During a traffic stop he was involved in on May 11 on Belle Terre Parkway in Palm Coast, Flagler County Commissioner Joe Mullins–who was in the passenger seat–almost immediately invoked his own name while addressing a sheriff’s deputy, and moments later invoked that of Sheriff Rick Staly while explaining why the woman at the wheel had been going 63 in a 45.
It’s not clear if Mullins was hoping to gain favor from Sgt. Scott Vedder, a veteran Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy. But three years ago, Mullins tried exactly that, according to the sheriff. Mullins asked Sheriff Rick Staly to fix a ticket for him–a speeding ticket Mullins got in St. Johns County. The sheriff immediately refused to extend him that kind of favor.
“He didn’t ask for one for this stop,” Staly said in an interview this afternoon, referring to the May 11 stop. “Has he ever reached out to me before? And the answer to that is yes. He was not a county commissioner at the time. But he was pulled over apparently by a St. Johns County deputy for speeding, and he called me.” Mullins at the time was living in Flagler Beach and would later run for the county commission on a platform of ethical conduct and relentless criticism for politics as usual even as he battled issues of his own regarding his honesty or allegations of lurid personal conduct that have not stopped.
At the time of Mullins’s speeding ticket in St. Johns County, Staly had been elected just weeks earlier. Mullins, Staly recalled, asked him if he knew St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar. Staly and Shoar have known each other many years.
“He wanted to know if I’d call the St. Johns County sheriff because he’d been pulled over by one of his deputies,” Staly said, his voice at this point a bit indignant at the memory. “I told him absolutely not, this is Florida, and we don’t do these kinds of things, at least not with me. So I never called Sheriff Shoar. He’s a personal friend–I talked to him today–and I don’t know what happened with that ticket.” Mullins did not respond to an email with a list of questions about that call or the May 11 traffic stop before this article initially published.
St. Johns County court records indicate that Mullins was ticketed the evening of New Year’s Eve on State Road A1A. It’s not clear at what point he contacted the sheriff. In February, he also contacted Clerk of Court Tom Bexley, after failing to meet a court deadline and risking a suspension of his license.
According to an email Bexley wrote Michelle Cosmato, director of the St. Johns Clerk of Court’s traffic division, Mullins had “written a letter to the hearing officer/judge requesting no points be assessed” to his license. “He is beyond 30 days, but has not been suspended. Will you please submit this letter to the court asap in the hopes this issue can be addressed before a suspension? Of course he is more than willing to pay in full. Please give me a heads up when the hearing officer has rendered his/her decision.”
Cosmato wrote back, saying Mullins had to pay a late fee and fill out a document to “stop the suspension process,” which was days away. Mullins then wrote out the required form, saying he got the ticket while “traveling during that time for work back to Georgia,” and would do his “best efforts not [to] have another issue here.” He asked the judge to withhold adjudication. The next day he entered a no contest plea, then paid the $206 ticket he’d hoped Staly had fixed. The judge withheld adjudication.
The morning of May 11, Mullins was a passenger in a 2019 Audi driven by Cari-Anne Quintanilla-Aurich, a 40-year-old resident of Windermere, the upscale suburb of Orlando.
The Audi was pulled over at 8:43 a.m. as it was heading north, near St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church. As soon after Vedder walked up to the driver’s side window and told the woman she was doing 63 in a 45, Mullins leans forward and waves to the deputy.
As the deputy asks the woman for her license, registration and proof of insurance, Mullins intervenes. “Hey, she was trying to get me–I’m Joe Mullins–she was trying to get me to the dentist,” Mullins says, leaning in again.
“Yes sir,” Vedder tells him. Mullins refers to an emergency.
“Yes sir. You were doing 63 in a 45 though,” Vedder tells both the driver and Mullins.
“I thought it was a 55,” the woman says. Mullins tells Vedder the woman is from Orlando.
After processing the paperwork, Vedder returns to the Audi’s driver’s side. “I’m just going to issue a warning today,” Vedder tells the woman. “One of the reasons I’m going to do that is a car was right next to you, you were both doing the same speed, I have to pick a car to stop.” The woman’s driving history was “clean,” Vedder said.
He gave her back her papers and the warning and had completed the stop, telling the woman to drive carefully, when Mullins intervened again.
“What’s your name?” Mullins asked the deputy. Vedder tells him. Mullins then tells Vedder again that he was “pushing her” to get him to his destination.
“I got you. I got a job to do, so just watch your speed,” Vedder says, “all right?”
“No, no, no, that’s fine, thank you for doing that,” Mullins says. “I was just going to let–I’ve got to see Rick a little later.” He was referring to Rick Staly.
Vedder tells them to “have a good day,” and returns to his patrol.
Mullins did not have a meeting with the sheriff later that day, Staly said.
“There was no meeting scheduled with me at all, I have no clue why he would say that,” Staly said today. Nor did Mullins and Staly run into each other or go to an event where both were present that day. But Mullins did call the sheriff. “He called me that day wanting to know who my bike people were,” Staly said.
Staly asked him why. According to Staly, Mullins then told him he was an Uber passenger in a car, going to the dentist, and that he wanted to commend the deputy’s professionalism during the traffic stop.
“I told him the supervisor is Cmdr. Gerry Ditolla. Whether or not he reached out to him, I don’t know,” the sheriff said.
Staly had reviewed the body cam video and spoken with Vedder about it. He requires his deputies to only inform him when a public official is involved in such things as traffic stop, only so that he’s aware, but directs them to handle the stops as they would any other.
“Sgt. Vedder did tell me that he didn’t see any indication that the vehicle had an Uber sign or sticker like they usually do, and no one told him that during the traffic stop,” Staly said. It’s not clear why an Uber driver would be operating more than 90 miles from her home. (She and her husband bought a $612,000 house in Windermere less than 18 months ago.)
The sheriff had taken note of Mullins invoking both his–Mullins’s–name immediately after the traffic stop interaction began, then Staly’s name.
“I don’t think that’s what any elected official should do,” the sheriff said. “But I can tell you that my guys tell me that people tell them they know me all the time when they get pulled over at traffic stops. I’m a very active sheriff, I’m out in the community, I meet people, I suspect they think that will help them when it’s really to the discretion of the deputy. And to my knowledge it doesn’t help them.”