Editorial: Public has right to know the integrity of our sheriff

Editorial: Public has right to know the integrity of our sheriff

Michael Gold, Editor
St Augustine, FL

For more than 60-years, I’ve called St Augustine and St Johns County my home — not by choice, but by the grace of God, I happened to be born here.  I have a deep-rooted interest in the safety and security of our residents and I’ve stood to defend their lives and property as both a sworn law enforcement officer and civilian law enforcement analyst.

At one time, my father worked for Sheriff L. O. Davis as a jailer, as did I as a police explorer.  I lived through the legislature’s decision to remove Sheriff Davis from office in St Johns County over allegations of political and financial corruption.  I was here when Sheriff Dudley Garrett was appointed by the Governor to replace Sheriff Davis and recall the challenges Garrett faced in order to restore integrity to our local sheriff’s department.

One of the most important things Sheriff Garrett did, besides swearing me in as a lawman, was to begin releasing information about internal affairs of the agency to prove to the public that a new broom sweeps clean.  When he found employees that operated outside the margins of the law, who profited financially or otherwise to “look the other way”, he very publicly terminated them.

That spirit of integrity continued under Sheriff Francis O’Loughlin and under Sheriff Neil Perry, the bar was raised to a new level for professionalism and integrity.  The citizens of St Johns County came to expect no less.  It took three administrations to lift the stigma of underhanded, self-profiting corruption.  As an informed observer and stakeholder, it has become apparent to me that our current sheriff, David Shoar, will undo thirty-years of reputation building by three fine law enforcement leaders; Sheriff Garrett, Sheriff O’Loughlin, and Sheriff Perry.

The most recent scandal, embezzlement of more than $700,000 by the woman Shoar appointed to Director of Finance, simply highlights the lack of respect Shoar has for the taxpayers of this county who continue to pay him $ 146,521.00 annually, plus benefits.  Shoar has already checked out, but we are still paying for him.  He’s hired a non-law enforcement amateur as the “undersheriff” and pays him $ 128,315.00 annually, plus benefits, for all intents and purposes, to do his job for him.  We are paying two people to do the same job and hoping one will show up.

Shoar is going to leave office, voluntarily or involuntarily, in much worse condition than Sheriff Perry left it to him.  The Michelle O’Connell homicide, for example, and Shoar’s botched investigation, tell a lot about Shoar and his integrity.  Neither Shoar nor his then “undersheriff” Joel Bolante, appeared at the crime scene — even though the shooting involved one of their deputies.  That didn’t stop Shoar from backing the deputy involved, Jeremy Banks, in a civil lawsuit against Rusty Rodgers, the FDLE Agent investigating him.  The Federal Judge hearing the case ruled against Banks, finding for Rodgers; saying that Agent Rodgers would have been within his rights to detain Banks as a murder suspect.

Shoar also used his influence to push Supervisory Special Agent in charge of the FDLE Jacksonville Regional Operations Center, Dominick Pape, to retire.  Shoar was furious that SSA Pape supported Agent Rodgers continued investigation of Deputy Banks.  Rather than get into a brawl between Shoar and FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, in 2013, Pape took a director position with a large private security firm and began collecting his state retirement.  In August 2015, Pape accepted an appointment to oversee the Investigations Bureau with the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department at the rank of major.  In May, he was promoted to Assistant Chief.  Today he oversees the day-to-day operations of the department.

And, guess who wound up with Pape’s former position as Special Agent in Charge of the FDLE Jacksonville Regional Operations Center and Crime Laboratory?  None other than Mark Brutnell, the husband of the woman who admits to stealing the three-quarters of a million dollars from Shoar’s office.

As with the investigation of Michelle O’Connell’s homicide, Shoar wants to investigate himself in the matter of the Brutnell embezzlement. Over severe conflicts, Shoar insists that he should be allowed to choose his own forensic auditor.  Even Shoar is questioning what his choice of annual auditors was doing for the last 5-years, yet he wants to control the auditors responsible for uncovering the fraudulent handling of taxpayer money that went undiscovered so long.  His purpose appears obvious — he wants to be able to spin the results of the forensic audit to make sure that he has the least amount of pie on his face and that the forensic audit heaps a pile of responsibility on the annual auditors to make sure he has a basis to sue them for the stolen money.

Now Shoar is trying to hide essential details about his choice.  For over a week, Historic City News has been in communication with the sheriff’s office attempting to obtain the name of the forensic auditing firm.  A response to that request remains unanswered.  I think we all should pay close attention to who he’s hired since he clearly doesn’t want us looking into their role.

The bottom line is that we deserve a better accounting of how our tax money is being spent.  And if we discover questionable documents or conflicts within the documents, that is the time to come forward with clear and accurate explanations, not to run and hide like the cat who ate the canary.

As a sheriff, David Shoar is a public embarrassment.  He is a moral opportunist and resorts to bible thumping if it suits his purpose, but he is indeed a hypocrite.  Whether the legislature or our incoming governor decide to impeach Sheriff Shoar or not, I refuse to sit back and allow him to feather his own nest at the expense of the reputations of fine men and women who have already paid the price of one corrupt St Johns County sheriff.