Thursday, March 05, 2015



HAPPY COUPLE? Michelle O'Connell and St. Johns County Sheriff's Deputy Jeremy Banks.

Posted: Wednesday, March 4, 2015 11:20 am
Derek Kinner
The lawsuit is, at its most basic level, cop versus cop — a St. Johns County deputy who believes a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent went too far while investigating him. But in another sense, it’s a proxy battle between the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office and the FDLE, and between those who believe Jeremy Banks murdered his girlfriend, 24-year-old Michelle O’Connell, back in 2010, and those who believe that she killed herself [Cover Story, “Murder, He Wrote,” Susan Cooper Eastman, Nov. 19].

At this very moment, the FDLE is winning — or, at least, it won the most recent round.

On Feb. 13, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Davis dismissed the complaint Banks had filed against the FDLE and its agent Rusty Ray Rodgers. The dismissal was mostly technical — there were legal problems with the way the complaint was presented, rather than a substantive flaw in the underlying argument — so Davis dismissed it “without prejudice,” which means Banks is allowed to refile by March 5.

But Davis’ dismissal hints at how complex and unusual this lawsuit, filed last year, actually is: a cop suing another cop for doing his job too aggressively.

The incident that led to this lawsuit has been well-documented, especially in a 2013 New York Times/Frontline investigation, and is still today the subject of much controversy in St. Johns County. O’Connell died of a gunshot wound that the SJCSO ruled a suicide almost immediately, following what Sheriff David Shoar has admitted was a flawed investigation. But members of O’Connell’s family didn’t buy the official story. They didn’t believe that O’Connell, who had just accepted a new full-time job and was about to leave Banks, would abandon her 4-year-old child. After months of pressure, Shoar asked the FDLE to investigate, likely with the expectation that the FDLE would back up his department and settle this once and for all. But that’s not what happened.

Enter Agent Rodgers, who didn’t buy the official story, either. According to Banks’ complaint: “From the outset of his investigation, Agent Rodgers operated under his predetermined theory and conclusion Jeremy Banks was criminally culpable in the death of Michelle O’Connell.”

When Rodgers went in to investigate, he went for the jugular, there’s no doubt about that. He scrutinized the evidence and concluded there was no way O’Connell had killed herself, according to Banks’ lawsuit. Rodgers felt there was too much evidence to indicate differently.

O’Connell, after all, was shot by Banks’ own service revolver. Indeed, an expert told the FDLE in a report, “The totality of the circumstances are not consistent with suicide. However, they are consistent with homicide.” Moreover, Banks had been drinking the night his girlfriend died — though his fellow cops never tested his blood alcohol level — and O’Connell had told relatives that she was leaving him.

More important, Rodgers’ investigation turned up two neighbors who said they heard O’Connell screaming for help the night she died. That prodded the medical examiner to change the cause of death to homicide.

Then all hell broke loose.

Shoar released a 153-page review of his department’s investigation into O’Connell’s death. That review all but indicted Rodgers and his supervisor, Dominick Pape, for “unethical behavior” that “stigmatized” Banks.

The Times story that was released in 2013, which argued “that the investigation was mishandled from the start, not just by the sheriff and his officers, but also by medical examiners who espoused scientifically suspect theories that went unchallenged by prosecutors,” only added fuel to the fire. And after Rodgers was unable to convince a special prosecutor to charge Banks with O’Connell’s death, Banks filed suit.

Even more than four years after O’Connell died, the case is still considered active. Late last year, after a new witness came forward and said he saw Banks acting suspiciously, Gov. Rick Scott ordered the case reopened and referred it to another special prosecutor.

And Banks’ lawsuit is ongoing as well. Judge Davis didn’t rule specifically on the merits of his complaint — which Davis wrote was “predominated by conclusory and argumentative allegations” and of a “shotgun nature,” meaning that it contained “irrelevant factual allegations and legal conclusions” — but he did criticize the way the complaint was structured: “Plaintiff alleges that Rogers [sic] falsified the kinds of facts which, in the Court’s experience, are important to findings of probable cause in homicide investigations …. Without context, however, these facts are naked assertions which fail to assist an understanding of how probable cause is allegedly absent. The balance of facts scattered through the Complaint do nothing to remedy this deficiency.”

This early in the case, Davis wrote, Banks isn’t required to prove his allegations, but he does need to provide a “short plain statement sufficient to put Defendant on notice of facts or inferences from them which make the absence of probable cause plausible. The allegations of Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint simply fail to accomplish that requirement.”

Because Banks’ lawsuit stems from the idea that Rodgers acted without probable cause, Davis continued, without that basis established Davis couldn’t consider the rest of Banks’ allegations. Nor could he address Rodgers’ claim of immunity, which usually applies to police officers doing their investigatory work.

So he ordered Banks to refile his complaint by March 5. As of Monday, March 2, he had not yet done so, according to court records.

Banks’ lead attorney, Robert “Mac” McLeod, did not return phone calls for this story. Last year, he told Folio Weekly in an email that the allegations against his client were “baseless and fictional.” “Mr. Banks is so obviously innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever in the tragic suicide of Ms. O’Connell, that 3 medical examiners and 2 state attorneys have concluded no evidence implicates him.”

Speak Out On PUD Zoning Schemes March 12 & 26, 5-7 PM: Planned Unit Developments Under Tight Scrutiny

Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) are supposed to benefit the public interest. But in St. Augustine, all but two allow developers to run roughshod over our history, nature and culture. Other than the PUDs for the Council on Aging and the Columbia Restaurant elevator, can you name a single PUD that you are happy with and believe protects the public interest?

DAVID BARTON CORNEAL's Historic District Hotel Delayed

Millionaire DAVID BARTON CORNEAL's proposal to turn the Dow Museum of Historic Homes into a fancy-bears was abruptly pulled from the Planning and Zoning Board Agenda March 2, 2015. There was no advance notice to the public. People came to the meeting expecting to testify and were turned away. City staff did not respond to my 11:11 AM phone call inquiring whether the proposal was being postponed. How disdainful. How disrespectful. DAVID BARTON CORNEAL and his non-lawyer representative, fired Planning and Building Director MARK KNIGHT, read historic preservation neighborhood lawyer Jane West's lengthy letter and punted. Smart move.

Neighbors Heard and Heeded, Unanimously

Frequent flooding near 262 St. George Street in Historic District Would be Worsened by New Developments

St. Augustine Planning and Zoning Board members voted unanimously March 2, 2015 to reject a proposed plat shoe-horning six homes on one lot in the historic district, ruining the historic home and property at 252 St. George Street.
The plat and construction would have destroyed trees and the character of our historic district, while increasing Biblical floods on local streets seen with pert near every rain.
The plat did not meet technical requirements, would have created a "nonconformity," was contrary to the "public interest," and was opposed by every single one of some nine (9) public hearing witness, as PZB member Matthew Shaffer pointed out.
The advocate for the misguided proposal was MARK ALAN KNIGHT, fired City Planning Director, once again practicing law without a license before a city board.
The perennial enabler of MARK KNIGHT -- controversial City Attorney ISABELLE LOPEZ -- predictably gave ethically-impaired, pro-developer putative legal advice, to wit: "you have to" approve it. "Listen to your lawyer," she barked.
"Listen to your board," Cathy Brown responded.
The Planning and Zoning Board rightly disagreed with LOPEZ, who contended that PZB had "no choice" but to allow the plat to carve up our historic area: veteran PZB member Jerry Dixon said, "Let's go to court and find out."
The vote was unanimously rejected the plat.
Good work!
Three cheers for PZB for doing its job and for standing up to mendacious miscreant MARK KNIGHT (whose overbearing attitude gets his clients nowhere).

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Corruption in St. Johns County: How Pervasive?

Photo credit: The New York Times

The criminal conviction of a St. Johns County building official for extortion, sometimes using his official St. Johns County vehicle, leads to the question: how pervasive is corruption in St. Johns County?

ST. JOHNS COUNTY SHERIFF DAVID BERNARD SHOAR has been exposed for covering up the shooting death of a St. Johns County Sheriff's Deputy, famously saying "Let's give these two guys a hand" at the conclusion of the November 26, 2013 PBS Frontline story.


Now ST. JOHNS COUNTY BUILDING INSPECTOR WILL RAY ROGERS has been convicted of extortion.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY COMMISSIONER WILLIAM McCLURE is under investigation for Medicaid and Medicare fraud and unauthorized practice of medicine after a search warrant was excited on his medical clinic.

How far does it go?

ST. JOHNS COUNTY is regarded as one of the most corrupt in Florida, and has been for years, since the days of Sheriff LAWRENCE O. DAVIS.

Thanks to FBI and U.S. Attorney William Bentley for Extortion Conviction of St. Johns County Building Inspector

Thanks to the FBI for another arrest for official corruption in St. Johns County. Thanks to the United States Attorney, William Bentley, for another criminal conviction for corruption in St. Johns County. How many more St. Johns County, Florida officials will be convicted of white collar crimes? The prosecutor is the same one who convicted St. Johns County Commission Chairman THOMAS G. MANUEL of bribery. The latest official arrest -- for extorting money from construction contractors -- was way back last year, on April 1, 2014. No public announcement until March 3, 2015. During the intervening eleven (11) months, perhaps WILL RANDY ROGERS, 64, has told the FBI and the U.S. Attorney everything he knows about organized crime and malfeasance in St. Johns County government. What do you reckon?

SJC EXTORTION CONVICTION: County official could face 20 year sentence for extorting money

U.S. Attorneys » Middle District of Florida » News
Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Middle District of Florida
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
St. Johns County Employee Pleads Guilty To Extortion

Jacksonville, Florida – United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, III announces that Will Randy Rogers (64, St. Augustine) pleaded guilty yesterday to extortion. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.

According to the plea agreement, in August 2013, a St. Johns County businessman notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation that Rogers, then a construction inspector employed by St. Johns County, had been extorting money from him in connection with Rogers’s inspections of his various businesses, which shipped products out of the State of Florida. According to the businessman, Rogers harassed him by threatening to report non-existent code violations that, if reported, would have had a negative financial impact on the businesses. Prior to reporting Rogers’s conduct, the businessman had already paid Rogers $1,500. Thereafter, he recorded several conversations with Rogers, and between July 2013 and April 2014, made payments to Rogers totaling $6,000. When meeting with the businessman, Rogers often drove his St. Johns County issued vehicle.

On April 1, 2014, after Rogers took $2,000 from the businessman in order to not report alleged code violations, FBI agents stopped Rogers in his county vehicle and recovered the cash.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Julie Hackenberry.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Suggestion Boxes, St. Augustine and St. Johns County Style

During the 1970s, the office of Georgetown University School of Foreign Service Dean Peter F. Krogh had a suggestion box. There was no hole in it.

Tonight, there was a wonderful presentation to the Historic Architectural Review Board in the City of St. Augustine. Not enough seats, though there was ninety minutes within which to reconfigure the room after the Visioning Committee meeting. Little tiny pieces of paper on which to write suggestions.

And unfriendly HARB Vice Chair Paul Weaver rudely, cruelly and arbitrarily limited public comment to two minutes -- instead of the usual three. Is Weaver a developer thrall? City Attorney ISABELLE LOPEZ passed a note to WEAVER or a staffer during the meeting. I have asked for it.

Our City protection of history and nature needs reforming and we must have a St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore.

Recently, HARB considered a matter involving developer DAVID BARTON CORNEAL, with only three of seven HARB members voting. Three recused himself because they were CORNEAL's hirelings. One seat was vacant because HARB Chair CLAUDE LEONARD WEEKS a/k/a "LEN WEEKS," ex-Mayor, destroyed an 211-year old historic building without permits and was fined for it and and had to resign.

Toothless tigers, be gone. Lugubrious goobers, be gone. PAUL WEAVER must apologize. I appreciate his support for the park and seashore. But don't ever cut off public comment again.

No sales tax increase is desired or required. Here's where to cut St. Johns County budget

No sales tax increase is needed, desired or required.
Our bloated St. Johns County government -- and all other governments -- must cut waste, fraud and flubdubs.
There has been no response to my February 12 e-mail to St. Johns Commissioners and County Administrator, sent in response to several other-directed County Commissioners who somewhat rudely demanded citizens tell them, "where do we cut" if we do not support a sales tax increase.
Nineteen days later, no one has called or written to talk about cutting County government waste. Wonder why?
Here is the full text of my Lincoln's Birthday e-mail, sent to St. Johns County Administrator Michael David Wanchick, Commission Chairman Priscilla Bennett (a/k/a "Rachael Benett), Vice Chair Jeb Smith and Commissioners John H. "Jay" Morris and William McClure:

Subject: Here's where to Cut, St. Johns County Commissioners -- You Asked for It!
1. New vehicle purchases
2. Take home vehicles
3. Energy consumption
4. Consulting contracts
5. No-bid contracts and other wasteful contracted services
6. Asphalt purchases -- build a co-op with other governments
7. Mid-level managers
8. Underpriced developer services
9. Developer giveaways and subsidies
10. Travel, conferences, entertainment, lodging
11. Construction of any new buildings (including Sheriff Training Center)
12. Visitor and Convention Bureau
13. Political patronage
14. Flubdubs, flummery, dupery, nincompoopery, waste, fraud, abuse, misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance
15. First Amendment, Sunshine and Open Records violations, unsafe working conditions and tortious conduct
16. Advertising
We deserve an Inspector General and an Ombuds, reporting directly to our Commissioners, to help implement those items. Please put that on the ballot in 2016.
Ed Slavin

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Justice for Michelle O'Connell Day

Great turnout, thanks to everyone.
Break in the weather was 'pert near Biblical -- for 90 minutes, the rain stopped.
Just long enough for our long-planned 5:30 demonstration, and long enough for every single Menéndez Noche de Gala​ $195 ticket buyer, freeloader attendee and historic re-enactor to see that our St. Augustine 2015​ community will not rest or stop until there is Justice for Michelle O'Connell​.
Thanks to the O'Connell family for their persistence.
Thanks to my Memphis State University (n/k/a University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law​) friend, Anglican Father Nathan E. Brooks​, for saying Mass yesterday in the Chattanooga Jail, asking the Almighty for a break in the weather.
Thanks to General George S. Patton​ for his December 23, 1944 Weather Prayer (written by a Roman Catholic Priest on the eve of the Battle of the Bulge).

Saturday, February 28, 2015

1550 Days and Counting: Justice for Michelle O'Connell

Tonight, the height of the St. Augustine social calendar drew 35 pickets.
That's because 1550 days ago, there were screams, gunshots and a dead woman in a deputy's home. The High Sheriff's henchmen told the shooting victim's family it was a suicide. No one believes them. The New York Times, PBS Frontline, Dateline NBC and Dr. Phil have all covered the story. Every thinking person in St. Johns County wants a federal grand jury.
Sheriff DAVID BERNARD SHOAR, State's Attorney RALPH JOSEPH LARIZZA, Medical Examiner PREDRAG BULIC, M.D. and the entire St. Johns County political machine will be held accountable.
Not one (1) local clergymen has spoken out in favor of Justice for Michelle O'Connell.
Only one (1) local elected official has spoken out in favor of Justice for Michelle O'Connell.
Mayor Nancy Shaver, we salute you!
Everyone else, we know what you were talking about all night at your fancy $195/person gala in honor of St. Augustine's founding genocical murderer, Pedro Menendez de Aviles.
Your insular world will not allow you to escape scrutiny, for as the ancient equitable maxim says, "silence gives consent."
Or in the words of ACT-UP: "SILENCE = DEATH."
"We SHALL overcome," as LBJ said to Congress after Selma.
I was proud to speak to civil rights hero Dr. Robert S. Hayling, D.D.S. outside the gala: he said he would do anything he could to help.

"Coverups Never Work!" -- Senator Howard Henry Baker, Jr. (R-Tenn.) during Watergate

Photo by Ed Slavin

Justice for Michelle O'Connell Vigil: 35 Picket Between Rain Showers at Menendez Noche de Gala

Michelle O'Connell vigil Action News Jacksonville

Photo by Linda L. Anderson Photo by Ed Slavin Photo by Joyce Peterson Photo by Joyce Peterson Photo by Joyce Peterson Photo by Michael Gold/HCN Photo by Michael Gold/HCN Photo by Michael Gold/HCN Photo by Michael Gold/HCN Photo by Michael Gold/HCN Photo by Michael Gold/HCN Photo by Michael Gold/HCN Photo by Michael Gold/HCN Photo by Michael Gold/HCN
Photo by Michael Gold/HCN

Photo by Cassie Jo Rivers

Photo by Cassie Jo Rivers

Photo by Cassie Jo Rivers

Photo by Cassie Jo Rivers

Photo by Cassie Jo Rivers

Justice for Michelle O'Connell Rally Today at Lightner Museum and City Hall

Weather looking better for 5:30 Justice for Michelle O'Connell demonstration at Lightner Museum and City Hall, 75 King Street.
As LBJ told Congress after Selma: "We SHALL overcome!"

Lugubrious Goober of the Month: JAMES GEORGE WHITEHOUSE, For Appealing 7-Eleven Permit Revocation to Circuit Court

Five Commissioners voted unanimously to revoke permit: Todd Neville, Nancy Sikes Kline, Mayor Nancy Shaver, Leanna Freeman and Vice Mayor Roxanne Horvath. Unanimous, based on irrefragable testimony in five hour quasi-judicial hearing
Justice was done.
So this hick hack appealed immediately, risking sanctions and attorney fees for him and his Japanese corporate client, 7-Eleven.

Our first monthly Lugubrious Goober of the Month Award goes to:

JAMES GEORGE WHITEHOUSE, Esquire, former Assistant City Attorney, former County Attorney, former prosecutor
(Owned by DOUGLAS NELSON BURNETT, City Attorney for City of St. Augustine Beach, attorney for St. Augustine Airport Authority, and son of DOUGLAS BURNETT, former Commanding General of the Florida National Guard)
Lugubrious goober of the Month JAMES GEORGE WHITEHOUSE:

1. Insulted and yelled at City Commissioners during January 15, 2015 quasi-judical hearing
2. Inflicted bad trial advocacy in defense of indefensible -- twelve gasoline pumps and heavy traffic at failing intersection adjoining Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, Public Library, Davenport Park Carousel, Hurricane Evacuation Route from Barrier Island
3. Presented unreliable testimony by dodgy "expert" testifying without disclosing report and by dodgy former City Planning and Zoning Director MARK KNIGHT (paid $4500)
4. Falsely accused Commissioners of listening to "clamor of the crowd"
5. Rightfully got ruled against on eleven (11) separate legal issues
6. Lost on ten entry corridor guideline violations
7. Lost on "pending ordinance" doctrine
8. Files frivolous writ of certiorari petition to Circuit Court
9. Bills Japanese multinational corporation for low-quality legal work
10. Appearance of impropriety because law firm represents adjoining City of St. Augustine Beach

Assigned to Honorable Howard Maltz, former Assistant City Attorney of the City of Jacksonville
Prediction: frivolous lawsuit dismissed, with award of reasonable attorney fees to the City of St. Augustine under Rules of Appellate Procedure

Flagler College Radio FCC Complaint Filed: Federal Communications Commission Complaint No. 155115

1. Flagler College Radio provides the government of the City of St. Augustine with 26 hours of air time annually for its program, "The Break Room," hosted by City of St. Augustine Public Affairs Director PAUL WILLIAMSON.
2. Flagler College Eadio presents no regular news programs, thereby allowing the City government unfettered access to listeners with propaganda, distorting the news.
3. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called St. Augustine "the most lawless city in America."
4. Respondent Flagler College Radio giving the City 26 hours of PR fluff annually and lack of any regular news coverage fails to serve the pubLic interest.
5. This results in a total lack of radio coverage by respondent on matters of police abuses including the Sheriff's coverup of the shooting death of a deputy's girlfriend (reported by the New York Times, PBS Frontline, Dateline NBC, et al) and on local government misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, waste, fraud, abuse, discrimination, pollution, no-bid contracts and destruction of historic resources (including 7-11's effort to build a large gasoline station and Flagler College's expansion into the historic district of our Nation's Oldest City, St. Augustine, Florida).
6. "The Break Room" is not news, but propaganda for the "ancien regime," even presenting the defeated former Mayor JOSEPH LESTER BOLES, JR. after voters rejected him over corruption and no-bid contracts, after he was no longer Mayor.
7. Please contact Flagler College President WILLIAM ABARE and kindly investigate the news distortion by Flagler College radio.
Thank you.

General Patton's Prayer for Justice for Michelle O'Connell Demonstration, 5:30 PM

Weather prayer for Saturday clearing by 5:30 -- Third Army General George S. Patton's prayer at Bastogne, written by a Catholic priest:
“Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.”

Friday, February 27, 2015

Song: "Michelle O'Connell's Body" (to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "John Brown's Body"

"Michelle O'Connell's Body"
(to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "John Brown's Body")

Michelle' O'Connell's body is a-lying in her grave,
Michelle' O'Connell's body is a-lying in her grave,
She lost her precious life while she was struggling to escape
Her soul is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Her truth is marching on.

Michelle, she was a heroine, undaunted, true and brave
She showed her strength and valor as she fought her rights to save
But now the grass grows green above the silence of her grave
Her soul is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Her truth is marching on.

She planned to leave oppression and begin her life anew
Her deputy refused her, and into a rage he flew
Two gunshots and her screams, and then she died before we knew)
But her soul is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Her truth is marching on.

Michelle is gone and no grand jury ever got to speak
But justice will be done and that's the outcome that we seek
And soon throughout St. Augustine the truth will set us free,
For her soul is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Her truth is marching on.

Copyright © 2015, All Rights Reserved, The Estate of Michelle O'Connell