Did we piss off Police Chief Buz Dillon or what?!
Unless you've been on vacation on the moon, you know that Dillon somehow convinced Judge Wayne Miller to sign a warrant for my arrest last Friday using an obscure state statute that was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge years ago.
Of course, this act of abject stupidity made the newspapers here after Dillon ordered his pubic information flack to send out a press release. It also made the national news, including the Associated Press wire and National Public Radio, outraging First Amendment advocates across the country, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The story across the nation: Key West Police Chief throws journalist in jail for uncovering and reporting corruption and incompetence within the Police Dept. That sounds a lot like Cuba, doesn't it?
The St. Petersburg Times editorialized: "Even in a town known mostly for its bacchanalian Fantasy Fest and daily sunset celebrations, the police chief's behavior is outrageous. The Key West city manager and commissioners should be embarrassed enough to demand his badge. Dillon's behavior is unacceptable in a democracy."
Dillon's local press hasn't been all that hot either.
The headline of the Key West Citizen's editorial Tuesday read: "Chief's Attempt To Silence Critic Is An Abuse of Authority." Most in this town agree. What he did was really dumb.
The five-column banner headline on top of a huge article in the Miami Herald Tuesday read: "Key West Police Chief Has Journalist Critic Arrested." In that story, a former legal director of the Florida ACLU was quoted as saying: "The unconstitutionality of this statute has been so clearly established for so long that the only possible justification for this (the arrest) can be retaliation, and that's not a permissible objective under the first amendment."
Also, according to the Miami Herald, when U.S. District Judge William Zlock declared that statute unconstitutional in October 1990, he said: "This statute chills free speech and chills the expression of free information."
So now the question is: Why did Judge Miller approve Dillon's personal request for a warrant based on this now-bogus statute? He is known as a stickler for accuracy. Had he taken a just a few moments to check out the law before signing the warrant, he would have seen that, first of all, Florida Statute 112.533 deals exclusively with the rights of and restrictions on law enforcement officers. And I'm not a law enforcement officer.
But it gets worse. The paragraph of the statute that Dillon meant to use as the basis for the warrant was probably paragraph 4, which says that a law enforcement officer can't reveal any information about an on-going internal affairs investigation, even if he's the complainant. That's the paragraph Judge Zlock declared unconstitutional.
But paragraph 4 is not the reference that was typed on the warrant that Miller signed! Dillon or somebody else in the Police Dept. typed 112.533(3). Here is the full text of paragraph 3:
"A law enforcement officer or correctional officer has the right to review his or her official personnel file at any reasonable time under the supervision of the designated records custodian. A law enforcement officer may attach to the file a concise statement in response to any items included in the file identified by the officer as derogatory, and copies of such items must be made available to the officer."
Now, frankly, we don't have a clue why Chief Dillon thinks we violated any part of that law but that's the law he used to request the warrant for my arrest! We're not making this up!
But whether Dillon intentially lied to Judge Miller, causing such a defective warrant, remains a mystery. For now.
To suggest that Chief Dillon over-reacted would be, to say the least, an understatement. But our sources inside and outside the Police Dept. tell us that the reason he is more-than-mad at Key West The Newspaper is because we have continued to uncover and report allegations of corruption and incompetence in his department.
But even as he tried to gag us by swearing out that warrant, he did not question the truthfulness of our reports. He simply wants them to stop!
In mid-May we broke a story about an allegation that police Lt. Al Flowers may have lied in court back in 1997. Not much of a story, really. But we became suspicious when the cops wouldn't answer any questions. We continued to investigate.
We learned that an Internal Affairs investigator may have declared a citizen complaint about Flowers' alleged perjury "unfounded" without conducting a real investigation. We uncovered this information by using the state public documents law to gain access to the Internal Affairs files. These were files on closed investigations and were, therefore, public record. We reported this story on June 1.
But when we asked the cops to justify or explain away this alleged falsification and coverup, they would only say, "No comment." Why do you think they would do that?
In any event, I didn't think that was right. Something was fishy. So, to try to force an investigation, I filed a formal complaint with the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement (FDLE). In that complaint, I passed along all of the information and evidence we had uncovered so far as a result of our own investigation.
To Buz Dillon's chagrin, the FDLE not only ordered him to conduct an investigation, they ordered him to conduct that investigation based on the allegations that had been published in Key West The Newspaper! And they sent us a copy of that order!
It probably didn't help Dillon's agitated mental state when we faxed this note over to him: "Hey, Buz! Why don't you just tell the FDLE `No comment'?!"
Based on the information we had received from the FDLE, we reported on June 15 that the FDLE had ordered an investigation and that Chief Dillon had 45 days to respond. (Today, he has only 23 days to get back to the FDLE.)
Last Friday, June 22, we published a detailed opinion piece speculating on what Dillon might or might not tell the FDLE. And we not only summarized all of the information and allegations we had previously published information we had developed from our own sources we also recounted several other previously-published stories that support our opinion that Dillon and his boss, City Manager Julio Avael are coverup artists.
The warrant for my arrest was sworn out that very afternoon! Buz alleged that it is against the law for us to report on an ongoing internal affairs investigation. What investigation is that, Buz? The one you refused to convene, even after our stories laid out the allegations and evidence for you?! Or the one that the FDLE finally ordered based on our evidence and allegations?!
Geez, Buz! How did you ever pass the how-to-be-a-cop test?
Both Buz Dillon and his PR flack have said publicly that I was notified of the warrant "as a courtesy." That's not true. A friend alerted me that the news about the warrant was on the radio.
In the Miami Herald article, Dillon is quoted as saying, "I called him up when the warrant was filed and asked him to turn himself in."
Buz Dillon is a liar. It didn't happen.
I was off on Friday afternoon, but I went into the office Saturday morning, fully expecting to find a message on the answering machine, a fax or, at least, an envelope on my desk. There was no telephone message. There was no fax. There was no envelope on my desk. And no one else in my office had been informed. They didn't even send us their press release!
So . . . what happens now? Well, we predict that the FDLE will soon be investigating Chief Dillon for "abuse of authority."
If there is any good news for him, it's this: We here at Key West The Newspaper have no intention of slacking off in our efforts to uncover and report corruption and incompetence in the Police Dept. Why might that be "good news" for Dillon, you might ask? Well, that will give him an opportunity to try to have us arrested every Friday!