Monday, April 25, 2016


Controversial St. Johns County Sheriff DAVID SHOAR still resists having outside investigations of police shootings of civilians, and he wants a consortium of counties to investigate each others' shootings.

How FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen has spent first six months
Posted: Yesterday 7:45 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — Even though Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen has been with the agency for the entirety of his law enforcement career, he still gets a kick out of the way its agents and staff solve crimes.

During a recent afternoon tour of the FDLE crime laboratory in Tallahassee, Swearingen, a 32-year veteran of the agency, was quick to point out the severed human hand on display. And then there’s the DNA profile of serial killer Ted Bundy in another nearby hallway.

“What we have here is some of the most sophisticated investigatory techniques in the nation,” Swearingen said. “Even if it takes time, days, weeks — even years — we will work to get the job done.”

Swearingen was sworn in by the Florida Senate in February to become the permanent chief of FDLE, culminating a career that he started in Tallahassee as a non-sworn employee. But reaching the top of the agency, with its 1,830 employees and a $290 million budget did not come easy.

Gov. Rick Scott first appointed Swearingen as the interim FDLE chief after Gerald Bailey was ousted from the position in December 2014. Bailey’s dismissal drew criticism from Florida Cabinet members — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater — who said the governor’s staff acted without consulting them. Ultimately, the Senate failed to confirm Swearingen before the abrupt end to the 2015 legislative session, and Scott reappointed Swearingen with the blessing of the Cabinet in May 2015. The Senate gave its approval earlier this year.

With the controversy of his promotion behind him, Swearingen said he spent the majority of this year’s legislative session securing $10.7 million in funding that should help stop the loss of laboratory analysts from leaving their jobs after going through two years of training. He also helped advocate for legislation that provided funding to pare down a backlog of more than 13,435 untested sexual assault kits and policy that required those kits to be tested within 120 days of submission.

Scott said Swearingen’s experience with FDLE made him the right candidate for the job.

“What he brought to the table is he brought a lot of experience,” Scott said. “He knows a lot of people because he’s done a lot. He brought his leadership skills to the table.”

Swearingen, who now makes $150,000 a year, was regularly seen filing into legislative committee meetings in the Capitol. The Perry native and 1982 Auburn University graduate said he wanted to be as accessible to lawmakers as possible.
“I did not just want to be there with my hand open asking for money,” Swearingen said. “I wanted to be there to help them in any way possible.”

Swearingen echoed the concerns of lawmakers in a push to have FDLE handle more officer-involved shootings reported by state and county law enforcement agencies. Swearingen, whose twin brother is the recently-retired Leon County Undersheriff Rob Swearingen, said FDLE would bring transparency to a tense situation for any community. He brought up the riots that followed the January 2014 shooting of a black teen in Ferguson, Missouri, as an example.

“Any agency that doesn’t want us to investigate is on the wrong side of history,” Swearingen said. “We are much closer to another Ferguson than they may think.”

Florida Sheriffs Association President Sadie Darnell said her agency, which represents the 67 sheriff’s offices across the state, leaves that decision up to each sheriff.

“We have decided that is a personal (sic) decision that each agency should make for itself,” said Darnell, who also serves as the Alachua County sheriff. “Some agencies have the ability to handle an investigation like that on their own and others do not, and they may ask FDLE to come in and help.”

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said he would like to see FDLE continue to pick up more officer-involved shooting investigations. An outside agency will help instill the trust in law enforcement that was eroded by the fallout from Ferguson, Bradley said.

“I think that third-party review will promote a level of transparency that is important as we move toward the future,” Bradley said. “I have spoken with the commissioner both publicly and privately about this, and I am happy to hear this is a direction he would like to go.”

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, said like Bradley, he was also pleased with Swearingen’s hope to take on more officer-involved shootings.

“It’s a good idea to develop that trust,” Braynon said. “So far, I think he’s coming up with some good ideas.”

Braynon said he also remembered Swearingen when he served as the director of the Florida Capitol Police. He took the position over the state’s top government building two weeks before a group of roughly 80 people known as the Dream Defenders took over part of its main floor to protest the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. The group remained in the Capitol for a month, and Swearingen was praised for the way he handled them.

“He allowed them to practice civil protest without impeding on their rights,” said Dale Landry, president of the Tallahassee chapter of the NAACP. “He went above and beyond while they were in there.”

Swearingen spent much of his career investigating drug cases with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency in Clearwater. His personnel file includes two minor infractions that he faced in the first two years of his law enforcement career, and several letters of commendation from city officials and federal agencies.

In one letter, former Tampa International Airport Police Chief Warren Bennett thanked Swearingen for his help in arresting a Peruvian woman who was trying to smuggle $25,000 in stolen designer clothes out of the country.

“Agent Swearingen is an asset to your department and the Airport Narcotics Unit,” Bennett wrote in the letter written in July 2001.

Swearingen moved back to Tallahassee in 2010 to take on an assignment protecting the governor and the first family under the Florida Capitol Police. He spent Scott’s first 60 days in office with him, around the clock, to adjust security operations to his lifestyle.

“You’ve got to realize, especially with our governor who wasn’t a politician, it’s a completely different life,” Swearingen said. “We wanted him to be as comfortable as possible and we wanted him, the First Lady and their family to be safe.”

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