In search of the “secret” Beach Police memo

After Historic City News published an article detailing the excessive secrecy surrounding an e-mail from Michelle Price to several officers who complained about the St Augustine Beach police chief, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed late yesterday that those officers’ access to crime information computers has been suspended.

According to FDLE Communications Coordinator Keith Kameg, in the Office of External Affairs, the whistleblower’s computer privileges were suspended at the direction of the agency. Kameg went on to say, “The length of the suspension depends on the outcome of the investigation.”

Price, an administrative assistant for the St Augustine Beach Police Department, has refused repeated requests to produce the e-mail and attached memo, despite the fact that they are public records and unconfirmed quotes, alleged to be excerpts, have been published in other news accounts of the incident.

Several St Augustine Beach police officers went outside of their “chain-of-command” with public allegations of illegal and inappropriate activity; said to be committed by Chief Richard Hedges and his assistant chief, Dan DeCoursey.

As a result, the St Augustine Beach City Commission hired Wayne L. Helsby; an attorney with the labor and employment law firm Allen, Norton & Blue, P.A. With his guidance, the Commission held a special meeting on May 15 and acknowledged the serious allegations that have been raised. Mayor Gary Snodgrass concluded the meeting saying, “We committed to putting the interests of our citizens and the city first and foremost.”

The Commission 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.”

Those watching the police officer’s allegations and the FDLE investigation unfold have been assured that there will be “no retaliation” against the officers; despite concerns expressed by Mike Scudiero, Communications Director for the Coastal Florida Police Benevolent Association, that there already has been.

With their CJIS credentials suspended, these officers’ safety is arguably compromised and information necessary to investigate crimes is unavailable; except through what Sgt. Charles E. Mulligan, Public Information Officer for the St Johns County Sheriff’s Office, denies is “a work around to the suspension”.

The “secret” memo from Price to the police officers allegedly said that Chief Hedges, “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”, according to one quote pulled from the St Augustine Record.

Mulligan confirmed for Historic City News yesterday before noon, “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. They do not have direct access to our terminals.”

Although he is the only person to be placed on leave, it is apparent that the FDLE investigation is not limited in scope to the actions of Police Chief Hedges — the actions of the police officers who brought the complaint forward are also being investigated.

One of the officers who received the e-mail and memo said that they would be willing to provide a copy to Historic City News; however, for the time being, we declined — allowing the St Augustine Beach city officials an opportunity to release the requested information in accordance with state law.

“This is the wrong time to give the appearance of trying to hide something, and besides, its the law,” said Historic City News editor Michael Gold.

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