I am sure you heard about the Homecoming Scandal that happened in Pensacola last year. As I understood from the news stories I read, this case was akin to the Cheerleader murder from Texas. You know, an overzealous mother who murdered her daughter’s competition, thus securing her daughter’s place as a cheerleader. Minus the murder, this was the same scenario, at least as it was portrayed as by the local media. Laura Carroll, Vice-Principal of Bellview Elementary either through her own access to Escambia County School District internal server (FOCUS) or her daughter, Emily Grover, used her login, surreptitiously to cast votes for Tate Homecoming Queen in 2020. The mother & daughter were arrested March 15, 2021, for unlawful use of a two-way communication device, offenses against users of computer, computer systems, computer networks & electronic devices and conspiracy to commit these offenses. Emly was expelled, despite having no disciplinary record and being an exemplary student about to graduate in 6 weeks at the time of the arrest.
According to PNJ, Tuesday, March 16, 2021:
“In October 2020, the school district flagged hundreds of votes for Tate High School’s homecoming court as fraudulent. FDLE was contacted and special agents launched an investigation.
FDLE special agents discovered that 117 of the fraudulent votes originated from the same IP address within a short period of time and they tied that IP address to Carroll & Grover’s computer usage.
FDLE spokesperson Gretl Plessinger told the News Journal, agents learned that Carroll & Grover used FOCUS to cast the fraudulent votes to win homecoming queen at Tate High School….
Nine students and one teacher provided written statements to authorities that detailed how Grover had spoken about accessing her mother’s FOCUS account or had seen her access the county system for almost 4 years, according to the arrest warrant.”
This seems cut and dry, doesn’t it? Hardly. My immediate question was, with this access and purported “abuse” of info, was there no other compromised records, involving school grades, medical records, disciplinary records, student ID numbers etc? It seems to me that there are more serious violations that may actually warrant harsh punishment—not homecoming court votes. A teen who has this sort of info available would surely exploit it. Yet, that we don’t have in this case. The FOCUS site is chalked full of information that anyone with a password could exploit. That is what I would expect if someone was trying to abuse that particular website. While Carroll’s login was largely “view only” info, the voluminous privacy-protected info that potentially could have been weaponized was never compromised.
The FDLE investigator, Stephanie Cassidy, could not legitimize any of the evidence used in this case. That does not surprise me but the fact that anyone pursued criminal charges and ruined a young girl’s life with such flimsy evidence.
I am writing this to obtain clarity after your pronouncement that Rakeem Florence’s recantation was moot due to the fact there was overwhelming evidence and his testimony being corroborated by the surveillance video. I take exception to both statements, specifically in the Patrick Gonzalez Jr. case.
I want to first remind you that this young man was a black 16 year old. He knew people that were on the periphery of this investigation. Your former boss, Mr. Eddins, informed the public this is a capital case. Florence is of the demographic most prone to false confessions. He is the only person of color, besides his family members, when he is interviewed by law enforcement. The circumstances of the crime, ie the media circus, the Sheriff constantly on television calling for public outrage as well as public help in finding the perpetrators of these murders, all culminate in a situation that probably seems like a no win situation to young black man. Imagine coming forward with information (which he & Thornton got straight on the way to police station) and realizing you could easily become a scapegoat. He was in over his head when he got there. Even his mother thought he only knew about some aspect of the murder; she did not believe her son was there.
This is an excerpt of the cross examination by Michelle Hendrix of Florence in Donnie Stallworth’s 2nd trial, which ended in a hung jury.
Do you know if Florence or Thornton ever talked to Hugh Wiggins, prior to them coming forward?
Here is a story that Gary Sumner’s mother told to me. Prior to the murders, Sumner and Wiggins had a business arrangement. Wiggins provided some capital to help Sumner stay afloat. As so, Wiggins called Sumner and told him he had dropped off a white van, after hours, at the shop. The next morning, Gary gets in and grabs the keys left in the dropbox. He gets into the van to move it inside. He claims there were 4 dead bodies in the back. He got out of the van, called Hugh to say the message was received. He believed it was a threat. Now whether you believe this story or not. It does not even matter if it was true. All that matters is that the teenagers thought it was true.
Also, I find it fascinating that you never called Florence to testify in Stallworth’s third trial, but I do know why. Michelle Hendrix impeached him with all the other testimonies he gave in the other cases, ex. Coldiron, Gonzalez Jr. etc. She really proved his testimony was worthless. Despite that you seem absolutely sure he was telling the truth. I am going to take a moment to speculate why you are all on-board with Florence and his testimony. I think you are more invested in this story than you are about finding the truth. Morgan conducted a shotty investigation, which the SAO never questioned just prosecuted. No one seriously looked at the family, who should have been scrutinized because they financially gained so much from their parents death. Morgan is a keystone cop. And yet, you took this far-fetched narrative rather than looking at the real issues. Here are some really good suspects: Hugh Wiggins, Justin Billings, Cab Tice. Remember originally Blue Markham told police he sold the van used in the crime to Cab Tice.
Here is just some of the cross-examination by Hendrix:
In fact, Florence tried to withdraw his plea on April 27, 2011. Yet now you seem to think Florence is disingenuous. This young man is the prime demographic of the textbook case of false confessions. As Ms. Hendrix proved in her cross-examination, his testimony was never consistent. He was not a good witness and you realized this as well. You opted not to put him on the stand in Stallworth’s third trial. It seems obvious you believe Florence was single-handedly the reason the jury was hung. So in your repetitive trials against Stallworth, after running him out of money, forcing him to opt for a public defender, you did not investigate whether there was something hinky with Florence’s testimony. You could and definitely should have further inquired as to why his story was ever changing. I mean, if the interest is in justice, that would have been the only prudent course. Yet your concern was the win; it was never justice.
Interestingly, I emailed Rakeem and asked him to explain what he called “evidence” of his coercion. This is his reply:
I hope, Mr. Molchan, you realize he is asserting you coerced him and provided the narrative that was factually questionable. You mention that the video surveillance corroborates both Florence’s testimony and Thornton’s testimony. It sounds like the reason it matches the video is because you crafted his testimony. Now ethically, it plainly looks to be improper for you to blast him on the news, knowing he does not have the same access to those media resources you have. Nevertheless, you are the one saying his recantation is moot, especially since he is accusing you of coercing this testimony. Convenient.
In reading every page of the thousands of documents dumped into the public domain prior to trial & the trial transcripts, I must presume you either do not know what evidence is, or you are so arrogant to think the pittance of information presented in Gonzalez Jr.’s trial, would put him on death row if presented today.
Here are some excerpts from the trial transcript of Mr. Eddins’s opening statement:
The highlighted portion is misleading. There was no “proof” only testimony by admitted co-conspirators.
This entire section is factually anemic because Leonard Gonzalez Sr. never testified in his son’s case, nor was his statement entered into evidence. In fact, this is a violation of Rule 4-3.4(E) of the RULES REGULATING THE FLORIDA BAR. That rule provides: A lawyer shall not … in trial, allude to any matter that the lawyer does not reasonably believe is relevant or that will not be supported by admissible evidence, assert personal knowledge of facts in issue except when testifying as a witness, or state a personal opinion as to the justness of a cause, the credibility of a witness, the culpability of a civil litigant, or the guilt or innocence of an accused. The state attorney was doing none of these things; he was exaggerating the totality of the evidence. This statement alludes to Sr. testimony which was never admitted. Carol Brant was Sr.’s common law wife and her testimony would only be admissible if it were corroborating Sr’s testimony, but it was not. These statements potentially taint the jury with facts which were never admitted into evidence, such as the Brady violation by not submitting the most recent criminal history of Smith and Eisa which was unknown by the defense and would have contributed to the weight their testimony carried to the jury.
Mr. Molchan, to recap, there was no legitimate, untainted testimony evidence that Gonzalez Jr. plotted anything. Not to point out the obvious but Thornton’s testimony was concocted in tandem with Florence’s.
As for the physical evidence, your office destroyed the red van you claimed was used in the crime. That evidence is no longer admissible. Carol Brant passed away. So, there are two co-conspirators, who developed their story together and now one has said it was false. You have no credible person to say Jr. plotted this crime. As for physical evidence. In the video, the shooter grabs Bud and Bud grabbed him in this struggle. This is confirmed by the only eyewitness, the child in the room. GMA reported the child stated:
There is DNA under Bud’s nails. And a profile for that DNA was developed. But Patrick Gonzalez Jr. is excluded as a contributor.
There is no DNA evidence to put Jr. at the seen or any of his DNA on any clothing. And let’s talk about the guns. The murder weapon was never linked to Gonzalez Jr. except by Hugh Wiggins who had possession of all the guns, the bloody clothes and the safe. Now tell me why he would not be the logical suspect? Remind me again who the owner of the weapons was. There seems to be no report showing the ATF established whose guns they were. You have Jr.’s fingerprints on the 2 of the guns not shot in this crime. You never established he did anything but touch those guns. Let’s say he did touch them, there is no evidence to suggest he touched those guns that night or during any crucial timeframe. Fingerprints do no come with a time stamp.
Morgan is a keystone cop and the SAO hitched its wagon to his “investigation”. Your office did not question it when he did not investigate the family, the people with the most to gain. What about Cab Tice? Remember Blue Markham told investigators that he sold the van used in the crime to Cab.
With real leads uninvestigated, how in the hell can you claim you are competent. There is so much reasonable doubt,. To sum it up, no physical evidence, no credible circumstantial evidence, leads not investigated. If Gonzalez Jr.’s case was tried today, how could you justify the amount of energy and taxpayer dollars you wasted aggressively pursuing a unviable set of cases. These are people’s lives, Mr. Molchan. There is so many unanswered questions, and you are a public servant. Years ago, I was told there is “no justice in Florida”. I have to say there seems to be so much tunnel vision.
Checkmate, Mr. Molchan. Your case is inviable. It’s time to put your ego aside and find the truth.
I feel compelled to respond to your letter to Matt Puckett of the PBA. You accuse the PBA of leaking the letter sent to Lee Tyree, stripping him of his PBA obligations due to Haines’s tyrannical handling of deputies’ rights.
I know you are aware I posted that same letter on Facebook a couple of days ago and did a blog post on my blog, ConjuringJusticeBlog.com, yesterday.
Make no mistake: your administration through a NUMBER of sources leaked that document to me, not anyone in the PBA, although I called PBA first after I heard about it. However, my voicemail to Ianna Durning was not returned. Haines’s attempt to hide the letter in his own IA investigation was a terribly misguided thing to do. Everyone aware of that was appalled and reached out to sources to leak it to me. You have more people in your administration leaking information than ever before. Why do you think that is? Don’t bother with headhunting in this case. There were so many people who contacted me, you would literally have only the handful of people who did not want this left out. I have more supporters than you do, at least in terms of people you supposedly oversee.
As for airing your ex employees’ dirty laundry, I hope Bain Custer sues you for defamation. You used county resources to do a DNA test of fluids found in his office to prove he had sex on duty. The problem is, the male DNA found was not Bain’s. Was it another sexual deviant in your admin? That expensive test the taxpayers footed the bill for backfired on you. It only reveals the more serious problems of in your agency with you and Haines turning a blind eye to favored employees while you conduct witch hunts for those you don’t. The favored ones are a smaller group every day.
Your prevarication regarding lawsuits is being observed by many. You were not honest in asserting that all cases were dismissed or abandoned, not settled. Anita Hemphill and Jeff Van Camp settled their lawsuits with you, just to name a few. And the ongoing cases include, Laura Montoya, Philip Nix, Mindy Pare, Adam Narvaez and Tama Barber and hopefully Bain Custer soon. And this is not an all-inclusive list. I believe there are more, but you would have to ask your counsel, who is paid for by the people. They have an accurate count I’m sure.
Your rush to judgment on how the PBA letter got out is not surprising. It is much like your impulsive press conference asserting you don’t remember ever meeting Leah Manning, or your rush to think there was no Billy Boyette was in woods next to the vehicle he left abandoned, when, in fact, he was; that poor decision cost another life. All these poor decisions from the number one law enforcement officer in the county. Is there any wonder the people who call you boss, are reaching out to anyone who will listen asking for intervention?
But to be clear, this is me accepting responsibility for leaking this letter that I RECEIVED FROM YOUR OFFICE. You may want to apologize to the PBA.
I wasn’t going to dignify this video with a response but I reconsidered. It is important to speak out when it is necessary and this video reverberates the lack of respect this man has for his constituents. This was an overblown social media story that was essentially a misunderstanding but instead of correcting the misperception, Sir David decided to mock and even arrest a constituent because this misunderstanding.
Without further adieu, the Famous Chicken Video….
The fact he is the citizen thought they heard a gunshot and it was simultaneously when the deputy rolled by with his window open. If you perhaps heard, then exactly what happened might be ambiguous. That being said the deputy didn’t stop to say check on the animal or attempt to locate the owner as he would have probably done had it been a conventional pet. The fact he didn’t stop added to the misunderstanding of what happened. Had he stopped, he could have cleared the situation up immediately. But instead, he drove away knowing that there were witnesses. The owner was subsequently arrested for filing a false police report because he stated the officer shot the chicken.
Morgan is effectively mocking his constituents and looks like an ass in doing so. This situation was unfortunate but it was preventable with clarification and by not belittling the situation or people involved. It shows how low Morgan is for assuming he is any better than anyone, particularly when this same deputy was allowed to resign last week after being caught in a prostitution sting involving him providing illegal drugs for sex.
Now view the moral high ground the Sheriff is taking. He sounds like a jackass for talking down to citizens and building the moral high ground for this deputy because he obviously above shooting a chicken, right?
Ridiculous and sad that the Escambia County Sheriff even says you should be glad he and his office have a “modicum of character and integrity” for NOT ARRESTING A DEPUTY WHO COMMITTED MULTIPLE FELONIES, BUT DID NOT SHOT A CHICKEN.
Public safety in Escambia County is officially a joke. EMS is falsifying certification, failing to train EMT’s. The fire department well, that is a known issue. They both fall under Public Safety in Escambia County.
In the past several days, Escambia County has seen changes in personnel at the management level. After some rumbling about poor leadership and questionable management practices individuals at the top levels are gone. The employees spoke out and received some well-deserved attention. The Escambia County Professional Firefighters, the representing union, took the initiative to act against labor practices that caused the employees to lose confidence in the leadership. The union brought attention to the problems that plagued the employees. The result was favorable to the employees and those performing inadequately in leadership positions are no longer hindering progress of those simply doing the job they are being paid to do.
The recent news is refreshing to many in other parts of the
county working for inept leaders. The Escambia County Sheriffs Office is
another example of a county agency void of effective leadership. The ECSO has
been under the microscope for some length of time. Complaints of LET fund
mishandling to numerous lawsuits of misconduct or mistreatment of employees are
at a high never seen by any other Sheriff in this county.
The Northwest Florida Police Benevolence Association, the
representing union for ECSO employees, could learn some moves from Professional
Firefighters. If some action was taken by PBA to expose the corrupt practices
that have become so common at the ECSO. The employees could work again with
some degree of confidence the leadership had the ability to effectively lead
the agency. Exposing the corruption would place in the open how ineffective and
destructive David Morgan has been during his time as Sheriff.
The PBA was criticized during the budget debacle in 2018.
Eric Haines used the leverage a raise would have on officers and open a
contract that was not due to be negotiated. Haines lied to the BOCC and to any
citizen that he tried to sway to his side of the argument. Haines was aware he
could use the raise to strong arm the union. He didn’t care about the deputies
getting a raise. He wanted to spend someone else’s money to achieve a
diabolical goal of stripping the contract PBA had negotiated.
Haines argued continuously that the main problem facing the
ECSO was officer retention. The truth is poor leadership is the cause of
officers leaving the agency. The numbers do not show that the pay increase
helped ECSO retain officers. The mass departure of experienced officers to
other agencies continues to burden Haines. The main cause of failed leadership
practices is the person that can determine the solution and there would be
little expectation of Haines firing himself. He still believes he was an actual
The Firefighters had less reason to complain than the
officers at the ECSO. It is public knowledge that a Federal Judge has
determined in a court decision that Haines had a bias toward female employees.
It would be reasonable to believe that Haines should be removed from his
position and Morgan should be investigated by the Governor. Any person in a
leadership position should not be bias toward male or female. It is either
ignorance or arrogance for Morgan to ignore the opinion found in court
documents concerning Haines unprofessional behavior toward females. Morgan has
the ultimate ability and a sworn duty to protect employees from predators like
The PBA should understand that sitting back playing catch up
is not proven to be the best plan to achieve success. The ECSO has an
observable history, with Morgan and Haines at the helm, that would demonstrate
an absence of conscious and ability to take the agency into the future. The
employees have the right to be protected by the union. The dues payments of the
employees are for the purpose of job protection and PBA is responsible to
attempt to provide that protection. All employees should call on the President
of PBA to form a plan and seek a path that is best for employees. It can be
done and was just proven to be an achievable goal by Professional Firefighters.
Kudos to the Firefighters for having the courage to make your own path and demand the leadership your professional talents deserve. Now the ECSO should be next to be evaluated, perhaps by the Governor as Doug Underhill suggested.
The most ironic part of that suggestion is that if the Governor does get involved it will be the entirety of local government that will be investigated including Underhill, who has been caught inappropriately using grant money to the tune of over $2m from the feds and state. He was asked to repay the money back to the county because he usurped money that he was not entitled to.
Bottom line, when you call 9-1-1, you are taking a huge risk of getting an inexperienced, poorly trained first responder, be it EMT, firefighter, or deputy. This is what the county is today.
One of the most important founding elements of this country lies in the varying checks & balances. The Founding Fathers knew that it is likely that one entity or facet of government will overstep; therefore, another facet would have to oversee or sign off, as it were.
Strangely enough, the ECSO is not privy to any oversight on the bulk of their budget. The fundamental problem with that is the clear misappropriation of LET funds exposed over the years by this agency. Currently, they are still out of compliance with Florida Statute on that, because they are not following up with the receivers of state/county funds to make sure it was spent properly. That is one of the checks and balances to verify there is no misappropriation by the agencies in receipt of money spent by the county. It’s common practice to require follow up documentation to show where the money went. Most agencies have banned organizations from future funds if they refuse to comply with this follow up accounting. They are shut off from state/county money. Why is this necessary? Governmental accountability….plain and simple. Trust but verify, as Ronald Reagan said.
So we still have millions of dollars being unaccounted by the ECSO, then I find out through varying requests that there is so much more that the ECSO juggles that never sees oversight. With the LET records being dubious at best, and the deputy raises that were provided for by the county but never trickled down to the deputies over the past years (as exposed in the budget impasse of late) when will taxpayers and the county coffers demand accountability and hold the ECSO up to the fiduciary standard that the rest of the county is held to?
This agency can charge a fee for gathering public records if a request is made. Few requests will have any costs associated with the request. If a person is told there is an exorbitant fee for a record request that should garner attention. Unless the request is so labor intensive, or requests information not normally maintained, the majority of the public records requests are easily gathered. In today’s technology world records are available with a few keystrokes in most cases.
Recently, a question was raised about the Escambia County Sheriffs Office involving money. Specifically, where certain monies go, since there is no account that that the ECSO has to deposit into, such as a checking account. It is not something that shows up in the official budget. There must be existing records. Simple request, right? This public record should be answered in a matter of minutes. But, because the ECSO is the agency that has the record, it will no doubt be overcomplicated to jack up the “fees” associated with research, or they will simply state “no records exist”. These are the standard 2 answers when a public records request comes in for information, the agency does not want to disclose. Any request that would expose Morgan as the inept law enforcement official he is always is met with unprecedented push-back as well as any request that requires the ECSO to explain where they are hemorrhaging tax dollars will be met with resistance.
In this case, the money being properly unaccounted for is money related to off duty employment. The ECSO has a policy in place that defines what the procedure is for deputies working “off duty” employment. The policy has a minimum amount deputy will be paid. It also has what the deputy must do to be allowed to work “off duty” jobs. One requirement is that a deputy must pay a fee off two dollars an hour back to the ECSO. The ECSO keeps record of how many hours each deputy works each month. The deputy is then sent a bill that is paid to the ECSO (cash only for a long time, but now they accept debit cards).
This is Accounting 101. Cash is paid to the ECSO and they could easily furnish records about transactions involving a bill and a payment. But how much money does the ECSO collect from the deputies that pay a fee for working off duty each month? Where does the money go after it is collected? Is it considered income for the ECSO? Is there a requirement to report this income to be taxed? Has it been reported? No trick questions there but important questions that require an answer from the ECSO.
Oh, and I have told repeatedly that the ECSO has no duty to answer questions–only provide public records. They “are not inclined to or have the responsibility to” answer questions, according to Chief Deputy Eric Haines. Oddly enough, every other facet of Escambia County government I have dealt with, including the state attorney’s office, is remarkably willing to answer any questions about process and procedure. It is just the ECSO that is not.
And as we know the ECSO has proven that they are not honest with money issues. It may seem as if off-duty money collected is not a substantial amount of money, but for example, Navy Federal Credit Union is a regular off duty job opportunity for the ECSO. Deputies working that job alone have paid over $1500 back to the ECSO. Now consider that Navy Federal is one of hundreds of locations that have deputies throughout the year. The amount of income collected from the deputies for off duty security employment is thousands of dollars each month. This should not be considered insignificant. There is a former Sheriff in prison for misappropriating taxpayer money. The amount of misappropriated funds in the other Sheriff’s case was far less than the funds in question here.
Shouldn’t the media get involved with this issue? We are talking about multiple millions of dollars. Just in the past week, a Grand Jury was not pleased or impressed with how Escambia County handles money issues or oversight of the money grossly mishandled in Century. The dollar amount in question with the ECSO is at least triple the amount of money being questioned in Century. Wouldn’t a grand jury be even more appalled to see the reckless lack of oversight of the ECSO? Is it not a concern of comptroller or county administrator that there is likely (based on the brief preview of the LET fund) mishandling of the amount of money involved here? Accountability about how funds are handled should be everyone’s priority. It is time to ask these questions as well as the questions, others have. If the media is not going to ask questions and hold officials accountable, the citizens must do it.
Look for updates concerning this topic. If anyone decides to make requests or has information about this, please feel free to share with everyone.