Thursday, October 15, 2015

First Amendment Saved a Life in St. Augustine Beach 10/8 -- SABPD Survived Abolition Attempt by Three City Commissioners

If St. Augustine Beach Commissioners had gotten away with planned firing of their Police Department in retaliation for their First Amendment and union protected activity during 2011-12, the 69-year old man would have been dead. Sheriff DAVID BERNERD SHOAR was waiting in the wings, plotting with SAB Commissioners.  In the event of an SJSO takeover, response times would have been slower.  The SABPD response times are excellent, as in the City of St. Augustine. The First Amendment, in its majesty, saved a life. The police officers and their supporters persuaded the City Commission to change its mind, and I pointed out that their overt statements of intent to retaliate against First Amendment protected activity would mean that they would lose in U.S. District Court in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuit. Three cheers for the First Amendment.
PETER.WILLOTT@STAUGUSTINE.COM St. Augustine Beach Police officers Russell Kelly and Natalie Gillespie stand on the beach near where they saved a 60-year-old St. Augustine Beach resident from drowning after he was caught in heavy surf last week.
PETER.WILLOTT@STAUGUSTINE.COM St. Augustine Beach Police officers Russell Kelly and Natalie Gillespie stand on the beach near where they saved a 60-year-old St. Augustine Beach resident from drowning after he was caught in heavy surf last week. 

Beach officers recall saving man from rough water
Posted: October 14, 2015 - 11:36pm | Updated: October 15, 2015 - 12:04am
St. Augustine Beach Police Officers Russell Kelly and Natalie Gillespie said they had to act when they heard an elderly man was caught in rough waters 100 yards offshore.
“Once we found out a 69-year-old man was spent (tired), there was no hesitation,” Kelly said. “She (Gillespie) was ready to get in the water as soon as she got out of the car, and I was right there with her.”
Gillespie added: “Something just comes over you. There’s no real thinking; you just do.”
For Kelly, a full-time beach patrol officer, the morning of Oct. 9 started just like any other day when a call came in for a swimmer in distress in the area of Surf Drive, south of Ocean Trace Road, just after 10:30 a.m.
Gillespie, who was working road patrol that morning, also heard the call come in and went to the scene to help.
“If there’s something that needs to be done, she’s the type of person who will go take care of it, and she came in handy (that day),” Kelly said.
Both officers were the first on the scene, and within seconds were in the water, swimming toward the man.
“We didn’t have time to wait for someone else. Usually the lifeguards are on duty, but this is the off-season,” Kelly said.
The man, who didn’t want to be identified, said he got caught in a strong current and was getting tired.
“I was in the water for about 45 minutes, but it was only in the last 10 [minutes] I realized I was in trouble,” he said. “It was a pretty tough fight even to stay as close to shore as I was, and it was all I could to do keep from getting swept out into the ocean.”
He said his friend also got caught in the waves, but another beachgoer was able to help him get out. Once he got onshore, he called 911.
Meanwhile, the man in the water was struggling to stay afloat.
“I’m not sure how much longer I would have lasted,” he said. “I was immensely relieved when I saw someone heading to the water.”
Flotation buoys, life jackets and rescue float bags are routinely kept in the patrol cars of Beach officers, Kelly said.
In addition to being equipped with basic marine rescue equipment, officers are trained by Lt. Dan Powers, a lifeguard with the St. Johns County Fire Rescue. Marine rescue training was introduced to the department by Chief Robert Hardwick, who recognized the possibility of an officer needing to save someone in the water, Kelly said.
Last year, all Beach officers attended a swim training class that taught them basic water rescue techniques like how to save swimmers in distress and other ways to help them.
But sometimes, all the person needs to know is that help is coming. And the man who nearly drowned last week credits Gillespie and Kelly with keeping him calm.
“They really made an effort to make sure I felt safe and to let me know they were going to get me out, which is what I needed to hear,” he said.
Kelly, who reached the man first, said he got him to relax by using his name and ensuring him he was not going to drown.
“I told him to breathe for a moment because help is here,” he said.
When Gillespie reached the man, she gave him her flotation device and towed him to shore, and Kelly followed from behind.
It took them about three minutes to get to shore, and both officers had eyes on the water in case a rip current or big wave formed, Gillespie said.
When they made it to shore, the man had trouble standing.
“He was completely worn out; his legs weren’t working well, and we actually had to support him in the water until we got him to where he could lean on my patrol vehicle,” Kelly said.
The man was treated for exhaustion by St. Johns County Marine Rescue personnel and was released to his family at the scene.
He later wrote to Hardwick and the Beach commission, commending Gillespie and Kelly for their work. But both said recognition isn’t needed.
“We’re held to a higher standard, and our job is to serve and protect,” Gillespie said. “It just so happened we were working that day, but anyone else in this department would have done the same thing.”
This was not the first time a Beach officer has gone in the water to save a swimmer in distress, said Cmdr. Jim Parker.
Officer Bruce Cline rescued a swimmer last year, he said.
“It’s not frequent, but you never know when it’s needed,” he said. “That’s why we do the training, and it’s paid off.”

Comments (5) Add comment
Morris1 10/15/15 - 12:53 am 30Well done.
According to the Florida Times Union (who publishes public records on public employee salaries), it seems that the base pay and overtime of these officers is very thin, relative to what it costs to actually live in St Augustine Beach. That makes me a bit uncomfortable. I do believe that all people who work for a community should be paid at a level so they can afford to live in that same community. Its not like our police department is so large that we couldn't afford to pay at a level that retains and attracts the best police officers. Perhaps this is an issue we should look at, because it would be a shame if people like this went elsewhere.

We should work to ensure that our SABPD hiring and retention policies secures us the kinds of cops- like this- who don't hesitate to go charging into the surf to pull someone out of the drink. Let the JV team cops go work in Flagler County.

boatfloyd 10/15/15 - 12:58 am 20"Save the Beach Police"
Another great day on the job by St. Augustine Beach Police.

RhinoRunner 10/15/15 - 04:56 am 20Tidal Bout
Nothing but Kudos.

Great foresight, implementation and application to all SABP members involved with rescues of this nature, as well as the many other responses to calls that go unnoticed, day in and day out.
We as a community can't possibly thank you enough for doing what you do, not to mention the way you do it, day in and day out.
May God Bless and keep all of you safe.

emmylight 10/15/15 - 01:01 pm 10Wonderful example of serving
Wonderful example of serving and protecting. These officers are a credit to their force and the profession. Well done.

sponger2 10/15/15 - 04:29 pm 10Very nice!
It's nice to see law enforcement get the credit they deserve. This in contrast to the mega media exploitation of situations where these folks are compelled to use lethal force to protect themselves or the public at large. Bet you won't see this on CNN for the next three months.

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