According to a published news article entitled “Beach chief’s accusers lose use of crime computers”, Michelle Price, an administrative assistant for the St Augustine Beach Police Department, is said to have sent, by e-mail, an unsigned memo notifying those officers who complained about the police administration that their computer access had been suspended.
The article goes on to quote specifics, presumably taken from the Price e-mail.
Access to databases maintained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Department of Justice through the state and national Criminal Justice Information System, are essential to law enforcement officers in the day-to-day performance of their duties; and, without access to the information, an officer’s safety is arguably compromised and information necessary to investigate crimes is otherwise unavailable.
If this is true, it is a significant piece of public information. Historic City News readers, residents of the City of St Augustine Beach, and other law enforcement officers who may be depending on these apparently hamstrung patrol officers, need to know those limitations.
At issue is whether in filing their complaint, which spans about seventy pages in length, the whistleblowers went too far by disclosing protected CJIS information as proof of their allegations against Chief Richard Hedges and his assistant chief, Dan DeCoursey.
Historic City News purchased a copy of the police officers allegations from the City Clerk when this story first broke. As you read the document, it is apparent that it contains hyperlinks to evidentiary documents contained on a CD that was part of their complaint.
The city will not release the CD because they say it contains criminal information that is protected — such as the identity of a sexual assault victim, Social Security numbers and victim addresses. If it was protected information, it should not be used for any purpose other than the law enforcement purpose for which it was collected.
If one or more of the officers published protected information that was obtained from confidential law enforcement databases to third parties, including City Commissioners, members of the media, or members of the public, they will be dealt with by those who administer those vital systems.
However, this morning, Historic City News attempted to verify if, in fact, any of those police officers had their CJIS credentials suspended or terminated. We did not ask for any of the information alleged to have been improperly released; we merely asked to see the e-mail and memo to the officers informing them of the suspension claimed.
We began with the City Manager’s office. At 7:58 AM, Sharon Widdifield explained that, with the exception of police personnel files, all police records are maintained in the Police Department. We were directed to contact Michelle Price — the author of the sought after e-mail.
So, we contacted Price and received an e-mail reply at 8:28 AM. Price said:
Please be advised that on the advice of counsel, the email that you are referring to is not public record at this time, as it is part of an ongoing investigation.
St. Augustine Beach Police Department
The news article raised another question. It said that Price’s e-mailed memo also informed the officers that Chief Hedges, who is on paid administrative leave, “made a special arrangement with Sheriff Shoar and FDLE to allow the officers limited third-party (criminal justice information) access to complete necessary paperwork and investigations.”
If the FDLE has just suspended the police officer’s access to the system because it is alleged that they misused criminal justice information that they obtained from it, why would they turn around and allow the same officers to continue to obtain the same criminal justice information through an intermediary — such as the Sheriff?
Again, the answers may be contained in that memo; and, in any event, the memo to the officers from the administrative assistant and e-mail is clearly public record.
Next, we contacted the St Johns County Sheriff’s Office and received a response from Sgt. Charles E. Mulligan, Public Information Officer for the agency at 10:17 AM.
“The access is granted or suspended by FDLE,” Mulligan wrote in his response. “Therefore, FDLE would be the appropriate agency to contact regarding the allegation …”
Historic City News did just that, and, at 11:05 AM, FDLE Communications Coordinator Keith Kameg, in the Office of External Affairs, responded, “Mike, you need to contact St. Aug. Beach PD for info on your request, take care, Keith”.
So, whether FDLE suspended the officers or not, Mulligan defended what was taking place and said, “I would not categorize the decision to allow the officers access through the SJSO as a work around to the suspension.”
Inferring that some restriction was imposed against the officers, Mulligan went on to say, “We are allowing the officers to run tags, warrants, etc., through our COMM Center “via radio”, in order to perform their service to the public.” Mulligan also reported, “They do not have direct access to our terminals.”