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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Another PD Scandal Shows Deep-Seated Problems

Latest scandal shows deep-seated problems in Fruitland Park Police Department
The Orlando Sentinel - COMMENTARY - by Lauren Ritchie - April 15, 2012

Fruitland Park just can't catch a break with its police department, and unless it makes dramatic changes, it never will. That's not to say Chief Terry Isaacs isn't trying. His leadership is remarkable under the circumstances, but he's in a no-win spot. In the most recent misstep by the department, which unfolded last week, Isaacs said he can prove only sloppiness and poor judgment. That's too bad, because what happened looks like corruption — the kind that, unchecked, destroys a police department and ruins public trust. Here's what Isaacs said happened: The mess began in January with a tip to the Fruitland Park Police Department that a man was selling drugs in the front yard of a house that is one building lot away from Fruitland Park Elementary. Cpl. Chad Yeary, the department's drug officer, began an investigation that involved a confidential informant buying crack cocaine from the same suspect four times at 202 Iona St. It ended with the Feb. 16 arrest of Michael Benn, 24, on five felony drug charges and two misdemeanor counts. Yeary submitted an affidavit to obtain a search warrant and then found drugs in the house. Later, a citizen told Isaacs that the confidential informant was boasting around town that he'd been paid $20 to lie in a affidavit. He agreed to claim that he saw Benn come out of the house to sell him the drugs; in truth, Benn was waiting on the front lawn, Isaacs said. This detail was important because officers were trying to place Benn in the house so that they could get a judge to sign a warrant to search it. In investigating the allegation, Isaacs asked officers for the statements that the confidential informant wrote after each transaction and the audio from the undercover recording device he wore. Poof! They were gone. To his credit, Isaacs "locked down" the department. He put Yeary in one room and Officer Walter Howard, who was assisting Yeary, in another, and took separate statements from each. He searched the entire department, including every squad car, locker and desk. Nothing. The records, the audio recordings and the department's recording device are still missing. And there were discrepancies the size of the Grand Canyon between what Yeary and Howard had to say. So, did Yeary lie in a sworn statement to a judge to get a search warrant? Did he pay off the confidential informant to back him up in the lie? Did he try to cover up by destroying records in the case? Fruitland Park will never know because the chief allowed Yeary, 31, to resign. That was a mistake. Howard, 45, who played a more minor role, received a written reprimand and is on probation for 30 day.

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