Flagler County Commissioner Joe Mullins, who is seeking re-election, this week falsely claimed that the Fraternal Order of Police’s Flagler/Palm Coast lodge and the local 10-13 club of retired New York City Police officers support him. Presidents of both organizations sharply disavowed the claim and criticized Mullins for the fabrications.
For Mullins, it was only the latest in a series of embarrassing or defiant run-ins with law enforcement over the past several weeks, a constituency he claims to support and respect.
Twice last month Mullins disrespected and attempted to pull rank on Florida Highway Patrol troopers in two separate speeding incidents. He was trying to avoid getting ticketed by abusing his authority, claiming that “I run the county” or that he is “over the state.” It did not work: in one encounter, a trooper warned him that he would go to jail if he persisted in defying orders.
Mullins, who is barely five weeks away from the Aug. 23 primary (he faces fellow-Republican Leann Pennington) has been reeling from criticism over his encounters, which were recorded on the troopers’ videos and made national news. He has been looking for ways to burnish his threadbare credentials and beat back perceptions of flagrant hypocrisy. (On Tuesday, he donated $500 to the GoFundMe account of the family of Chelsea Hawk, who died in a car crash Sunday and who Mullins ceaselessly tormented and vilified online over the last few years.)
This week, Mullins extended the disrespect to retired law enforcement officers.
Fabrications are not uncommon for the commissioner, who turns 52 net week. But he has often skated by, unchallenged, abetted and rewarded by two colleagues on the County Commission, enabling him to survive on a majority dependent on his own third vote. This time the falsehoods drew a bitter disclaimer from Marty Syken, president of the Northeast 10-13 Club, the local chapter of a fraternal organization of retired New York City police officers, and an equally forceful–and disbelieving–disavowal from Dave Mazzone, president of the Flagler/Palm Coast Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 171.
Mullins was the guest speaker at the 10-13 Club’s July 18 luncheon meeting at the Elks Club in Palm Coast, where he spoke of supporting law enforcement, and spoke a great deal about himself. He drew on that lunch to then post that he had “the support of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge#171 Flagler/Palm Coast Florida and the North Florida Retired Police association.”
The FOP was not part of that event. Its members were not at that meeting. Mullins, an associate member of the group, had not asked to speak before the organization, nor had he been invited, Mazzone said in an interview this evening.
There is no such thing as a North Florida Retired Police association. It isn’t clear if Mullins mangled the name of the 10-13 Club, or if he was attempting to invent himself the support of a large-sounding organization of retired police stretching all over Northeast Florida.
The post caused difficulties for both organizations. Mazzone had to spend two hours on the phone today with the district office of his organizations to explain that FOP had nothing to do with Mullins’s claim and sort out the commissioner’s fabrication. Mazzone had to do so after an individual, taking Mullins’s post at his word, called the district in Jacksonville to complain about the local lodge’s purported support of Mullins.
“Let me straighten one thing out, he did not appear to our group,” Mazzone said. That was a 10-13 meeting exclusively. “At no time did he ever come and speak to the FOP, nor did we support him, nor do we endorse him.”
Endorsements are laborious processes, he said, involving the district office in Jacksonville, which does a background check and either agrees or rejects the choice. In order to avoid the hassle, “our policy is that we do not endorse any candidate nor support any candidate.” Mazzone’s policy is that candidates can appear before the membership for five minutes, but if one appears, all are invited to appear.
Mullins addressed his false Facebook page with the organization. “He just said it was a slip up on words,” Mazzone said. “Well, it’s a slip up that I don’t like. I don’t condone.”
Mullins eliminated the claim that he had the FOP’s support in subsequent editing of the post. But to this day, he has not corrected the falsehood that he spoke before FOP.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #171 holds its monthly membership meetings on the second Tuesday of the month, what would have been July 12. On June 26, three days after FlaglerLive first reported Mullins’s attempt, in a letter to a local judge, to beg his way out of points after he was ticketed on I-95, the FOP Facebook page reposted a story about the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office’s asset-forfeited seizure of a Corvette Z06 from a drug dealer, transforming it into a sheriff’s cruiser. The FOP added this line: “FCSO or FHP should add one of these for I-95 speed.” (The FCSO is the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.)
His claims about the 10-13 club, which he inaccurately referred to by a non-existent name, caused its own share of problems.
“It has come to the attention of the board of directors,” Marty Syken, the group’s president, wrote in a message to the membership this afternoon, “that Mr. Mullins took the liberty on one of his Facebook pages to post a photo of himself addressing the members with the club banner in the background. This could be construed to indicate that the club endorses him. The club finds this distressing to say the least, given the fact that Mr. Mullins has had some negative contact with law enforcement personnel which were not flattering to Mr. Mullins.” Syken suggested his membership “see internet,” a reference to the copious reporting on Mullins’s recent infractions and run-ins with law enforcement.
“The club,” Syken continued, “has no affiliation with Mr. Mullins whatsoever and more importantly the club has not and will not endorse Mr. Mullin or any political candidate.” Endorsing is against the club’s by-laws.
Syken also specified: “Mr. Mullins is not a member, did not ask to join our club and was not made an honorary member,” and he said the organization’s board of directors apologized for the confusion Mullins may have created.
Mazzone in the interview also referred to Mullins’s negative contact with law enforcement. “I’m a policeman. I was a policeman, I always will be a policeman in my mind,” Mazzone said, “and if you can’t respect the policeman, well, then I don’t have respect for you. Maybe that’s the problem with everybody in the world anymore. There’s no respect for law enforcement, for teachers, for professionals. People do not have respect anymore. I think we lost that.” He advised Mullins to check his facts before he speaks.
Mullins reworded the same Facebook post in question 10 times, according to Facebook’s edit history, an indication of both his impulsive habits on social media and his inability, or more likely a calculated unwillingness, to get it right, even after repeated reflection.
He first posted about his appearance at the club at 6:17 p.m. on July 18, a few hours after the alleged lunch. The post seemed straightforward with boilerplate language. But it already bore two fabrications: “Very honored to speak today to the Flagler County FOP and the North Florida Retired Police association.” He had spoken to neither.
Mullins never refers to the Northeast Florida 10-13 Club by its accurate name, even if he was intending to refer to it. He did post an image of three individuals sitting at tables, two of them with their back to the camera, one of them seeming to be intentionally blocking his face from the picture-taker, all of them sitting by a large blue banner of the 10-13 club–the banner Syken was referring to in his email to members.
Seven minutes after Mullins posted about his appearance before retired cops, he amended his original post to: “Very honored to speak today to the Flagler County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #171 Flagler/Palm Coast Florida and the North Florida Retired Police association. Affordable Housing for deputies, mental health services for addiction and better pay and retirement benefits. As a county we can and will focus on these issues.”
He also turned the reference to the lodge into a tagging link, attempting to have his post appear on the FOP’s page and garner more attention (FOP either hid it or disallowed the tag: the item does not appear there). Mullins, whose own page does not by itself get too much attention, is a serial tagger, at times blanketing every Facebook “neighborhood” page with such tags, giving the appearances of a larger follower than he has.
A quarter of an hour later, the post was again edited. Mullins dropped affordable housing for deputies and started taking on drugs: “The top issue is Drugs and fentanyl coming into our county at an alarming rate! We are one of the top counties in overdose deaths. We will bring the mental health and treatment facilities into the county. This is the only proven thing to work.”
At 7:09 p.m., the post bulked up on fabrication: “Very honored to speak and have the support of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #171 Flagler/Palm Coast Florida and the North Florida Retired Police association.” (Emphasis added.) Almost an hour later he edited the post to add the word “today.” He perpetuated the lie as he edited the post two hours later to say, in capital letters, that drugs ‘ISN’T ISSUE TO PLAY AROUND WITH.”
The post was unchanged for another day and a half after that. Just before noon today–at 11:50 a.m.–Mullins reworded it, dropping any reference to being supported: “Very honored today to speak and Fully support of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #171 Flagler/Palm Coast Florida and the North Florida Retired Police association.” The post was incoherent, but also the closest any of the version came to an approximation of truth, since he could defensibly say that he spoke that day–without specifying to whom–and that he supported FOP and the ghost organization.
He corrected the incoherence nine minutes later, if not completely, to: “Very honored today to speak and give my full support of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #171 Flagler/Palm Coast Florida and the North Florida Retired Police association.” But he preserved the fabrication about the mystery North Florida association. As of Wednesday evening, that’s still the wording.
Facebook noted below his post: “Joe F Mullins limited who can comment on this post.”
The pictures never changed, including a blurry one showing him at the Elks podium, and the picture of the three individuals near the large banner of the 10-13 Club, plus the picture of a young man or boy at the buffet table, seen from behind, his “Joe Mullins” campaign shirt clearly displayed.
Today, Mullins posted, among other items, that he was traveling to a meeting of the National Association of Counties. He posted a picture of members of is family traveling with him. The meeting starts its four-day annual conference Thursday at the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center. The registration fee is $600, not including hotel accommodations, transportation, board, rental car or speeding tickets.
The county said on Thursday that, aside from the membership to the association that the county pays annually, it paid Mullins’s registration fee of $600, but Mullins was picking up the tab for transportation, hotel accommodations and other such costs. He is the only county official attending.