The Daytona Beach News-Journal by Jay Stapleton - January 20, 2012
DAYTONA BEACH, FL -- A former Volusia County Beach Patrol captain was found guilty Thursday by a jury of solicitation to commit perjury for telling a young woman to lie to authorities during an investigation of sexual activity with teen girls within the agency. The jury took less than two hours to find Jecoa Duane Simmons guilty. He now faces a sentence ranging from probation to five years in prison. A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled. The state's case against Simmons, 38, focused on deception and betrayal in the intimate sex lives of all involved. A key piece of evidence was a conversation between Simmons and Christie Rancourt, 26, recorded by State Attorney's Office investigators. Rancourt, who was 19 when she said she had sex with Simmons, was contacted in late 2009 by authorities conducting a larger investigation into sexual misdeeds within the agency. Simmons had called Rancourt on the phone after fellow Beach Patrol Officer Robert Tameris was arrested on a charge of having sex with a 16-year-old girl. Robert Taylor, an investigator with the State Attorney's Office, also called Rancourt, who gave a statement. They arranged for her to use a recording device and call Simmons. "You don't have to tell them anything," Simmons told Rancourt in the recorded conversation that was played for the jury on Thursday. "We never had sex, that's all they need to know." Rancourt conceded she was angry at Simmons during the conversation, mostly because he wouldn't "admit" on the phone the details of their relationship. "We were friends with benefits," Rancourt said in court Thursday, explaining the casual nature of their relationship. Simmons never admitted any sexual activity with her, either on the recorded conversation or in court. Simmons lost his job as a Beach Patrol officer in 2009 when he was charged with the third-degree felony. A more serious charge of tampering was dismissed in court last year. Prosecutor Celeste Gagne focused on the recorded conversation to convince the jury of Simmons' efforts to get Rancourt to lie. Defense lawyer Mike Lambert, however, attacked the very fact that charges were pursued. He pointed at a portion of the recorded conversation, in which Rancourt had asked Simmons, "what should I tell them if I'm put under oath?" "If you're under oath, then I wouldn't talk to them," Simmons had told her. "I'd get a lawyer." That, to Lambert, was proof that Simmons did not tell Rancourt to lie. "He told her to get a lawyer," he said. The jury disagreed. Simmons' legal trouble began in 2009, when the State Attorney's Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Volusia County authorities began to look into sexual relationships Beach Patrol officers were accused of having with underage lifeguards. Rancourt was one of several young women who spoke with investigators at the time. She said she'd had sexually intimate relationships with both Simmons and Beach Patrol Officer Bobby Tameris, 46, who was arrested in a separate case alleging sex with underage girls. Tameris, Simmons and lifeguard Christian Duarte, 32, were all fired after the allegations came to light. Duarte was never charged. Tameris, who also is represented by Lambert, is awaiting a separate trial next month. Lambert told the jury the case against Simmons was "generated by the State Attorney's Office." He questioned why the charges were pursued, suggesting the case against Simmons was all about getting people to talk about Tameris. Gagne had the last word. "The defendant is being prosecuted because he violated the law," she said. Simmons was asked to turn over his passport while awaiting sentencing. Simmons also was named as a defendant in a federal civil suit by a former teenage lifeguard, most of which was dismissed Thursday afternoon.