curse it. Sheriff Staly could not foresee the tragic death of Anthony Fennick and those of you that blame the Sheriff or the agency prematurely don’t have all of the facts of the investigation yet. If someone from the FCSO is to be held accountable then that will come out as a result of the investigation.

    Life is not always roses and sunshine and unfortunate events happen on a daily basis all over the world. Flagler County is still a pretty good place to live and raise a family!

    To all my former SWAT operators: Servo Fidens!

  18. I support first responders says:

    These men and women train hard to ensure our safety when things get out of your comfort zone. They run in when all others would run away. Show some support for those willing to lay down their lives for yours. Why is it the ones who complain the most and attack police are the ones that call for their service the most? Playing “army men” will not be the thought when you make that call. I have nothing but respect for law enforcement and what they do. Then again, I do not commit crime and have negative interaction with the police. Get the facts, then judge. I do understand some have the need to jump on a soapbox when there is a chance of being heard. FCSO SWAT keep training and protecting. Many do appreciate your commitment to ALL.

  19. Outside Looking Out says:

    I agree with you. Not for one second do I believe a foreign country would pay for our cowboy sheriff and eight of his cronies to make such a trip for “competition”. I’m sure this trip has cost taxpayers plenty! When cowboy Rick comes back, he’ll be pissing and moaning about his budget again.

  20. Randy Jones says:

    Why do some of you support the various departments for the City of Palm Coast when they “win” national recognition for superb water treatment while admonishing the Sheriff’s office for their accomplishments? Why? Anarchy does not provide safe drinking water.

  21. hawkeye says:

    A lot of the naysayers on this forum dont get it,however ,this type of training is a great thing for the SWAT team.If some thing bad happens and SWAT has to respond isnt it better for a well trained SWAT unit to respond? It seems like a lot of people on this forum are against the Sherriff no matter what he does,think of this, if some scumbag is holding a knife to your wives throat, would you want someone well trained taking him out or some half trained guy shooting your wife by mistake?Go Sherriff Staly!!!

  22. Retired from the job says:

    I have never seen so many narrow-minded comments. Obviously many commenting here DO NOT KNOW RICK STALEY. This county has a “gem” in this sheriff who knows the business and has done much to improve the FCSO since his election.

    As regards Dubai…. This is kinda like saying “we can’t send teams to the olympics in China because… you know… they have a horrible human rights record”. Well… Their record not withstanding, there are multiple countries with representatives competing in an event that will yield an outcome of shared knowledge and betterment for all concerned.

    Stop seizing the publisher’s left-wing slant and think about the good and the value of this trip. Probably would surprise many here that many many law enforcement agencies compete in events like this all around the world. We should be proud we were invited… and proud that the FCSO made it possible for these officers to attend. My understanding is there will be no cost to the county as Dubai… WHICH CAN WELL AFFORD ANYTHING… is footing all the cost.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      The “retired” commenter is not entirely correct. There are per diem and overtime costs that have not yet been calculated: Dubai’s interior ministry is not feeding the competitors except when they are at the competition’s grounds. The analogy with China is also misplaced: competitors at the Olympics are neither paid by nor competing alongside the very instruments of torture and other human rights abuses inside the UAE’s prisons. These competitors are, on both counts.

  23. Dave says:

    Wow Hawkeye, even in your hypothetical, scumbag is the term you choose? Justice for Anthony! We do NOT share the same policing values as the “police” in Dubia! We need to disarm our Swat or at the least take away their military weapons. Enough children and innocents have been harmed in this fake war on drugs. Demilitarization of our police in Flagler County!

  24. Right says:

    @ Retired from the job, you say “Obviously many commenting here DO NOT KNOW RICK STALEY”.
    You mean RICK STALY?

    @ Hawkeye, this is a competition. They train here at home. Your scenario based comment is moot in this instance. Also good to know that if you’re not SWAT you’re just some half trained nitwit. Good job getting your point across LOL.


    Ummm…I was just deployed to the Middle East. When we were in Dubai, I saw like 3 police officers. That was my second trip there.

  26. gmath55 says:

    Those on here complaining about SWAT training, cost, etc. who you going call if we have an active shooter? “Ghostbusters”? While the citizens who care about this county will call SWAT.

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