When Sheriff David Shoar requested the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct an inventory of in-custody evidence and property maintained by the St Augustine Beach Police Department, he had no idea what inspectors would find in light of the many internal allegations being advanced.
Inspector General Alfred L. Dennis responded to the sheriff in a letter obtained by Historic City News that was dated June 1, 2012; and, the conclusions reached are disturbing — to say the least.
Michelle Price, Administrative Assistant for the St Augustine Beach Police Department, who, at the time, repeatedly refused requests from Historic City News reporters for information being released through other sources, informed the Inspector General’s Office that, according to a property database that she maintains, 958 items of property and 105 firearms were currently in the custody of the department.
In total, Dennis says “820 items located in the vault are not properly entered in the evidence database” — the figure raised more than a few eyebrows. One local attorney told Historic City News that he was astonished that the Beach police department ever got a criminal conviction, based on how sloppily it accounts for its evidence.
This was not the first time FDLE members had conducted an inventory and inspection of the Beach police department’s evidence room. In September 2009, an inspection revealed 940 items located that were not listed on the agency’s Vault Inventory Report.
Dennis told Shoar that his teams “quickly discovered that many items within the evidence vault were not listed on the Vault Inventory Report” generated and provided to him by Price.
Of the 958 items of property reported by Price, 872 were verified as being in the custody of the agency and contained in the vault. However, Dennis informed Shoar that 86 items listed on the Vault Inventory Report “were not located during this inventory”.
Eleven of the 86 missing items appear, by their description, to be high-risk; such as drugs, firearms and currency. The letter goes on to describe non-compliant findings of evidence handling; where evidence is being commingled with department property, or stored in a weapons locker, or a combination safe where high risk evidence is supposed to be stored.
This inventory revealed that many, if not all, discrepancies identified in 2009 were found to still exist. The FDLE Inspector General told the Sheriff, “An accurate, documented accounting of evidentiary and in-custody property held by the SABPD does not exist.”
Some Beach residents told reporters that they don’t believe the City is capable of running the agency properly; one described the situation as “a ticking time bomb” where residents could be on the hook for millions of dollars in liability claims because of what they see as the inept handling of police business.
During public comments at recent Beach Commission meetings, some have called for the City Attorney to draft an amendment to the City’s charter to remove the position of “Chief of Police”, the only reference in the governing document to the employment of anyone to provide law enforcement services. Since the City is contained within St Johns County, law enforcement services are already provided by the Sheriff’s Office.
At this point, the ball is in the City Commission’s court. Mayor Gary Snodgrass is pushing to hire another Chief and to substantially trim the size of the department by reducing funding for its operation. Commissioner Undine Pawlowski objects because she fears the City will lose what she sees as essential law enforcement protection for Beach residents.
In the interim, someone has to be accountable for the evidence and property entrusted to the care of the agency — and the Inspector General has minced no words in his declaration that, at least over the past three years, such has not been the case.
Who is to blame for the discrepancies revealed at the Police Department? Dennis will not speculate on malice; but, he suggests that “deficient agency personnel record-keeping” may be to blame. Only after “a comprehensive and meticulous reconciliation process” could officials know for sure.