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Tuesday, March 15, 2016
FDLE Special Agent Rusty Rodgers Finally Reinstated -- Sheriff DAVID SHOAR Had Retaliated Against Him Over Michelle O'Connell Case (News4JAX)
After 3-year-investigation, FDLE agent back on job
St. Johns County sheriff complained about agent's handling of investigation
After a 3-year investigation into the 2010 death of a woman that was ruled a suicide using a St. Johns County deputy's gun, the suspension the Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent who conducted an independent investigation has ended.
Michelle O'Connell's death was ruled a suicide by multiple agencies, but her family has long maintained that they believe the 24-year-old was killed. O'Connell was living with St. Johns County deputy Jeremy Banks, and her family has long voiced suspicions of Banks and how the department handled the case.
Agent Rusty Rodgers, FDLE's lead investigator into O'Connell's death, was placed on paid suspension amid allegations that he violated procedures because of preconceived beliefs, and that he tried to convince O'Connell's family that she was killed.
O'Connell's case has been the center of ongoing controversy and was even the subject of a PBS documentary.
According to the FDLE investigation made public Tuesday, Rodgers demonstrated "sub-standard" performance during his investigation and was ordered to receive remedial training and increased supervision.
The state's internal affairs investigation into Rodgers found that "on some occasions, Rodgers did not follow established FDLE procedures. Others involved in the investigation said Rodgers omitted or exaggerated information and lost objectivity.
One of Rodgers' supervisors said Rodgers believed the death was a suicide, and Rodgers himself said he "never said to anyone Banks killed Michelle O'Connell, but toward the end of the investigation, it did not go down like he (Banks) said it did."
The investigation also contained the final text messages O'Connell sent from her phone the night she died. In her last documented text to her sister, who was watching O'connell's daughter at the time, she wrote: "Lexi will be happy and always have a good life."
The last documented text from O'Connell to her sister was: "Lexi will be happy and always have a good life."
St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar, who acknowledged that mistakes were made by his investigators the night of O'Connell's death, had complained to the state about Rodgers' behavior during his investigation.
"I am pleased that FDLE has resolved this case concerning Rodgers' conduct, identified issues concerning his performance and that they have implemented an action plan to address their concerns," Shoar said.
Rodgers will also not be assigned to any St. Johns County criminal investigations in the future. A federal civil rights case that Banks has filed against Rodgers is still pending.
Earlier this year, O'Connell's family had her body exhumed and the remains inspected by a forensic pathologist and two forensic dentists. Private investigator Clu Wright, who has been looking into the case for years, said her body yielded evidence that will definitely impact the case.
Wright said the findings from their examination of the remains will be turned over to the State Attorney's Office.