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Chief Judge Warns Against ‘Taking’ of Courthouse As Sheriff’s Picture in Murder Investigation Lobbies Commission on Space

| July 15, 2019

The picture the sheriff's public affairs office issued Saturday in one of its updates to the ongoing investigation of the murder of 17-year-old Elijah Rizvan. The picture shows the sheriff and Chief Paul Bovino, center, with detectives and others huddled outside Bovino's office at the county courthouse, using cubicles intended for clerk of court operations. The sheriff said he 'commandeered' the space due to necessity, but intended the picture to send a message to the county commission. The commission is meeting tonight to discuss the sheriff's space needs at the courthouse.

The picture the sheriff’s public affairs office issued Saturday in one of its updates to the ongoing investigation of the murder of 17-year-old Elijah Rizvan. The picture shows the sheriff and Chief Paul Bovino, center, with detectives and others huddled outside Bovino’s office at the county courthouse, using cubicles intended for clerk of court operations. The sheriff said he ‘commandeered’ the space due to necessity, but intended the picture to send a message to the county commission. The commission is meeting tonight to discuss the sheriff’s space needs at the courthouse.

The message was as clear as the picture illustrating a Flagler County Sheriff’s release issued Saturday: here were the agencies detectives and other personnel, in a noon briefing on the investigation into the murder of 17-year-old Elijah Rizvan in Palm Coast the previous evening. The release said nothing more than that the investigation was continuing. But the picture was intended to show a team of a dozen or more people cramped around cubicles not made for the purpose. (Only 10 people are in the picture, but more were off camera.)

The release did not have to make Sheriff Rick Staly’s message explicit. Anyone who’s been following the wrangle between the sheriff, county government and the clerk of court in the last several months would have picked up on the image’s lobbying purpose, issued a day and a half before the county commission was to address the sheriff’s space issues at the county courthouse.

The sheriff has been using space there since having to evacuate his operations center in Bunnell more than a year ago. He wants more space, saying his operations are compromised without it. Clerk of Court Tom Bexley says he’s given as much as he can. He says he cannot give more without compromising his own operations, and will not give more.

Sheriff Rick Staly announcing the arrest this morning. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Sheriff Rick Staly Sunday spoke of sending the image to county commissioners during his news conference on the arrest of a suspect in the killing of Elijah Rizvan. (© FlaglerLive)

In case anyone missed the point of the picture, Staly did make it explicit in an email to county commissioners shortly after the release went out. “I wanted to provide you a real-world example of the current inadequate space and working conditions we are dealing with,” Staly wrote the commissioners. He described the conditions of the briefing, with some of his personnel sitting on the floor, “in commandeered cubicles, borrowed grease board (ours are in mold ops as we have no place to put them in the courthouse) to go over the case and make assignments. Fortunately it was Saturday and the building was vacant as this would have been totally impossible otherwise. And, I’m sure the Clerk did not want us in this area which is comingled with my investigations chief office. This why we must have adequate space immediately, not weeks or months from now. We cannot continue to work under these conditions. It is not fair to my employees or to the community that expects us to solve crimes committed upon them.” (From the sheriff’s perspective, the crime was solved in less than 30 hours, with an arrest of a 16 year old.)

The sheriff added: “Again, I do not advocate renting space that costs taxpayers significant amounts of money that would be better spent on the new building or providing them more deputies. I believe you own and control sufficient space that can solve this situation in the interim period.” In other words, more space at the courthouse.

Staly and Bexley have time after time said publicly that the dispute is not between them, that’s it’s merely a landlord-tenant issue. But the reality is that the dispute is pitting two constitutional officers’ needs against each other, with the county, as landlord, seeking to arbitrate. Because the county administration has not followed through on the County Commission’s May vote to resolve the matter one way or another, the dispute has lingered, built further resentments, and caused a commissioner to ask the administration to issue an ultimatum to the clerk, which it did last week. The clerk said he’ll ignore it or fight it, should it turn into a legal action.

Flagler County Clerk of Court Tom Bexley in the IT department at the courthouse last week. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County Clerk of Court Tom Bexley. (© FlaglerLive)

Bexley was out of town today on a previously scheduled vacation. His deputy, Luke Givens, said that to his knowledge neither Bexley nor anyone in his office had gotten the picture of the sheriff’s briefing or “any notification of any of the items mentioned.” But, Givens said on behalf of Bexley in an email, “I’m sure that Mr. Bexley couldn’t agree with the Sheriff more. The situation we are in – one of inadequate space for both the Sheriff and the Clerk to do our jobs-is nearly 14 months in the making. The BOCC is responsible for ensuring adequate space for our county’s constitutional officers, all of them.” The BOCC is the acronym for the Board of County Commissioners.

“Providing for one at the expense of another is irresponsible and a dereliction of their duty,” Givens continued. “The photo that Mr. Bexley has seen, of the Sheriff’s team crammed into cubicles on a night they were working to solve a murder is a gross illustration of just how far the BOCC has kicked the can down the road, choosing political expediency over doing the right thing.”

The right thing, in Bexley’s estimation–as reiterated previously–is for the county to rent new space for the sheriff.

Neither Bexley nor Staly likely expected that a new voice, more powerful than either–and more powerful than the county commission–would factor into the debate going into tonight’s meeting: that of Raul Zambrano, the chief judge of the Seventh Judicial Circuit, which includes Flagler County, and the judge who picked up where the legendary Kim Hammond left off in 2010, serving in Flagler many years before moving to Volusia.

Chief Judge Raul Zambrano has built a reputation as a very tough judge. He appears not to be inclined to contain DuPont, as a previous chief judge did. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Chief Judge Raul Zambrano has built a reputation as a very tough judge. (© FlaglerLive)

Zambrano, never known for indulging defendants or suffering squabblers, is not too happy with the open-ended situation that’s developed at the Flagler County courthouse. He let it be known in an unusually personal, at times even lyrical, four-page, single-spaced July 12 letter that bluntly warned: “A quasi forced taking of courthouse space sets a terrible precedent. The courthouse was not built for the purpose of being overflow space for any entity.” Least of all for a police agency that could compromise the “independent status” and fairness of the judiciary, at least in public perceptions when the two are blended.

“I cringe,” Zambrano went on, “at the thought that someone may choose to forego coming into the building out of any fear of concern, whether real or imagined, because of an overwhelming presence of law enforcement officers.”

It may be all the cover County Administrator Jerry Cameron needed to vindicate his approach, which so far has tended toward delaying and deferring the issue rather than confronting it head on, because he did not want to cause a “constitutional crisis,” in his words (though Cameron had never formulated the issue in the words or reasoning of the chief judge).

Monday morning, Cameron sent a memo to commissioners summarizing what he would recommend on the matter at this evening’s commission meeting. The recommendation risks furthering delays–and perhaps some resentments–as it appears to put off a decision yet again onto a consultant of sorts.

Jerry Cameron is now Flagler's interim administrator, following Craig Coffey. (© FlaglerLive)

Jerry Cameron. (© FlaglerLive)

“I would ask the Board to direct me at Monday’s meeting to engage an expert to inform the Board how much space may be available,” Cameron wrote in his memo, dated today. “This would be accompanied by an estimated cost to reconfigure the courthouse to accommodate the Sheriff without unduly disrupting the Clerk’s functions or judicial operations.” But the county’s facilities department is supposed to be the expert in those matters. Cameron, loath to confront the clerk directly, would rather defer the arbitrating decision away from his office.

Cameron cited a 1964 Attorney general’s opinion that “requires us to base a decision as to the allocation of courthouse space on factual evidence.” Cameron, like the sheriff, acknowledged that “the specter of the taxpayers having to pick up a large bill as an alternative solution requires that we try to utilize existing facilities.” But unlike the sheriff, Cameron said that may ultimately not be possible. “If accommodations for the Sheriff cannot be arranged in the Courthouse they must be found elsewhere regardless of the fact that it will constitute a considerable financial burden.”

And just as the sheriff had sent out a picture to prove his point, Cameron was citing Zambrano’s letter to buttress his.

Zambrano had written of “the misperception of having the Sheriff’s Office co-located within the courthouse,” but also of what he saw as a “substantial change in circumstances”: what had initially been portrayed to him as a temporary arrangement was now turning into a much more open ended need which he did not feel could be similarly accommodated. “The fact that a forced resolution is being brought upon brings me no joy for I know that it is the taxpayers who pay when constitutional officers clash,” Zambrano wrote.

The chief judge (who wrote before Saturday’s release by the sheriff) bookended his oddly artful letter in his own real-world examples of judicial make-do: almost the entirety of his first two pages were devoted to a detailed description, never before revealed from a judge’s perspective, of the conditions judges and others lived with, complete with errant and decomposing rats, at the old courthouse in Flagler County, of how “the county waited too long to replace the old courthouse” (Zambrano is never short of admonishments), but also how, “when they did replace it they did it right.” He then went into an Grotius-like “definition of a courthouse” before turning prosecutor in a bulletized indictment of the current situation–veiled as mere items for commissioners to “consider–before ending on his second example of what it takes to accommodate difficult space needs: Because a hurricane destroyed a judicial facility in Daytona Beach, “we’re about to start operating out of a shopping center with a temporary courtroom.” It’ll be a few years before an actual courthouse is built.

“Until then we have adapted and delivered regardless of the impediments,” Zambrano wrote. “I sincerely pray that Flagler County does the same.”

Chief Judge Raul Zambrano’s Letter to Commission Chairman Donald O’Brien:


18 Responses for “Chief Judge Warns Against ‘Taking’ of Courthouse As Sheriff’s Picture in Murder Investigation Lobbies Commission on Space”

  1. JimBo says:

    Can the Sheriff use the emergency management building until a decision is made? I know its hurricane season and the facility would be needed for a storm but the Sheriff and Clerk seem to have as big of a storm themselves.

  2. palmcoaster says:

    Ten million or more of our taxpayers monies had been wasted in the old hospital building purchase and remodel and several more millions in the purchase of the Sears building and the bank off Old Kings road useless and contaminated as well. All to benefit the well connected and now where is the Sheriff operations to go? They need to work (in a non contaminated) somewhere. Isn’t this a temporary situation like the court house space out of a shopping center in Volusia? I been to the Flagler County current courthouse and the opulent grandeur of the public tending windows is impressive they look more like ballrooms, so much wasted space in this still sparsely populated county to foot the bills! This is just my taxpayer impression.

  3. Concerned Citizen says:

    As a tax payer and registered voter in this county this bull crap needs to stop and now. Enough time has been wasted on this issue.

    The Sheriff was partly responsible for the Operations Center mess. He was involved from day 1 as Manfre’s Undersheriff. He knew there were issues yet proceeded and kept it going as Sheriff. Then he wants to play the innocent poor me victim. And now he DEMANDS space from the courthouse? Now he has the BOCC commandeering space from another Constitutional Officer?

    Likewise with Bexely the court house does not belong to him. He does not own that building. He needs to check his ego at the door and do what is right to help and not hinder. While I don’t agree with the Sheriff’s need or BOCC’s demand to commandeeer if there is unused space hand it over. It’s only temporary. or is supposed to be. You’re on the Flagler County team and are supposedto be a team player. Start acting like it.

    To all of our Flagler County elected and appointed officials,

    We have elections coming up in 2020. Time and time again you waste valuable time and resources. Over and over you show you’re inept to lead as much as a Kindergarten class.

    We demand and expect you to represent your constituients equally and ethically. if you cant do that then we will remember it at the polls.

    It’s time for change in Flagler County. It starts with us at the polls. I intend to do my part. Will you?

  4. Let's be practical says:

    There are plenty of vacant offices in the City Centre building in front of city hall…

  5. Duncan says:

    The picture shows a detectives standing/sitting around in a discussion. They need more space for this exercise? A little less complaining and a little more effort to make a non ideal situation work Sheriff.

    Visit the detention centers on the border if you want to know what cramped space looks like.

  6. DoubleGator says:

    Whine whine. What a drama queen.

  7. Stretchem says:

    Offer First Baptist Christian Academy a handsome couple million dollar check to move out. Help them fast track a series of mobile units at their church for the upcoming year, along with fast track planning and permitting facilities they’re going to expand into anyways.

    The old courthouse has been completely restored. Perfect location. Structurally perfect. Save the county millions. Everyone’s happy.

  8. concerned says:

    looks like a staged picture

  9. mark101 says:

    I like it. Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano, a former Volusia County Sheriff will get this taken care of.

  10. John dolan esq. says:

    Thank you Judge Zambrano. Your service has been a blessing to Flagler Co.

  11. Percy's mother says:

    Duncan

    Have you been to the border detention centers? (since you want to interject national politics into a discussion about a specific issue isolated to Flagler County)

    . . . or is your post just another animosity-related post directed at Trump?

    Duncan

    What do you REALLY know about immigration? Are you an immigrant? (I am, by the way)

  12. Right says:

    The backbone of the Sheriffs office and the busiest, is patrol yet their offices are no larger than the inside of their patrol vehicle.

  13. Right says:

    Concerned Citizen says: “The Sheriff was partly responsible for the Operations Center mess. He was involved from day 1 as Manfre’s Undersheriff. He knew there were issues yet proceeded and kept it going as Sheriff”.

    Staly was in self mode as the undersheriff. He knew he was going to run for sheriff and allowed things to to occur to make Manfre look bad…even if it was to the detriment of the agency (as far as the public’s perception was concerned) and of some employees. He took no responsibility and let everything fall on Manfre to ensure it would damage re election chances….and it did. Manfre needed to go but what we have now is really no improvement. He just plays the media much better than Manfre ever could.

  14. Insanity says:

    About moving in the office/hangar building at the airport currently lease to the National Guard. The unit assigned to it deployed for a year and is only currently occupied by a skeleton crew.

  15. Downtown says:

    What would Sheriff Joe Arpaio do? He would move the inmates out of the Green Roof Inn and put them in tents around the jail and move his Deputies and operations into the jail. Inmates in tents? Isn’t that cruel? Is it cruel that our military lives in tents? Remember this is only a temporary arrangement until the new building is built.

  16. Dave says:

    It’s TRUE, who wants go to the courthouse knowing all the police are there when this is supposed to be a safe space for citizens, not a place where we must fear coming across the police or detectives. I always considered it a nuetral.place. I look at the picture above and see plenty of space for the cops not to mention they solved that case quick no problems.

  17. Stretchem says:

    Arpaio has solidified his position in American history as one of the more despicable human beings to ever pollute our great and diverse country. That’s not an opinion. Those are assertions and convictions made by local and federal constitutional courts, and his insignificance proven by the American voter.

    This country would be far better off if some of these old fatass white men would go back to where their ancestors came from!

  18. Heading North says:

    Space for meetings of multiple personnel????
    Isn’t the EOC building a county building??
    I have attended several meetings there in a very nice, large conference room, well equipped, nice furniture and easy access!!!
    Something wrong with using it for your gatherings to discuss major cases instead of a “cramped space” at the Courthouse??? Just curious.

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