Shoddy and inexplicable police work, a running theme through a recent investigation of the Bunnell Police Department and its aftershocks, is catching up to the department–to the benefit of two of its former police officers facing felony charges.
Last June, John and Lisa Murray, a married couple and former cops at the Bunnell Police Department, were arrested and charged with official misconduct, tampering or fabricating evidence, and cocaine possession (for John) and two counts of official misconduct (for Lisa). They’d both been suspended in April. Subsequently, John Murray also faced a grand theft charge when money was found to be missing from the evidence room. Murray was the evidence room’s custodian.
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- Ex-Bunnell Cops Lisa and John Murray, Facing 6 Felonies, Angle for 6 Trials–and Pleas
On Tuesday, the Murrays appeared before Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano, with their attorney–Michael Lambert, who is being paid through the Police Benevolent Association–to fight off a few charges. They had limited success. One charge of official misconduct against Lisa Murray was dropped. So was the grand theft charge against her husband. But John Murray is facing a new official misconduct charge tied to marijuana plans.
Both Murrays, according to an interview they gave the News-Journal, blamed other cops at the police department for their troubles, and claimed innocence. “We were set up by other officers,” Lisa Murray said. “That’s why we are here today.”
The charge against Lisa Murray was dropped when a piece of evidence it was tied to–a marijuana pipe allegedly seized from a suspect and lost–mysteriously and reappeared last October, even though, according to a follow-up State Attorney’s investigative report, there was no documentation of “how the evidence was submitted or placed in evidence.” Such documentation is necessary to prevent tampering, or made-up evidence.
A similar series of inexplicable events helped to lead to the dismissal of the grand theft charge against John Murray. The charge was tied to missing money from an evidence envelope, which was found to have counterfeit money instead. The missing money was discovered by then-Sgt. Frank Gamarra. In August, after Gamarra himself was fired, a counterfeit $20 was found in a jacket he’d worn, in a department vehicle he’d driven, and an investigation was launched against Gamarra.
Gamarra had been one of the principal individuals in the Bunnell Police Department to cooperate with the State Attorney in the investigation that uncovered irregularities at the department, and favoritism by cops, including the Murrays, and city officials, toward then-city commissioner Jimmy Flynt, who owns a wrecker service and was getting extra wrecker calls. Gamarra’s firing followed on the heels of the publication of the investigative report, as did the allegation against him stemming from that $20 counterfeit bill. But Gamarra was cleared of that allegation when, as in previous instances, it was found that the discovery of the counterfeit bill was not properly documented on Bunnell Police Department evidence sheets, the bill was never photographed or processed, and the vehicle Gamarrra had used was also used by other cops.
Still, the connection between Gamarra and John Murray proved substantial enough to lead prosecutors to drop the grand theft charge against Murray.
Murray wanted the cocaine possession charge against him dropped as well, since it was based on an illogical timeline. But the State Attorney’s office subsequently changed the timeline, and the judge on Tuesday refused to drop that charge.
In December, the Murrays successfully argued that should their case go to trial, they should be tried for each count they face separately.
In a videotaped interview by the State Attorney, Bunnell Police Chief Arthur Jones stressed that Murray would have been fully–and alone–responsible for evidence tampering: “You know,” Jones told the investigator in repeated statements that deflected responsibility from himself and onto Murray, “there’s no way he could not have known, that amount of evidence, and the condition of the evidence in that office, and nobody else could have been in that office with that type of evidence being already tampered with in some instances, or just laying around in his office in other instances, that he could not have known about, so yes, and if he knew about it, and he know as an administrator [sic.] what his next step should have been, but I can’t see nobody else going in his office doing that so he had to be the one.”
The Murrays’ case is further tainted by the Bunnell city government’s own shady role in what amounted to eight years of officially sanctioned extortion on Bunnell’s streets: the city had passed an ordinance allowing the police to charge a $350 “administrative fee” every time a vehicle was seized, whether legitimately or not. That fee was in addition to fees charged by wreckers. The State Attorney investigation forced the city to drop the fee and set up a reimbursement procedure for anyone who’d paid it, though the burden was on claimants to get their money back.
Flynt is no longer a commissioner. He was defeated in last month’s election. But after being removed from the sheriff’s office’s rotation of three wrecker services, subsequent to the State Attorney’s investigation, Flynt was reinstated, since no charges have been filed against him.