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 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.
I posted about Henrique Dias being absent from his post as the CFO of ECSO. It has now been 3 weeks and Dias has not been mentioned. It is implied he will not return. Dias has been at this agency for 20 years. He’s 54 years old. He has 2 kids in college. Three weeks have passed without anyone actually checking to see why this long time employee just stopped coming to work. He’s not been reported missing. Admin at the ECSO will not allow people to ask questions; no one has explained why this top echelon employee isn’t there.
Am I really the only one who thinks that his absence, at this point in time, as well as Morgan’s absence for the better part of this time, is really fishy? The county budget for the ECSO was referred to the Governor; it is tax time in an agency with need of fiduciary guidance, yet no one is really concerned about the future of this agency or what it would mean if financial matters came to a halt for the employees?
Can someone who has worked beside people for years be so unimportant as to not draw attention when they inexplicably don’t show up for a prolonged period of time? Would you notice if your long term colleague stopped showing up? Would you call his wife to make sure he’s ok? Would you ask his neighbors if they had seen him? Would you expect your boss (who happens to run an agency that has a duty to locate people in the community) to silence people who ask questions or spread DISINFORMATION about their employee?
That is precisely what has happened here. Why the games? Why the apathy? If this agency can’t be truthful with its own ABOUT its own, can it be trusted to care about the nameless people it is suppose to protect?
Every life matters and this is a perfect example of what this agency thinks of the people in its trust. If there ever was a case where actions are louder than words, this is it.
If you stopped coming to work one day, wouldn’t you wish someone would feel a duty to find out why??