Laura Pazarena, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office’s crime scene analyst and evidence supervisor, was back at work today after she was ordered on paid leave on Aug. 4 following an allegation of abuse of power, and pending the results of criminal and internal investigations.
The criminal investigation was closed within 10 days of Pazarena going on leave. The internal investigation, which examines whether sheriff’s policies were violated, is ongoing, however. It is unusual that an employee would return to work while an investigation has not concluded, Pazarena’s case suggests that, while the investigation itself has not been closed, it may be materially completed, and Pazarena appears to have been cleared.
“I don’t want to say read between the lines,” a sheriff’s spokesman said this morning, confirming that Pazarena was back at work. But in effect, the spokesman’s characterization pointed to unsubstantiated allegations–or at least allegations that may warrant less than a severe penalty.
“She has a job to do and we want her to do it,” the spokesman said of Pazarena.
The crime scene investigator was being investigated following allegations that she had visited a local pharmacy with someone else, acted suspiciously, then allegedly returned at a subsequent date in an attempt to retrieve video surveillance footage, though the store was not at the center of any criminal investigations. A woman who identified herself as Pazarena left her name with the store clerk.
The previous story, with details on the case background, is below.
Flagler Sheriff’s Crime Scene Analyst and Evidence Supervisor Under Investigation
Aug. 14–Laura Pazarena, the Flagler County Sheriff’s crime scene technician hired two years ago to launch the department’s first CSI unit, is under internal investigation, and has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation’s outcome.
The sheriff’s office initially was not releasing information regarding the nature of the investigation—whether it’s an administrative, policy or criminal matter. The Aug. 4 letter informing Pazarena of the internal investigation tells her it stems from “an allegation of abuse of power” on Aug. 3.
“Before we put the cart in front of the horse we allow the internal affairs investigation to move forward,” Jim Troiano, the sheriff’s office’s chief spokesman, said this morning. This afternoon, Troiano provided additional information, saying “we have looked at this case criminally and have determined that there were no law violations.” But while the criminal investigation is over, the internal investigation into the abuse of power allegation is ongoing. Troiano also released the incident report that led to the investigations.
The case centers on a suspicion of shoplifting at the Vitamin Shoppe on State Road 100, and Pazarena’s subsequent appearance at the store, where she requested surveillance camera footage.
On Aug. 3, Cathy Vinhais, the store manager, told a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy that vitamin stores in the state have been the subject of increasing shoplifting, and that store employees have been heightening their awareness and attempts to identify possible shoplifters. Vinhais and colleagues at stores in St. Augustine and Daytona Beach had been discussing two particular individuals they suspect of being shoplifters at vitamin stores–one white one black. The manager at the Daytona store had actually snapped a cell phone image of the pair and circulated it to other managers, including Vinhais.
According to Vinhais, the pair rarely buys anything. The woman comes into the store with a large purse, with the man acting as a distraction who lures store workers to a different part of the establishment while the woman walks to the higher-priced shelves. Vinhais told the deputy that “the stores have communicated between each other that when these two individuals leave the stores, large amounts of inventory is discovered missing (approximately $500 to $1,000 at a time),” the incident report states.
The evening of Aug. 1, Vinhais saw the pair come into the store and start shopping. Vinhais stayed near the woman, who at one point “shouted” to her that “we’re just shopping,” according to the incident report. When the pair left, an employee got a picture of their vehicle as they drove away. Then the car “abruptly stopped and backed up into a parking space in front of the store, causing employees to panic and lock the front door of the store in fear that the two individuals would return into the store,” the report states. Vinhais said “the two individuals stayed inside their vehicle for approximately ten to fifteen minutes before driving away.”
Vinhais did not call police that day. On Aug. 3, however, at about 1 p.m., Vinhais reported to the deputy that “the female from the incident came into the store wearing a green ‘crime scene uniform’ and driving a crime scene van, accompanied by another female who stood behind her and to the side and did not get involved,” according to the incident report.
Vinhais said the woman wearing the CSI uniform wanted to make a complaint and began asking about the surveillance equipment, and how long footage was kept. Vinhais told the woman that the system is handled by the store’s corporate office. The CSI-uniformed woman then told Vinhais, according to the incident report, that the surveillance footage is public record, and that if she was to ask for it, the store had to produce it. (That’s not accurate, of course, and cops generally know this: private companies’ surveillance camera footage is not a public record, though it may become one if it is part of a law enforcement investigation and it is released. A company may choose to release the footage upon request to private individuals, but it is not required to do so.)
Vinhais provided the cell phone picture that was taken by the Daytona manager of the woman seen at the other store, “and it was confirmed to be Laura Pazarena. The male’s identity is currently unknown at this time.” Vinhais said she felt “threatened” during the
encounter and felt that Pazarena was trying to intimidate her by wearing a uniform and confronting her at the business, the report states.
Vinhais told the investigating deputy that the woman in front of her then wrote her name down as Laura Pazarena and gave her two phone numbers–the same two numbers on record as Pazarena’s as the sheriff’s office’s crime scene investigator.
Pazarena was hired on Aug. 12, 2013, as a crime scene technician, at a salary of $38,288, a hire the sheriff underscored as a major step in making the department’s crime scene analyses more autonomous, and less dependent on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s crime labs. As part of the expansion, the sheriff’s office bought a $35,000 van (including equipment), the CSI van now familiar to Flagler residents whenever a crime scene of note is established.
Pazarena, formerly a crime scene investigator in Washington, D.C., and DNA analyst of roadside bombs—when she worked for Ideal Innovations, a Pentagon contractor—last October was promoted supervisor of the CSI-Evidence Unit, supervising two evidence custodians. Her current salary is $43,426.
The sheriff’s office also recently hired an additional CSI technician who’s just begun her training.
The sheriff’s office has partnership agreements with nearby agencies and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to provide crime scene analysis—something FDLE does, in any case, with major crimes in Flagler. The office will draw on those agreements to cover the period when it is without its own CSI investigator. In addition, all deputies have been routinely trained in conducting crime scene processing to a degree. “What they’re doing now is a lot of what Laura was doing,” Troiano said, except in high-profile cases. “Nobody is replacing Laura when it comes to a high-profile case, we will call out another agency to assist us.”
The department expects neither loss of service nor additional costs from Pazarena’;s absence.
If a police department’s principal crime scene investigator is implicated in improper or criminal activity, the integrity of the innumerable cases that analyst has handled is potentially in jeopardy—a nightmare, worst-case scenario for any police agency or the State Attorney’s office prosecuting those cases.
“Is there a concern? Certainly,” Troiano said. “Have we looked at these concerns, yes we have but we cannot say anything that’s going to happen” until the investigation is thoroughly conducted, and without bias, he said.
Contacted about the case, FDLE stated through a spokesman that the state agency is not involved in the investigation.
Samuel L. Bronkowitz says
I’m curious as to how an internal investigation can be conducted without bias.
Ray Thorne says
seems that department has been in continuous decline the past 2and a half years. Embarrassing really and I feel bad for all the good people that work there.
From what I’ve seen, I will agree with you. I believe it has everything to do with the command staff. Namely the Sheriff. The good news is, elections next years. The Sheriff’s actions, policies, serect agendas, etc. are tearing the department apart. If I were you, I would look for new leadership next year when you head to the polls. My choice is Mark Whisenant.
Ray Thorne says
I did some googling and it seems he ran for Sheriff in his home town as a Democrat and now running here as a Republican?
Ray Thorne says
“The department expects neither loss of service nor additional costs from Pazarena’;s absence”
Excuse me but if her job has to be sourced out while she is on PAID leave then there would be additional costs and with a statement like that it sounds as though her position isn’t / wasn’t really needed in the first place?
FDLE will now cover their crime scenes, which is free for the County. They used them before hiring Pazarena.
Ray Thorne says
So if they use FDLE at no charge, why was this position created with a $43000 salary and vehicle purchase? Another debacle of the current Sheriff that we the taxpayers funded.
This could be devastating to all criminal cases she has worked on. That is, if she is found to have breached her integrity. Another Manfre hire that could prove very, very costly to the citizens of Flagler County.
Ray Thorne says
No doubt!!!!! That thief was placed in charge of the entire evidence section. Imagine how any criminal case that has evidence will be effected by her being a flat out thief and a liar? This agency has hit the bottom. A no confidence vote is in order here, he needs to go where Weeks went!
How in Sam hell is this NOT a criminal case?
Rick, it’s not criminal case because they did not catch her stealing. I am not defending her in anyway, I happen to study criminal law and teach it as well. That being said, her actions of returning and confronting the store manager were a violation of her office and oath. (You can’t strong arm folks) That act is not deemed a criminal act by nature in FL, however there are civil and liability attached to her action. I.e. loss of employment, certifications, etc.
Really, if the Manager wanted to push the issue she or he has a civil case against the County, Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff (negligent Hiring), and the CSI herself. Most likely the government agencies will try and find fault only in the employee and leave her the only one liable.
This all boils down to leadership, the sheriffs’ track record has plain and simple sucked. He has made a lot of changes, policies and talks a big game, but he don’t try a retain good employees; hold himself accountable for his own actions and try’s to pass blame whenever possible. Just be thankful that elections are next year and we can get this guy out of office. New leadership is needed, next year I am voting for Mark Whisenant.
Regardless of the apparent cover-up, her integrity is compromised. Defense attorneys will have a field day with this.
This article is confusing. Is she guilty since she has been identified as the women in the Daytona picture? It seems like she did not get a chance to steal at the Palm Coast store and was found innocent of this one incident. What about the rest? They really know how to hire them at FCSO. Good job! I would never want to work there. It seems like the employees are as bad as the criminals they deal with. I am sure there are some good ones there, but your fearless leader either got rid of them or they ran for their lives. I bet they couldn’t wait to get the ____ out of there. I feel sorry for the good employees that are left. They have to work with incompetence on a daily basis. My prayers go out to you all.
Another flagler county embarrassmen!!!! Hey manfre wake up!!!!
Joe peters says
No laws broken? I think the Sheriffs office needs to do some more research. How about ‘ OBSTRUCTION” how about ‘ATTEMPTED ROBBERY” when she showed up at the store and tried to acquire the tape through intimidation?
Another skeleton for the sheriff’s closet.
30 year veteran Officer says
Another great hire by Manfre/Staly! I would love to see the background report conducted prior to her hire.
Vitamins? Kind of reminds me of a Staly incident reported in 2004 by the Orlando Weekly while he was employed with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office:
“In 2000, Staly violated office policy by appearing in uniform and displaying his office-issue pager in a vitamin ad without permission. In the ad, Staly boasted of earning $64,000 in three months selling vitamins to friends and co-workers. He was suspended for a day; the suspension was later rescinded in favor of a verbal reprimand. “
Buddy Negron says
Vitamins? Really bud, that’s the best you got?? Lol. Better than the drugs you must be taking. Sad, you’re pathetic and an amateur. Lol
It’s nice to know the investigation will be fair, isn’t it?
I sure would like to have done that criminal investigation. Sounds like an easy collar to me!
Can't Say says
It’s amazing that the employees were not even informed that she was suspended until the day before this story broke. Anyone else, HR is quick to announce the person is suspended so everyone knows that person does not have access to agency buildings, equipment, etc. The whole thing smells like rotten garbage to me. Another Manfre failure.
Why wasn’t the State Troopers or FLDE brought in to investigate? The Manfre department seems to be in the news weekly for some type of infraction. Why is she on PAID leave? When the top person is allegedly guilty of Ethics violations for taking a county vehicle several states away. ( I didn’t know), using the county credit card for personal items (I didn’t know) why should the rest of the department follow the rules.
The majority of the Sheriff’s Department are great men and women surviving in an unethical lead department.
Sonny Boy says
Sounds like an organized scheme to defraud several vitamin stores in three counties. This should be an investigation by the State Attorney or FDLE. There could be video of the theft suspects to compare to this persons photograph. Has cell phone records been subpoena of Pazarena to she who she have been calling and who is calling her? Has her agency phone been examined? Has her personal or agency phone ping a cell tower in the area of the thefts during the time they were committed? Has friends and neighbors been interviewed to see if they have seen her in the company of a black male? I sure hope the investigation covered all of these aspects and then some.
Google Jim Troianos’ name or research the Gainesville Sun and you will find some interesting stories.
Ray Thorne says
Any word on whether or not this person is still employed at the Sheriffs Office? Are we even concerned anymore since Manfre saw opportunity to take the spotlight off of the Sheriffs Office and put it on the Fire Dept? Manfre Out in 2016.
it may take a little bit of time to investigate.
JUST SAYING says
Can’t the tail wag the dog a little bit? It’s almost election season!
Ray Thorne says
Sooo….anything new? Haven’t heard any news of termination so my guess is they’re laying low hoping all will be forgotten about. Manfre Out in 2016.
Wow. Just wow says
She’s back to work. Was there even a slap on the wrist besides a month paid vacation?
Moe Syzlak says
What a joke…….. this clown is just playing dress up as a cop. The sad thing is the voters in this county voted him in a second time. Maybe the third times the charm…lol. The same goes for Flemming. Both of these guys have no moral compass or any ethics, Just personal agendas. Lets hope the residents remember this when its time to vote. Lets try something new, not the same old corrupt s**t.
LEARN FROM THE PAST! We get what we deserve……………
“Those who stay away from the election think that one vote will do no good: ‘Tis but one step more to think one vote will do no harm. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nothing New says
Should we be surprised? This is what the “Thin Blue Line” does. In their world or cop land I should say, they believe they’re truly above citizens, States Attorneys, Judges and even the US government and that something isn’t SO until they say otherwise. Instead of serving the public they serve themselves. If they throw the book at her they’re throwing it at themselves. Those that wear the badge and turn a blind eye are complicit in whatever is being done no matter how small. When an everyday citizens life can be ruined due to the “snowball effect” over the tinyest infraction Police should be held to the highest standard imaginable. These people have ability to beat and kill you and at the least violate your civil rights until they decide when their job is done or you had enough. Paul Castolano said it best “The government is a mafia too except they have more guys and resources.” Well guess who their foot soldiers are? Corrupt cops.
Ray Thorne says
Umm I don’t think she’s a cop and neither is the Sheriff who decided to keep her. I’m curious to see how it will all play out.
Rick. Just curious, where do you teach? Sorry if my spelling is off, my screen is going blank. Dropped my iPhone. I have a phd in criminal justice and a local Flagler county member since 1990z. I am only out of state temporarily, but returning soon.
The rug at police HQ must be very lumpy with all the stuff that’s been swept under it!
So is the five finger discount at Vitamin Shoppes just for CSI’s or the whole agency?