(NY Times photo)
Will SHOAR/HOAR leave office in 2018?
Good year-end article by St. Augustine Record reporter Jake Martin, including 351 words about Sheriff DAVID SHOAR's campaign of intimidation and harassment against FDLE Special Agent Rusty Rodgers. (Except for line about how SHOAR "didn't have a voice" in article -- SHOAR repeatedly refused New York Times interview requests, 2013-2017.)
Sheriff Shoar refuses to be interviewed by internationally respected reporters with critical thinking skills, on the record, including The New York Times, PBS Frontline and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Walt Bogdanich.
Sheriff Shoar's rodomontade, like that of President Donald Trump, masks deep-seated inadequacies, insecurities and potential criminal liability.
Sheriff Shoar obstructed justice, 2010-2017, and has no defense.
Sheriff Shoar's former associates are distancing themselves.
Sheriff Shoar is rarely seen in public any longer.
Sheriff Shoar may resign and be replaced by a Governor Rick Scott appointee.
Thanks to the Times' work, St. Johns County residents now know that government corruption in this one-party Republican oligarchy (the wealthiest per capita income county in Florida), extends to local lawmen covering up a homicide in a deputy's home with the deputy's service weapon, calling it a "suicide" without scientific support, then mounting a four-year campaign of intimidation and harassment directed against the special agent who Shoar selected to do an investigation of Deputy Jeremy Banks.
We now know that Sheriff Shoar has no moral compass. Sheriff Shoar spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in his obstruction of justice scheme, trying to ruin the career of a decorated FDLE investigator.
Until the Time's article, Sheriff Shoar did this with impunity and apparent immunity, as a result of Shoar's relationships with Governor Rick Scott and other members of Shoar's party.
Enough. We look forward to the FBI and U.S. Attorney doing their job in 2018, bringing the Michelle O'Connell and Rusty Rodgers cases to a federal grand jury. Enough corruption in St. Johns County.
Posted December 31, 2017 06:10 am - Updated December 31, 2017 09:34 am
By JAKE MARTIN firstname.lastname@example.org
YEAR IN REVIEW: 2017 brings Irma, Confederate monuments debate, vagrancy concerns and more
Another year, another storm.
For what seemed like an eternity but what was actually only a week or so in early September, the entire state of Florida watched Hurricane Irma pick up steam in the Atlantic, then in the Caribbean, as it made its way toward the vulnerable peninsula.
Just days before the storm struck, no one could be sure which side of the state it would even make landfall.
Although Hurricane Irma had significantly weakened by the time she made it to St. Johns County, after slamming into the Keys as a Category 4 storm, her track, size and interaction with a nor’easter here meant she still packed a powerful punch. Uncalled for, really.
The hurricane passed much of Northeast Florida to the west, exposing the region to the dangerous northeast quadrant that national meteorologists had been circling and drawing arrows toward all weekend.
Apart from the strong winds and rains of these outer bands, their collisions with the separate storm system coming in from the Atlantic resulted in a number of tornadoes, one of which ripped entire walls and roofs off condos at the Summerhouse Beach & Racquet Club and nearby homes in Crescent Beach.
Swollen creeks and rivers plus heavy rains equaled flooding for many residents along those waterways, especially in Hastings and Flagler Estates.
Many residents in Davis Shores who were just getting back to normal after Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 soon found themselves ripping out baseboards, sweeping muck out of their homes and doing all the other things they didn’t care to relive.
In Vilano Beach and points north, Irma stirred up violent seas that once again undermined a number of homes built along the beach. A fallen house in Vilano Beach — just barely holding on to a tiny piece of sand dune that kept it from tumbling into the ocean — became the defining image for much of the country of Irma’s effects, at least in this corner of the state.
Recovery from Irma, and even from Matthew, continues.
The county is seeking reimbursement for a number of hurricane recovery efforts related to both storms from the Federal Emergency Management Agency through its Public Assistance program. Officials say it will be a years-long process.
In the meantime, it’s a good bet fingers are crossed from the banks of the St. Johns River to what’s left of the Atlantic coastline that next hurricane season will be a little kinder.
Like other cities throughout the South this year, St. Augustine saw a debate over the future of its Confederate monuments simmer and boil over numerous times.
City Manager John Regan in October asked commissioners to keep one such monument in the Plaza de la Constitucion, but to also add context (to be determined by a committee of citizens). His recommendation came after an August meeting where public comment lasted hours as residents shared their opinions on the monument.
Some said it symbolizes racism, hatred and slavery and should be moved. Others said it’s a memorial to local men who died that should be kept alongside other war memorials as well as tributes to other causes in that same plaza.
The monument was built by the Ladies Memorial Association in the 1870s. A marble plaque on the west face of the monument reads, simply, “Our Dead.” Other marble tablets contain names of the dead and eulogies.
Another monument, to Confederate Gen. William Loring’s service in the Civil War and other conflicts, is in another area of the plaza that is not under city control but under the University of Florida’s.
That monument was installed in 1920 by the Daughters of the Confederacy and bears relief carvings of both the Confederate flag and the American flag. It also refers to Loring as a “distinguished American soldier” whose ability was recognized by three governments. Loring’s ashes are buried on the site, although they’ve been buried elsewhere before, including in New York City, where he died in 1886.
UF officials have said it won’t be until at least spring that they decide what, if anything, to do about the monument.
Ahead of the lighting ceremony in November to kick off the Nights of Lights, the Rev. Ron Rawls of St. Paul AME Church and hundreds of fellow protesters, black and white, marched on the Plaza chanting “Take them down.” But their chants were countered with chants from some in the crowd of “No one cares,” as well as chants from St. Augustine Tea Party members and Three Percenters of “Leave them up.”
Most people, waiting out the unrest on their blankets or in their fold-out chairs with their kids, seemed to want no part of it.
City tackles vagrancy
Residents and business owners this year put the pressure on officials to crack down on panhandling and vagrancy in the downtown area as the city continues to face challenges addressing its homeless population.
“It’s getting worse. It’s not getting better,” Regan said in October. “It’s not lost on the city.”
A Facebook group called the St. Augustine Vagrant Watch Group began documenting instances of local panhandling and vagrancy, with the stated goal being to motivate elected leaders and law enforcement to take action. Officials said they would prefer such documentation be shared directly with them, along with descriptions of what was witnessed and how it affected their experience or their business.
Since 2016, the city has not enforced anti-panhandling laws because of a U.S. District Court decision in Tampa that questioned their constitutionality. Rules against aggressive panhandling still can be enforced, however.
The city is currently considering a rewrite of its panhandling laws. In the meantime, the police department has ramped up its presence in the St. George Street area.
Sheriff back in spotlight
A front-page story published in a Sunday edition of The New York Times in June once again put the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, and its handling of the Michelle O’Connell death investigation, on a national stage.
The story this time around was not about what did or did not happen in a bedroom in the home of deputy Jeremy Banks, where, on Sept. 2, 2010, his girlfriend, the 24-year-old O’Connell, was found dead of a gunshot wound. Instead, in a five-page story just short of 7,000 words, three-time Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Walt Bogdanich focused on what he portrayed as a disinformation campaign waged by Sheriff David Shoar to cast doubt on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s investigation of the case.
At the center of the story was FDLE agent Rusty Rodgers, who was assigned to the case after O’Connell’s family raised concerns about the original investigation, conducted by the Sheriff’s Office, that ultimately concluded the death was a suicide.
Shoar didn’t have a voice in the Times’ story and told The Record the day after he hadn’t read it. He called Bogdanich “one of the most dishonest men I’ve met in my life” and claimed that he refused to look at anything “that had to do with the culpability of Rodgers.”
Shoar maintained that Rodgers manufactured and exaggerated evidence during his investigation (claims that are at least partially substantiated by FDLE’s own internal review of Rodger’s conduct in the case) and that he came to the case with the assumption that Banks was guilty of homicide. He came to view Bogdanich’s stories in a similar light.
“Bogdanich, the day he showed up here, already had his stories written and his mind made up on everything,” Shoar said. “The guy’s a narcissist, he’s full of himself, and when he came down here I didn’t kiss his ass.”
If you can stomach a pot of coffee and have a morning to spare, go to http://nyti.ms/2rONQfi to read an online version of the Times’ story, “A Mother’s Death, a Botched Inquiry and a Sheriff at War.”
In November, the people of the Town of Hastings spoke.
Residents there voted overwhelmingly to dismantle their town government and revoke its charter. More than 82 percent of votes, 136, were in favor, while 29 people cast votes against the proposal, according to the St. Johns County Supervisor of Elections.
“I’m OK with it. … I kind of pictured it rolling this way,” Mayor Tom Ward said after the results came in.
The vote came about a year after town commissioners voted to study what dissolution would look like, which was a direct result of residents expressing concerns about water rates and the financial stability and viability of the town.
St. Johns County will take over operations and assume the town’s assets and liabilities by the end of February.
Bathroom policy challenged
In June, Drew Adams, a junior at Allen D. Nease High School, filed a lawsuit against the St. Johns County School District over what he sees as discrimination in being denied access to the male restrooms.
Adams was entering his freshman year at Nease when he let school administrators know that though he was born a girl, he was transgender. Transitioning meant having surgery, taking hormones, using male pronouns and availing himself of the boys bathroom.
For a few weeks, things went fine. But then the school district informed him he was not allowed to use the boys bathroom and told him to use the girls bathroom or a gender-neutral one instead.
The school district’s bathroom policies, which require students use the bathroom of their biological sex, aren’t written anywhere. The only written guidelines don’t explicitly ban students from using the bathroom of their gender identities.
Adams’ lawsuit against the school district comes down to one question: By refusing to let the transgender teen use the boys bathroom, did the district violate his rights? The case has made it all the way to the federal court.
A three-day, non-jury trial began Dec. 11 at the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Jacksonville, with Judge Timothy J. Corrigan presiding.
As Corrigan has said: “What this case is about — what it’s only about is — notwithstanding whatever well-intentioned motives the district has, does the district’s policy nevertheless violate Title IX (education laws) or does it violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution?”
Corrigan will tour Nease High School for himself in January; both sides will then file a document summarizing the law, the facts and their positions; oral arguments will be heard in February; and then Corrigan will issue an order. He has said he wants to make a ruling before Drew starts his senior year next fall.
favorite son dies
April saw the passing of historian Michael Gannon, 89, in Gainesville. Gannon was celebrated locally for his role in keeping St. Augustine in the national spotlight as the United States of America’s oldest continually-occupied European settlement.
He was so protective of St. Augustine’s 1565 founding that he often provoked the residents of Jamestown, Virginia, and Plymouth, Massachusetts, with his now famous quote: “By the time Jamestown was founded in 1607 and Plymouth in 1620, St. Augustine was up for urban renewal.”
Among his lasting visible accomplishments in the city was the construction and oversight of the 208-foot Great Cross at Mission Nombre de Dios to celebrate the city’s 400th anniversary in 1965.