Pinellas County FBI Probe Needs to Expand to Rice, Greer, McCabe

Judging from recent determinations issued by Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe, it appears that if you're a public officer or official in Pinellas County, Florida, you may have blanket immunity from prosecution.

It also appears to be a case of the fox guarding the hen house where McCabe and others are reportedly engaging in the same type of alleged criminal wrongdoing as those that he's supposed to be prosecuting.

And then there's the case of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department----now under the direction of Jim Coats, longtime ally of former Sheriff Everett Rice and a top official in Rice's administration.

The FBI is conducting an investigation of an incident involving the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department partially because of policy set by Everett Rice.

Officers hired by Rice during his tenure as sheriff continue to he involved in egregious criminal wrongdoing and are helping to create intense racial unrest between the police and the black community of Pinellas-an unrest that evolved during Rice's tenure.

According to recent news reports, the FBI will be investigating the shooting of a young black man by an officer of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department.

While they're in Pinellas County, the FBI should investigate not only the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department, but its' former sheriff who set the excessive force policy, Bernie McCabe and his "discretionary" decisions of shielding public officials and officers from prosecution, and last but certainly far from least, Judges George W. Greer and Mark I. Shames

In recent weeks McCabe has refused to prosecute the members of the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners who allegedly engaged in violating the city charter by individually contributing to political candidates. His refusal to prosecute the politicians was the second in two months. Bob Lewis, the assistant state attorney who announced McCabe's office's determination not to prosecute the matter, had donated the top limit to McCabe's 2004 election campaign. So did Lewis' wife.

So did Jim Hellickson and his wife, the assistant who improperly appeared in a campaign commercial last fall for Greer. So did Bruce Bartlett and his wife, the chief assistant state attorney, and Bill Loughrey and his wife. Then there's Lydia Wardell, the prosecutor who was just arrested for driving while intoxicated, she contributed the max too. Is that a prerequisite for keeping your job at the state attorney's office, making the maximum contribution to McCabe's political campaign?

And let's not forget Douglas Crow and his wife at $500 each, Crow being McCabe's chief assistant who decided in 2000 to drop two felony criminal charges against the Church of Scientology for the alleged abuse of a disabled adult and practicing medicine without a license in the death of Lisa McPherson.

Did that set a precedent why McCabe will undertake no investigation into Michael Schiavo and the entire Schindler-Schiavo matter?

Is it true that money talks, people walk?

According to political commercials aired by Pinellas County probate court judge George W. Greer during his 2004 reelection campaign, McCabe himself was allegedly guilty of violating Florida Statutes and lending the influence of his office to help promote Greer's campaign, statutorily prohibited.

McCabe allowed assistant state attorney Jim Hellickson to appear in Greer's TV commercial, giving the appearance that the state attorney's office was endorsing Greer. Bob Dillinger, Pinellas County's public defender also lent the influence of his office, allowing assistant Paula Shea to appear in the commercial.

Of course McCabe also refused to prosecute Sheriff Everett Rice for using taxpayer money and resources to endorse Greer's campaign, allowing a uniformed Pinellas County Sheriff's deputy to appear in the commercial, obviously endorsing Greer, as well as allowing the use of a taxpayer owned patrol car.

McCabe also failed to prosecute Greer himself for violating Florida Statutes which prohibit the use of governmental buildings for political purposes. Greer improperly used the Pinellas County Courthouse for the filming of his political advertisement and unbelievably used the courtroom to be used in the commercial.

Considering that McCabe can't and won't police himself and is apparently using his office to protect his own wrongdoing and that of his political cronies, how could the public ever expect that he would find some of Everett Rice's hires in the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department guilty of crimes?

Deputy Christopher Taylor shot drug suspect Jarrell Walker twice in the back, but although McCabe said that the sheriff's department needs to review its policy on deadly force---instituted by none other than Everett Rice---that the Taylor killing of Walker was justifiable homicide.

And just what was Walker doing that justified the police officer shooting him in the back twice? He was lying face down on a couch, with his hand underneath the skirting of the couch. Wasn't there some other way of containing Mr. Walker than shooting him in the back?

Other officers found no gun or weapon under the couch.

Rice hired Taylor in 1998 and he was involved in two previous shootings. Instead of reassigning Taylor, Rice allowed him to remain on the SWAT team and now the officer has taken a black man's life----but it was justified according to McCabe.

In May, 2000, Taylor shot a man who allegedly interfered with the investigation of a shoplifting suspect in a Seminole parking lot. In April, 2004, he was one of two deputies who shot at a truck driver who snagged a sheriff's patrol car under a boat trailer. No deaths were involved in those incidents but in both cases, McCabe and Rice cleared Taylor of wrongdoing. Sounds to us like Taylor should be assigned to desk duty.

Considering that one of the last people Rice hired before he left the office of sheriff was Michael Schiavo, it would appear that a review of ALL the people that Rice hired should be conducted.

Now even McCabe is saying that Rice's deadly force policy has a problem----and now the FBI has opened an investigation into whether Walker's civil rights were violated. Looks like Everett Rice may have created a humdinger of a civil rights liability for Pinellas County taxpayers. It also appears that the department may have a discriminatory policy regarding the handling of black suspects.

No way should Everett Rice ever be allowed back in the field of law enforcement, in fact, he should be removed from political office immediately and could be under the statute that he violated in helping to influence the reelection of George Greer.

In May, 2004, during Rice's tenure as sheriff, deputies shot and killed 17-year-old Marquell McCullough a combined 15 times as the black teen was driving a pickup truck away from an alleged drug deal. The deputies were cleared of any wrongdoing by McCabe's office and Rice.

And Everett Rice wants to be Florida's next Attorney General, the state's top law enforcement officer? We don't think so. Everett Rice himself should be the subject of an FBI probe particularly for his collusion with McCabe, AG Charlie Crist, and Greer to obstruct justice in the Terri Schindler- Schiavo case.

Just how smug is Rice, totally oblivious to the people he supposed serves? Just days before he left the office of sheriff, he had the audacity to hire Michael Schiavo, a subject who was and had been under suspicion of the abuse, neglect and exploitation of a disabled woman, a investigation that Rice deliberately scuttled and in our opinion, conspired to obstruct. The hiring of Michael Schiavo by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department was a slap in the face of every taxpayer, every disabled person, every person with a conscience in Pinellas County.

Racial tensions were often high with Rice as sheriff and now they're extremely strained with the shooting of Walker by one of Rice's hires who has a history of being trigger happy. The president of the St. Petersburg NAACP asked the FBI to review the matter and has strongly disagreed with the ruling by McCabe and the sheriff's department not to bring any charges against Taylor.

Coats and the sheriff's review panel cleared Taylor, 33, saying he had complied with agency policy and training. That's another indication that the sheriff's department's excessive force, deadly force policy has got a problem---when an officer can shoot a person in the back twice rather that engage in other means of restraint and the sheriff's department sees no problem with that. That is a true abuse of power.

Let's look at some of the other hires of Everett Rice, the type of people that he hired to serve and protect the people of Pinellas County.

Shane Collinsworth, 36, hired four years ago by Rice, suspended for five days for having sex with two women he met while responding to their calls in domestic violence cases. Collinsworth's alleged sexual escapades with victims in crimes he was supposed to be investigating came to light during the investigation of yet ANOTHER deputy, Gerald Atkins. The same woman who had dated Collinsworth had accused Atkins of sexually assaulting her last year.

Then there's the case of Thomas L. Sand, accused of attacking his girlfriend and threatening her with a shotgun. But instead of getting the expected sentence of at least 10 years in prison, he got a deal involving absolutely no jail time, to plead guilty to misdemeanor battery in exchange for a year of probation and $5,100 in restitution and court costs.

Why? Because it seems one of Everett Rice's hires couldn't keep his pants up. The sheriff's deputy investigating the Sands case-Collinsworth-- began a sexual relationship with Sands' girlfriend who was the alleged victim in the case.

Assistant state attorney Bill Loughrey, another one of McCabe's maximum campaign contributors, said that the deputy's relationship with the alleged victim was "problematic" but that he didn't see that it had much of an effect.

We'll give some credit to Coats, Rice's successor, who was quoted as saying that he didn't think deputies should be having relationships with citizens involved in a pending case. How profound. When did he come to that conclusion?

That's another policy of Rice's that might need changing. Currently rules of conduct for the sheriff's department do not specifically forbid an officer from developing a relationship with a victim of a crime he is investigating. Coats says he's considering a policy change. Sounds like common sense to us.

Of course the sheriff's administrative board said the woman's allegations were unfounded because her story changed but she says detectives talked her out of pressing charges because they told her she didn't have a strong enough case. Gee, who to believe. What did she have to gain by making it up? Let's not forget that a third officer in the case, Sgt. Michael Rogers, was reprimanded for not reporting her allegations when he learned about them last August----when Rice was still sheriff.

Why would anyone have any trust in the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department?

Another one of Rice's hires in the jail division where Michael Schiavo is employed has now been fired for making repeated racial slurs to an inmate. Deputy Jeremy Lester, 27, who has an extensive disciplinary record, was still working at the jail when he repeatedly taunted an inmate who had filed a complaint against him alleging excessive force. Lester said the inmate was making it up but another deputy corroborated the inmate's account.

Let's not forget the case of a former Pinellas County deputy who was arrested in early May for charges of battery and stalking a woman, the same woman he had been previously accused of beating. Doesn't the sheriff's department do psychological examinations of the candidates for deputies before they hire them?

Jeffrey McCann, 29, a corrections officer at the jail for two years, had resigned in March in the middle of an internal investigation related to his prior February arrest. He had initially been arrested in a Palm Harbor parking lot for allegedly choking the woman, punching her and threatening to kill her.

His recent arrest stems from him allegedly calling her and demanding that she drop the pending charges and injunction against him. He has additionally been charged with aggravated stalking, tampering with a witness/victim and battery.

Even supervisory officers of the sheriff's department seem to have a problem obeying the laws they are expected to enforce. Cpl James Fresh is the subject of an internal investigation after his off-duty arrest of a man after he and the man became involved in a scuffle outside of a Tarpon Springs restaurant in mid-April.

The officer and the gentleman began arguing in the parking, a scuffle ensued and Fresh then identified himself as a police officer and placed his adversary under arrest. Fresh maintains that the other man was reaching into the officer's BMW convertible to grab him by the neck but the man says Fresh had grabbed him first and he only tried to push the officer away from him. BMW? Maybe the county commissioners need to take a look at the salaries being paid to these sheriff's deputies.

Fresh arrested the man, charging him with felony burglary and misdemeanor battery.

Coats has now presented a $246.9 million budget request to the county commission (the same commission that McCabe has shielded from prosecution), an increase of $19.4 million over the last budget resulting in an 8.6% increase.

Coats says he needs 107 more deputies to staff the expansion of the jail which is expected to be completed in July, 2006 at a cost of $36 million. The project is currently $6.4 million over budget and the completion date delayed.

Coats says that decreasing overcrowding in the county jail is the department's No. 1 priority. "The jail is becoming a collection center for the mentally challenged, homeless and those with drug problems".

Perhaps the first approach to reducing overcrowding at the jail is to clean up the staffing of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department.




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