Chief Hedges placed on paid leave

During a very narrowly focused, almost scripted meeting this afternoon, on a unanimous vote by the St Augustine Beach commissioners, Chief Richard Hedges was placed on administrative leave, with pay, while an independent law enforcement investigation is conducted into his administration of the agency.

Today’s action at a special meeting of the commission called specifically to discuss process and procedure was necessitated after nine St Augustine Beach Police Officers signed a complaint, spanning about seventy pages in length, iterating charges against Hedges and his assistant chief, Dan DeCoursey.

Mayor Snodgrass introduced the commissioners to Wayne L. Helsby; an attorney with the labor and employment law firm Allen, Norton & Blue, P.A. Helsby is Managing Partner of the firm’s Orlando Office in Winter Park and is advising the city commission on the proper procedure to follow as they work through this investigation.

Helsby advised that, in order to protect everyone’s right to due process, none of the allegations be discussed at today’s meeting. Each of the commissioners and the City Manager, Max Royle, had already received copies of the voluminous document and its attachments — some of which may have been obtained illegally.

Helsby advised, and the commission agreed, that no public comment would be allowed today; neither the Chief, nor his accusers, were allowed to address the board. Both the mayor and attorney emphasized that there will be ample opportunity for all parties to address the board as the process evolves.

The purpose of today’s endeavor was to establish three points of procedure.

The mayor read a brief introduction to each point, and then made a motion to adopt. Each motion was seconded and commissioners had an opportunity to offer their opinions and ask questions of the attorney. The meeting was over within thirty minutes.

At the conclusion, the Mayor read the following:

“The commission acknowledged the serious allegations that have been raised, and we committed to putting the interests of our citizens and the city; first and foremost.
My sense is that by the action taken today, one, we’ve authorized the preeminent organization in our state to conduct an independent, thorough investigation of the criminal actions; two, we have addressed the employment status of the Chief, which I think is in the best interests of the City at this time; and, finally, we’ve made the decision to have an interim chief appointed by Sheriff Shoar — and there’s absolute confidence amongst this group that that’s exactly the right way to go.”

Historic City News contacted the Sheriff’s Office to determine who of his command staff will be selected to serve as interim chief. Sgt. Charles E. Mulligan informed HCN editor Michael Gold this evening that although the individual person has yet to be selected, the Sheriff’s Office already has a close relationship with the agency and a workable arrangement will come together in the coming days.

Mulligan pointed out that citizens of St Augustine Beach are also citizens of St Johns County and that, with the exception of city ordinances, deputy sheriff’s already have law enforcement authority in the jurisdiction. Mulligan said, “This process should be seamless for residents who require police service.”

Referring to the St Augustine Beach Police Department, “They use our dispatchers already and write their reports on SMARTCOP, our computerized incident reporting system,” Mulligan pointed out. “If the beach police have a law enforcement issue that escalates beyond their own ranks, for the time being, those issues will be assimilated into our existing chain-of-command.”

The Sheriff’s Office is not involved in the investigation of the police department or its officers and administration. That said, Mulligan emphasized that Sheriff Shoar has committed to assist the citizens of St Augustine Beach and their police department in any way necessary.

The crowd of approximately fifty or sixty in the audience lingered briefly while reporters spoke with figures close to the case.

Chief Hedges left the meeting at its conclusion without comment to the media, citing policy against commenting on active investigations. He did say, in parting, “There are a lot of things I would LIKE to say”.

We spoke with Patrick Canan and Andrew Morgan, attorneys representing Chief Hedges. Canan said that his client is pleased to have the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation as soon as possible. “The Chief is ready to clear his name and move on.”

We also spoke with Mike Scudiero, Communications Director for the Coastal Florida Police Benevolent Association — the union organization that represents the beach police officers. He told reporters that the commission “did the right thing” selecting the state agency to conduct the investigation. Scudiero expressed concerns that there will be retaliation against the officers who came forward to complain, but seemed reticent to elaborate.

Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News staff photographer

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