Last Updated: 7:53 p.m.
The State Attorney’s Office has filed an obstruction of justice charge against Bobby Pace, the acting fire chief in Flagler Beach, following an investigation into charges that Pace falsified the records of a probationer and destroyed evidence earlier this year.
Flagler Beach police following an investigation in March filed a felony charge of tampering with evidence and a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice. The felony charge did not stick. But the state attorney is proceeding with the obstruction charge, a first-degree misdemeanor. If convicted, Pace faces up to a year in jail and (or) up to $1,000 fine, and up to a year’s probation.
Pace will not be arrested. Because it’s a misdemeanor, a summons will be issued for him to appear in court.
Pace remained on the job after the police department filed the charges, though only a few weeks earlier Bruce Campbell, the city manager, had suspended several firefighters, including the then-fire chief, for allegedly breaking city policies. The firefighters and the chief were subsequently fired, though none faced criminal charges.
Campbell on Thursday would not comment about Pace or the formalized charges when contacted by phone. “I don’t know anything about this,” he said. Campbell said he would be checking into the matter and comment later. Asked what city policies call for when a city employee faces a criminal charge, Campbell said he did not know and would have to check into it.
Campbell never called again, though he received the charging paper directly from the state attorney’s office, and spoke of it to individual commissioners. The commission met Thursday evening. Campbell did not mention the matter, nor did he note openly, during that meeting, that he had appointed Rob Creal, a volunteer and former fire chief in Flagler Beach, the interim chief. Pace is on paid administrative leave.
Creal resigned his position as fire chief in 2002 under a cloud of his own, after 26 years as chief. “He retired on the same day police released findings of a two-month investigation into accusations he used marijuana, provided drugs and alcohol to underage volunteers and looked the other way as youths used city computers to view pornography,” the News-Journal had reported. “No charges were ever filed.”
In March, Pace, a 41-year-old resident of Ormond Beach, was accused of falsely awarding community service work hours to probationer Vitaly Tsabak on at least five occasions, as Tsabak had not earned those hours. The Florida Department of Corrections had approved the Flagler Beach Fire Department as a location where such hours could be earned, and Pace was the supervisor responsible for signing off on those hours. When Tsabak presented his service hour work sheets to his probation officer, the officer became suspicious because of the time slots’ duration and the time when they were logged.
Patricia Davis, the probation officer, was able to confirm through surveillance video that the hours logged did not match up with Tsabak’s presence at the fire department. Tsabak’s probation was revoked. He was sentenced to prison until August 2015. Then Flagler Beach firefighter Jacob Bissonnette, listed on Pace’s charging affidavit, had viewed the original video surveillance, according to the report, and told investigators that the probationer had worked only about an hour each time, though Pace signed the work forms for the full five hours.
“After learning that a complaint had been lodged against him [Pace] did then destroy/erase the video surveillance” depicting what would prove to be the discrepancies between what took place and what was logged on time sheets, according to the report. Bissonnette was among the firefighters Campbell fired, elevating Pace to acting fire chief.
A more detailed account of the investigation by the Flagler Beach Police Department revealed the following: On March 13, a Flagler Beach detective contacted Jerry Pflueger, the police and city departments’ information technology point man, to request his assistance in retrieving the video surveillance from the fire department. The detective, according to the report, had received an additional complaint by the Department of Corrections that another offender, Dmytro Blinov, had been awarded fraudulent hours by another firefighter.
The next day, Pflueger told the investigator–Liz Williams–that “he had been to the fire department and had attempted to retrieve the requested video only to find that there was no historical activity stored prior to” February 11. “Given the type of video system the fire department utilized (motion activated), there should be a much longer retrievable history (for example the original Department of Corrections complaint was able to be retrieved and viewed at approximately six weeks) available and that with his knowledge and experience he believed that the video surveillance files had been manually deleted,” the investigator’s report states.
On march 19, Pace came voluntarily to the Flagler Beach Police Department and asked to speak with Williams. Pace told the investigator (who tried and failed to record the interview on an iPhone) “that he did not personally know Vitaly Tsabak and that he had been to the fire department on approximately eight to ten occasions to do community service work hours. Pace stated that he had never flagrantly awarded hours only ‘rounded up’ a little bit for good work. Pace further advised that the other department policy violation of allowing Tsabak to stay in the department while staff went on a run was a fabrication and ‘never happened.’ He further advised that the ‘tapes will show it never happened.’ Pace went on to advise that the video recording system is in a smaller room off of his office and that whenever he is not in the building his office and all access to the video recorder is locked. Pace stated that nobody can get in to the recorder without his knowledge.”
Williams asked Pflueger to return to the fire department and retrieve the first thirty minutes of activity on the tape to determine the identity of the person who deleted the files containing the evidence she was seeking. Pace greeted Pflueger with an “entirely different demeanor on this visit and was no longer cooperative. Pace told Pflueger he needed a subpoena to retrieve the tape he was seeking, which is not true: the surveillance tapes are public information. “Pace then made numerous phone calls complaining about Pflueger’s attempts to get the video,” the investigative report states. He called appointed and elected city officials and Police Chief Dan Cody.
Cody told him the tapes were city property, that a subpoena was not necessary, and that he needed to surrender the property Pflueger. Only then Pace complied.
“Pflueger attempted to retrieve the video for several hours, and due to technical difficulties had to leave the machine in a download state and requested Administrative Assistant Donna Kearney, who has extensive command of computer operations, to respond on the following day to retrieve the downloaded video as he would walk her through the process,” the report states. Kearney tried for several days to retrieve the video but her efforts were repeatedly thwarted by Pace, according to the investigation, until March 26, when she went to the fire department with Flagler Beach police officer Tim Sturman, to retrieve surveillance footage.
“I asked Firefighter Andy Thomas if I could get into the chief’s office for the purpose of retrieving the surveillance video,” Sturman related in his report. Thomas said the office was locked. The officer called Pace, who told him he was at lunch. “I asked Pace if I could make entry by using a drivers license or other plastic object.” Pace’s reply: “”Do whatever you think you need to do.” The officer used a plastic ID card to enter the office, and burned the video onto a CD, which was placed into evidence.
After the footage picks up, immediately after the deleted segment, the only person seen inside the hallways of the fire department is Bobby Pace, the report states. “There are other staff members noted outside in the front of the building as It appeared they were just returning from a call but are not observed inside the building,” the report states.
There was no video surveillance nor were there witnesses to substantiate any claim that Blinov, the other probationer, had his records falsified.