More Sketchy ECSO Facts

In my last post, the procedure of how the “sensitive” or “exceptional” investigations conducted by the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office were handled was explained by LT. Steve Cappas. Zach Ward pointed out how a report with critical evidence that he handled was inexplicably missing from the case file while it was replaced by another report done a year later by a different person. This illustrates tampering and/or destruction of evidence. Steve Cappas tried hard to cover up and explain away inaccuracies told by Sheriff Morgan in his press conference. It was obvious that evidence that should have been handled professionally and securely, was not and many people were aware and had access to sensitive information that could be manipulated for self-preservation by many. I am not saying it WAS manipulated but just the fact that the opportunity and access facilitated the possibility of multiple hands altering evidence to preserve their livelihoods, reputations, and marriages, exists. It would just take one desperate person feeling backed into a corner, with the ability to distort the facts of the case via the digital evidence. While I am not saying it did happen for a fact, often, good people make bad decisions if the opportunity presents itself. This was a politically charged case that could have led to career ending implications, possible jail time repercussions and even personal life destruction. And the handling of evidence was so sloppy, that we cannot know for a fact it wasn’t tainted. That is the reason for police procedures is to minimize opportunities and preserve chain of custody. That did not exist in this case.  My question is how many other cases happened like that over the tenure of Sheriff Morgan?

 In trying to understand if it is possible other cases, big or small, may have been handled just as unprofessionally, we must look at the people in charge of such investigations. Today, I want to continue the discussion with a look at the most recent head of Internal Affairs investigations, Frank Forte. Under his watch, many deputies’ careers have passed through his hands.  Just to give some context and clarification, during Zarzaur’s deposition with Eric Haines, done last week, it came out there is no internal procedure or process of handling or even initiating IA investigations. IA has been used as a tool for the administration to conduct witch hunts against deputies they consider, unworthy of the badge. Any reasoning works and depending on how vehemently Eric wants people gone, it can be a nonsensical and even unlawful process. An example is Tama Barber’s writ of Mandamus, where Morgan decided there would be no compliance hearing that is available to deputies via Florida statute. Morgan doesn’t have the authority to deny that, yet he did. This is standard operating procedure.

None these mishandlings of IA investigations can go on, if a professional is at the head of this department, assuring deputies’ rights aren’t violated as well as procedure is followed to protect the ECSO from liability in wrongful termination suits. Forte being the head of this particular department, is very interesting because there is documentation showing Frank Forte perjured himself.

Because my colleague, Dr. James Scaminaci III delivers the facts as elegantly as I would be able to, I differ to his article on CJ’s Street Report from December 14, 2016:

The basic facts are these.  Sergeant Nix was working a side job in Pensacola Beach.  He gave permission to three vehicles to park in a “Loading Zone” area.  Sergeant Nix knew that there was no Florida statute prohibiting parking in such a zone (there is now).  Sergeant Nix advised Deputy Cripe that he had given the car owners permission to park there and that it was legal.  Deputy Cripe complained to Lt. Frank Forte who instructed Deputy Cripe to write the tickets.  Once Nix left his side job, Cripe wrote two tickets on Saturday and one ticket on Monday.  The three tickets involved two car owners.

Sergeant Nix was subpoenaed to appear as a defense witness, as was Deputy Cripe as a for the prosecution.  Lt. Forte attended as an observer.

After Nix’s testimony had concluded, Lt. Forte told Col Hardy that Sergeant Nix had violated ECSO guidelines in his testimony.  In the June 28, 2016, memo from Col Hardy to Chief Deputy Haines, Hardy wrote:  “Following the hearings, I was contacted by Lt. Forte and he informed me that it was his belief that the testimony given by Sgt. Nix against the Sheriff’s Office during the hearings rose to the level of Unbecoming Conduct in violation of ECSO policy.”

In the very same memo from Hardy to Haines, Col Hardy informed the Chief Deputy that he had checked to see if there were any evidence that could contradict or corroborate Lt Forte’s belief.  There was no such evidence.  Thus, the second Internal Affairs investigation began.

It is important to note that this second Internal Affairs investigation proceeded once Hardy and Haines were assured there was no evidence that could contradict Forte’s statement.  It would be an officer’s word against a sergeant’s word, backed up by a deputy, Cripe who was in the courtroom.

Unbeknownst to Haines, Hardy, Forte, and Cripe, Sergeant Nix, already in the gun sights of the ECSO due to the ongoing first Internal Affairs investigation seeking to charge him with felony grand theft, paid for a court reporter to record the proceedings of the traffic court.

Unfortunately, I do not have an electronic copy of the second Internal Affairs documentation.  However, I do have hard copy of Lt. Forte’s sworn recorded statement regarding IA # I2016-012 dated July 22, 2016.

On page 9 of his sworn to be true testimony, Lt Forte told ECSO investigators, “…and the exact words, I can’t remember but I can tell you that part of it was, I was assigned to that beach for a long time and I’m aware that deputies have a habit of writing illegal tickets there.  And I couldn’t believe that he made that statement in court.  First of all, it’s not a true statement.  But to make that statement is bad enough….Our deputies sitting there shaking their heads.  Got their heads down shaking their heads like they can’t believe those words just came out of Nix’s mouth.”

On page 10, Lt. Forte’s sworn to be true recorded testimony reads:  “POLLOCK: And is this opinion of these illegal tickets or did he just kind of make some blanket statement?  FORTE: Nix blurted the statement I gave you.  Uhm.  He was never asked, what is your opinion or anything of that nature.  I didn’t hear that.  What I heard was Philip Nix explaining how he gave them permission and then he continues on to say something to the effect of, I’m very familiar with that red curb because uh there’s been numerous deputies that have written tickets on that, uh illegal parking tickets on that red curb.  Uhm, and when he made that statement uhm I can assure you no one asked him his opinion or asked him any of that.  He, that was, that was solely on him.”

Pretty damning stuff.  Except not one word of what Lt. Forte swore to be true under oath under the penalty of perjury was true.  He lied through his teeth believing there was no way his perjured testimony could be challenged by Sergeant Nix.

According to the transcript of the traffic court hearing, here is exactly what was said in the exchange between Mr. Chris Rabby, the lawyer for the car owners, and Sergeant Nix, witness for the defense:

“Question: So the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department has been illegally ticketing people for years for parking in front of The Dock?”
“Answer [NIX]:  “I don’t–if there is no statute for it, I don’t know what they are being ticketed for.”
Mr. Rabby:  “I don’t have any further questions of this witness.”

Maybe in an alternate universe there is a Sergeant Nix transforming a question from a lawyer into his own statement, but in that traffic hearing on that day, Sergeant Nix answered in the negative.  Lt. Forte’s sworn to be true testimony is false.  He perjured himself.  Surely there is some violation of ECSO policy for bringing a false accusation against a fellow law enforcement officer, providing false testimony, and wasting the ECSO’s resources on a fake crime.

Was Lt. Forte investigated or otherwise disciplined for making a false accusation, providing false testimony, and wasting ECSO resources?  In the voice of an insurance company model, “No.”

Here, outsiders can see clearly two standards of justice.  If you are a favorite of the ruling class–Morgan and Haines and Hardy–you can lie under oath, as long as your lies are in the service of the ruling class.  In that case, you are golden.  But, if you stand up for ordinary residents being falsely accused by the ECSO of parking their cars in a prohibited loading zone, well, you better have a lawyer and a court reporter on your side.  But what is legal and what is true are of no concern to Morgan and Haines.  What counts for them is blind obedience–the law and truth be damned.

Any resident should be able to understand this case and the jeopardy that puts you in.  If Sheriff Morgan wants you to be fined and/or prosecuted, there are deputies willing to perjure themselves to keep their jobs.  And Morgan will protect them.  We know that because Sergeant Nix advised Sheriff Morgan as to the lies told and Morgan did absolutely nothing

So we have established we have a lieutenant over Special Victims or Investigations that doesn’t secure evidence, now the Lieutenant over Internal Affairs who has perjured himself and been apparently rewarded for doing so by subsequent promotion to his current position after the perjury was made clear to admin. Why should we expect any investigation to be handled correctly when we cannot expect proper handling of big cases, like the Manning sex case nor the civil case involving parking tickets illegally issued?

Anyone wanting to read the entire, lengthy statement of Frank Forte, the court transcript from the civil traffic court case or the result of the IA against Forte for perjury which exonerated him can click links above.