In the most striking development yet in the high-profile domestic-violence case against Flagler Beach Commissioner Eric Cooley, Cooley’s defense attorney has subpoenaed Sheriff Rick Staly to address language by the sheriff that the attorney considers prejudicial to Cooley, and a county judge today ruled that Staly must appear.
County Court Melissa Moore-Stens denied a Sept. 21 motion by Staly to quash the Sept. 18 subpoena for his appearance and testimony in the Cooley case. That hearing is scheduled for Thursday.
The judge’s order sets an unusual confluence of two elected officials in one case, with the city commissioner defending against an accusation of domestic violence and the sheriff now made to answer for language his office says is protected by the First Amendment. It is also the first time in memory that a sheriff has been called to testify in a case in which he is not directly involved aside from having spoken an opinion about it in a press release.
All this in a case that may have been heading for dismissal anyway: the woman at the center of the allegation of domestic violence against Cooley–who is also the owner of Flagler Beach’s 7-Eleven on Ocean Shore Boulevard–has asked the State Attorney’s Office to drop the charge and let her move on with her life. That leaves the prosecution with only a matter of days before the speedy-trial, 90-day clock runs out on whether it may still press forward with the case. Cooley was arrested in late June. The clock runs out early next week, absent a motion by the prosecution.
In a surprising move Cooley’s attorney, Josh Davis–who’s made his animus for Staly known through social media and comment postings–a week ago filed a motion for a gag order on Staly, arguing that the sheriff’s habit of commenting pejoratively on the arrest of suspects, before they have been tried, prejudices the defendants’ right to a fair trial. “Staly is constantly calling those accused of crimes ‘dirtbags,’” Davis wrote in his motion.
That’s accurate in the main, but not regarding Cooley, about whom Staly has refrained from using any kind of colorful language, though in a release issued by his agency the morning after Cooley’s arrest, Staly was quoted as saying: “This is an unfortunate situation but it goes to show that domestic violence has no boundaries.” The “unfortunate situation” may be applied to any arrest: the words are not a judgment on the defendant but an assessment of the situation. The latter clause is more potentially problematic as it assumes that an act of domestic violence has been committed, with the words has no boundaries clearly denoting Cooley’s status as an elected official.
The requested gag order, however, does not apply to what Staly has said, but to what he might say in the future in the Cooley case. Staly’s office filed a motion to deny the gag order, arguing that the sheriff’s First Amendment rights prevail, and his statements about Cooley were general and brief, while the case itself had–until then–drawn a total of five news articles in two and a half months: not enough to legitimize Davis’s claim that it had drawn disproportionate attention.
Days later, Davis, in something of stunt characteristic of Davis’s bare-knuckles tactics, issued his subpoena (“You are commanded to appear to give testimony…”) for the 3 p.m. hearing. Failure to appear would incur a contempt of court charge.
The Sheriff’s Office immediately argued in a quashing motion that the subpoena “is completely needless and requiring [Staly’s] personal appearance at a hearing would only serve to harass him and cause an undue burden on his time.” The motion also called Davis’s subpoena “unreasonable and oppressive” since Staly has no firsthand knowledge of matters “that cannot be obtained from another source.”
Kayla Hathaway, the sheriff’s office attorney, also requested that any additional subpoenas be quashed, a motion Moore-Stens also denied.
Hathaway immediately filed a renewed motion to quash the subpoena this afternoon, arguing that “enforcing the subpoena infringes on the victim’s rights” by exacerbating the very sort of attention she is seeking to end. The renewed motion also argues that the subpoena should be quashed “to prevent a chilling effect on elected officials making public comments about important matters affecting their community.”
The motion does not cite legal precedent, however.
Staly routinely makes statements in press releases after the arrest of suspects in all sorts of cases, even the mildest ones. The statement in the Cooley case was much milder than others. Here are a few samples:
On Sept. 12, addressing the arrest of Sam Andolina on a charge of raping a 13-year-old girl: “This dirtbag can stay at the Green Roof Inn. There is no excuse for what he is accused of doing, and we will continue to work on this investigation to support the victims and put him in jail for a long time.”
On Aug. 16, addressing the recovery of a gun allegedly used by Christopher Quijano in a shooting incident at Town Center: “This dirtbag is still at the Green Roof Inn and our deputies worked hard to find additional evidence to keep him there and convict him of the charges.”
On May 30, following the arrest of Julius Calloway: “This has been a problem house in this neighborhood caused by the homeowner having no respect for his neighbors. If he wants to continue to allow his home to be a revolving door of criminals, drug users and poison peddlers then I hope he enjoys staying at the Green Roof Inn. Take your poison and your dirtbag friends and leave Flagler County because we are coming for you.”
The sheriff’s comments can be calibrated to the situation, as when juveniles were arrested after a fight at Matanzas High School late last month: “It is unfortunate that these youths make decisions that caused their arrests,” said Sheriff Rick Staly. “These three young men were each given an opportunity by the Deputy to enter a deferral justice program; two agreed and went home with a parent, and one went to DJJ . We will not tolerate this behavior in our schools.”
But none of those statements are relevant to the Cooley case: defense attorneys could make them relevant to their own cases, but none have ever done so going back several sheriff’s administrations: every sheriff in recent memory has used language in press releases that could be considered prejudicial to suspects, including Jim Manfre and Don Fleming before Staly (if less brashly), a habit common among elected sheriffs in most regions.
Asked about the subpoena bringing further attention to the case, Davis replied in a text: “Not my goal to ‘diminish attention on the case’ as you stated. Goal is to ensure my client’s Constitutional rights are protected.”
Flagler Female says
Soooooooo…instead of putting the criminal on trial, we have to harass law enforcement? Unbelievable! Cooley should step down from the Commission and leave Flagler Beach! Just disgusted!!!
Is this town messed up or what
Spending too much time with Chitwood !!!!
All the more reason for the state not to drop the case, bring in the surveillance footage of the case and prosecute to the fullest extent.
Wow, I wish I could attend. Keep us posted!
Palm coast dude says
Well well well, look who it is, the two biggest media attention suckers on the east coast ! Those two are meant for one another .
Staly likes to run his flapper and all the media attention. I’m sure he’ll enjoy the attention on the stand. Lesson to be learned…do your job and keep your sarcasm to your self.
Concerned Citizen says
It’s quite simple. If you don’t want to be called a dirt bag then don’t commit crimes. Most of us work hard for the things we have and to pay our bills. I don’t want them stolen or have myself robbed because some lazy dirt bag decided they didn’t want to work. It’s not my civic duty to provide some dope head money for their habit.
We are digressing from the point of this case though. The point is we have a high profile member of the community who by numerous accounts is an abuser of women. And now it seems that because of pressure put on the victim and with his connections he will get off free on this one.
If the SA and DA as well as judges let this go then they are enablers. They will enable this individual to repeat this behavior on some other unsuspecting woman. This individual wasted no time after the victim left hooking up with someone else. And was over heard in the store making comments about how much better she was. My understanding is this person now works with him. I hope she is wise and knows how to handle herself.
If the justice system fails the victim and Flagler Beach allows this individual to continue representing us we can do the next best thing. We can stop frequenting his place of business. We can also remember this at next election time and make sure he doesn’t see another term.
I spent the better part of my adult life in Public Safety. Almost 12 years in Law Enforcement and another 15 in Fire Rescue. High on the list of dirt bags are the ones who go around hurting women and children. Lets stop worrying about being politically correct all the time and worry about the victims. That’s where my sympathies lie.
Long Time Resident says
Who is this little lawyer? Never heard of him….sounds like he’s trying to make a name for himself in our little county…lol. Why doesn’t he try his best shot against Mike Chitwood and just see what the outcome would be or better yet Grady Judd in Polk County?
Hey stop being a bully, abuser and people wont talk about you. NEXT
The attorney’s plan is to attack Law Enforcement? Maybe FlaglerLive should ask our Police Chief Doughney to comment on this tactic, since he dumped this in Staly’s lap on day one. Cooley won’t win a re-election, stick a fork in him, he’s done in this town. He’s making the situation worse by attacking an elected sheriff most of us really like. I hope they don’t drop this case.
I thought this “alleged” incident was caught on tape and witnessed by a third party? Will they be subpoenaed too?
JUST ME says
Cooley needs to be let go by Flagler Beach he is on video abusing a women. Why now in this day and age the government is protecting abusers, we see Trump doing it with Kavanaugh and now Flagler Beach Officials letting Cooley still hold his office. Once again this should all be investigated to the fullest. She will be abused again, it is just a matter of time.
Once an abuser, always an abuser.
This county is really messed up isnt it? Can you believe all the nonsense happening ,week after week?, seems this sheriff cant keep his name or his department out of the negative headlines. And seriously , no where in this entire country is there room for person in law enforcement with such prejudice against the citizens he is sworn to protect. This includes the inmates. Most of the men and woman in the jail havent even been to pretrial so how could you possibly knw if they are guilty dirtbags or not, and even if they are , the person sworn to protect them should not be publicly degrading them. After all, inmates are our Moms, Fathers ,brothers and sisters.
And this Cooley guy is on tape smacking a woman around? I really hope they prosecute this case
This FB commissioner and his lawyer Davis need to be out of this county. Attacking our sheriff that is doing a good job with his officers team allover this county. C’mon. In our communities we see some of those dirtbags and scumbags sentenced to prison for abusing or killing their spouses leaving their own kids orphans.
I see our law enforcement taken them to jail just to bail out next day goimg back to do what they were doing when caught and meanwhile poisoning our youth via dirty $$$.
Is scumbag a better way to describe these dirtbags??? Just asking..
Re: Just me, Kavanaugh is still an accusation,Cooley was witnessed and recorded. Small difference
The sheriff should do his job and stop all the boasting and inserting his opinions. Remember, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all. It is very unprofessional when Staly stands and gloats in front of the cameras and keeps saying the same line or two every time he is in front of a camera. We want to hear and see the news, not the twist and spin that some have the ability to add to what happens. Just like the TODAY show and Chuck Todd…..it’s al about their opinions and what they think and about what their hand picked guests have to say to brainwash their viewers….that is not reporting the news….that is sickening!!!!!
The Sheriff Department made the arrest because they had evidence of a crime. Its the Sheriff right, as an elected official, to comment. There wouldn’t have been an arrest without evident. It’s the courts and BOTH attorney’s mandate to find the truth. The defense wants to put the police on trial, which is pretty lame. Cooley has now put Flagler County on trial, dumb move. I think this will get slapped down, and I’m sure they’ll want to take it out of county. I wonder if he’ll have to try on the glove.
Fellow Palm Coaster says
Has everything in this world boiled down to pointing the finger at someone else? I feel like people in general have decided to fall back into childish ways, by saying, “well I’m not the only one who did wrong.” Or “did you hear what he said to me?” (Examples)
Truth be told, our sheriff exercised his right to freedom of speech.
Second, the judge exercise their right to subpoena, the sheriff.
Even though I am in full agreement with the FSO Attorney, that this is somewhat elementary.
I think Staly should attend, just to show that no matter your status in life or career, no one is above the law.