Evidence thin against fired Naples Police Officer as FDLE agent refuses to testify
Evidence thin against fired Naples Police Officer as FDLE agent refuses to testify
Documents, testimony raise questions about whether Naples Officer Russ Ayers was targeted as a whistleblower, disparaged for religious beliefs
By Gina Edwards
Naples City Desk on WatchdogCity.com
Nov. 17, 2016 ---- The Naples Police Department’s firing case against a 17-year veteran officer began to crumble when one Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent refused to answer a subpoena and testify on behalf of the City last week, and the testimony of another FDLE agent raised questions about whether the fired Naples Police officer was targeted by fellow officers as a whistleblower and disparaged for his Christian religion.
The arbitrator weighing evidence in Naples Police Officer Russell Ayers’ grievance to get his job back warned the city that its termination case against Ayers was wearing thin -- with reliance on second-hand hearsay and a key witness missing, one of them an FDLE agent who refused a subpoena to provide sworn testimony on behalf of the city.
“The next time we convene, it’s fish or cut bait,” arbitrator Kenneth Starr told the city’s lawyer, Wayne Helsby, at a hearing in Naples City Hall on Nov. 8. He warned the city needed to produce its key witness, FDLE Agent Bryan Waid, who conducted a polygraph of Ayers.
Naples Lt. Robert “Bobby” Young accused Ayers of stealing his 9 mm glock pistol, his duty weapon, from inside an unlocked cabinet in an office in the Naples Police Department telling FDLE agents that he believes Ayers suffers from a “mental disorder” that manifests “in the form of Ayers’ public persona of being a very religious person.” An estimated 30 people had access to where Young says he left his gun and FDLE found no probable cause that Ayers stole it. But Naples Police fired Ayers in February saying he acted deceptively during a polygraph exam during the investigation of the missing gun.
FDLE does not have audio or video recordings of the polygraph. The city hasn’t provided polygraph charts or evidence to Ayers’ attorney.
“If they really took a polygraph, where are the results?” Ayers’ attorney Robert Buschel said in the hearing. “How is this just?” he added.
And FDLE agent Waid, who authored a summary saying Ayers used heavy breathing and tensing to throw off the polygraph, refused to cooperate and appear last week to testify under oath in response to a subpoena from the City’s attorney. Waid scored the polygraph “Deception indicated with the use of countermeasures.”
A spokeswoman for FDLE said Waid resigned from the agency in 2015. “We do not have information on why he is not responding to the subpoena,” FDLE spokeswoman Molly Best said. “We do not have audio or video for the polygraph of Russell Ayers.”
Ayers filed a complaint to get his job back in March saying he was unjustly terminated by Naples Police Chief Tom Weschler. Besides the polygraph allegations, Naples Police say Ayers made false and malicious statements to a community member about fellow officer, Lt. Bobby Young.
“This is a half-baked case,” Ayers’ attorney Buschel told the arbitrator. “There is no case.”
Chief Weschler declined to comment through a spokesperson saying the hearing was still open. A continuance, where the City will finish its evidence and Ayers will be allowed to present his side, was continued to Jan. 9.
Investigation or Intimidation
Documents obtained by Naples City Desk and testimony in the case raise questions as to whether Lt. Young accused Officer Ayers of stealing his gun from an unlocked cabinet in his office to exact payback.
Ayers was questioned by Lee County Sheriff’s investigators about his past testimony in an internal affairs investigation about Naples Police Sgt. Amy Young, Bobby Young’s ex-wife, following the dramatic cop-on-cop shooting tragedy that rocked the Naples PD and grabbed headlines in July 2014.
Ayers’ statements to Lee investigators went public when NBC-2 published investigative documents. Two weeks later, Naples Police Lt. Bobby Young, Amy Young’s ex-husband, accused Ayers of stealing his 9mm glock pistol. Lt. Bobby Young sent an email to other police supervisors asking if anyone had “borrowed” his gun, his duty weapon. Young said he left his gun in the night sergeant’s office he shared in an unlocked cabinet for the weekend days he was off. Naples Police issued a press release about the missing gun and asked FDLE to investigate.
Electronic key entry data and video established there were 30 people who had access to where Young says he left his gun from 5 a.m. Friday, Nov. 14, 2014 to 9 p.m. Monday, Nov. 17, 2014.
Lt. Bobby Young, a Sergeant at the time, told FLDE agents that he suspected “only one” person of stealing his gun – Ayers. “Young explained that in his opinion Ayers underwent a dramatic personality change some years back and Young honestly believes that Ayers suffers from some sort of mental disorder,” FDLE Agent Shedlock wrote.
“Young said that the mental disorder manifests itself in a number of behaviors. One example is Ayers’ very public persona of being a very religious person. He wears a crucifix on his uniform and has become critical of most things around him, using his religious beliefs to justify his criticisms,” FDLE Agent Carl Shedlock wrote in his Nov. 24, 2015 interview summary.
Shedlock wrote that Young gave two examples, saying Ayers has taken a vocal and negative view of the Naples Police Department. Young said he saw Ayers making a copy of an anonymous letter criticizing the police department. In addition, Young told FDLE Agent Shedlock that he, as union president, was trying to get his former wife, Sgt. Amy Young reinstated to the force, but that Ayers was vocally opposed to it.
Sgt. Amy Young was shot in an attempted murder suicide by her live-in boyfriend and subordinate, Naples Police Officer David Monroig, who then killed himself. Eventually, Sgt. Amy Young dropped attempts to get her Naples police job back, saying her injuries would permanently prevent her from police work. The City agreed to pay her $140,000 and allow her to draw her annual pension early. The City also agreed to forgo taking any employment actions against Amy Young, although witnesses said she drove home drunk the night of the shooting after a night out on Fifth Avenue with fellow officer Jennifer Casciano, and she drew her gun first on Monroig in the escalating domestic violence tragedy.
At the arbitration hearing last week, FDLE Agent Shedlock testified that Ayers laughed and “cackled” and gave an inappropriate response during his Nov. 24, 2015 interview. Shedlock said Ayers wanted to linger and tell him what a “good guy” he was and that he was religious.
Shedlock said he focused his investigation of the missing gun only on Ayers because he was the only one who gave an inappropriate interview response.
That focus came even though other officers interviewed were in the night sergeant’s office and some testified the door was typically locked.
In cross examination, Shedlock admitted Ayers had no key to the locked office where Young kept his gun. Shedlock said he didn’t determine which officers had keys.
“Because you were focused on Russell Ayers?” Buschel said.
“Yes,” Shedlock testified.
At Shedlock’s request, Ayers agreed to a polygraph at the FDLE office in Fort Myers. Shedlock testified that, watching from a monitor in another room, he saw Ayers employing heavy breathing to defeat the polygraph and that FDLE Agent Waid told Ayers to stop it.
After the polygraph, Shedlock testified that he employed aggressive interrogation tactics in a follow-up interview with Ayers that he said were designed to produce a confession, saying at one point he accused Ayers of having sex with Amy Young.
Shedlock also testified that he interrogated Ayers about whether he was giving derogatory information about the Naples Police Department to Naples City Council member Teresa Heitmann and whether he had a “relationship” with her.
“You’re a f------ liar!” Shedlock testified he raised his voice at Ayers when Ayers denied it. Shedlock said there was no audio or video of that interview.
Notably, Shedlock’s investigative write-ups and a memo describing the Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, 2015 interviews of Ayers and the polygraph that he presented to his FDLE supervisor don’t disclose the aggressive interrogation techniques, document that he accused Ayers of having sex with Sgt. Amy Young or document questioning Ayers about whether he provided derogatory information about the Naples Police Department to Councilwoman Heitmann and then told Ayers he was a “f------ liar!”
Shedlock’s sworn testimony raises questions as to whether FDLE conducted a thorough probe of the missing gun or whether the allegations were meant to intimidate and target Ayers for breaking the blue wall of silence, the storied code that law enforcement officers follow to keep silent about fellow officers’ misconduct, and punish and intimidate him as a whistleblower.
FDLE did not respond to written questions posed by Naples City Desk about Shedlock’s investigation and his sworn testimony.
In an interview after his testimony, Shedlock defended his investigation saying “We exhausted all investigative leads.”
Public Records: Missing video, missing notes, missing memo
Naples Police met with FDLE agents to review electronic key tracking data and video surveillance with FDLE agents. No video has been identified in the case files with a bird’s eye view showing who entered and exited the night sergeant’s office where Young says he left his gun.
Instead, case reports reference video capturing Ayers in a hallway leading to another hallway where the the night sergeant’s office was located. Key FOB data and that video show Ayers would have had only a 1 minute window to enter the night sergeant’s office and steal the gun.
Shedlock wrote that Ayers was captured on video rounding the corner and holding his right hand in an awkward manner to conceal his hand from the surveillance camera. Ayers repeatedly denied stealing the gun and told FDLE investigators he may have been holding his sun glasses.
In January 2015, FDLE’s Shedlock wrote that “there was no probable cause developed that any specific person took the gun” and the case would be closed.
Naples City Desk made a public records request for all video that Naples Police showed to or provided to FDLE in the investigation of Young’s missing gun. In an Oct. 24 response, Naples PD provided video showing two corridors, one by the evidence lockers and another by glass double exit doors.
Shedlock’s case memo points to other video – it says video showed Ayers after he left the north side of the building and sat in his car before driving away moments after the time in question. That video wasn’t provided to Naples City Desk.
The lack of video – in the case records -- raises questions about why there isn’t more surveillance coverage of Naples Police Department hallways and exterior areas and whether Naples Police have any video that could exonerate Ayers or point to someone else.
Shedlock wrote a case closing memo on April 29, 2015. Naples Police opened an internal affairs investigation of Ayers, and Lt. Finman said he met with Shedlock on July 14, 2015.
Finman documented his interview in a memo to the case file – dated more than six months after the fact – and wrote that: “Carl [Shedlock] believes without a doubt that Russell Ayers played a role in the theft of Sgt. Bobby Young’s sidearm.”
That memo says Shedlock called Ayers a liar while referring to his involvement with the anonymous letters and Heitmann and asked why he had such a hatred for Amy Young pertaining to “fidelity issues.”
Naples City Desk made a public records request asking for any of Finman’s handwritten notes in the internal affairs case against Ayers. None were provided in response. When asked if he had any handwritten notes of his interview with Shedlock, Finman said he destroyed them when he formalized them in his memo and that handwritten notes are not public record.
Finman’s interview of Shedlock came one month after an outside investigator closed out a review of explosive allegations sent in an anonymous letter to members of the media and community leaders. In that investigation, Ayers said Finman wrote a memo saying Sgt. Amy Young claimed she has an “itchy trigger finger” when she gets excited and that Ayers saw the memo.
In a 2011 incident, Sgt. Amy Young pulled her vehicle over to the side of U.S. 41 and drew her weapon and fired on an unarmed black man who was walking away from her with his hands in his pockets while she was searching for a different black man who reportedly had a gun and was involved in a verbal fight a few blocks away. Young missed shooting the man and her bullet lodged in a nearby building. In a written response about her use of deadly force, Young told superiors her finger slipped, she accidentally discharged her weapon, and she was reprimanded for carelessness.
Finman denied in the internal affairs investigation authoring an “itchy trigger finger” memo and the city’s technical services director couldn’t find such a memo in the city’s electronic archives.
Assistant City Manager Roger Reinke, after the hearing last week, said he does not believe Ayers is a whistleblower. He said termination is appropriate for an officer who engages in deception.
“Is there anything more important than honesty for a law enforcement officer,” Reinke said.
When asked why there wasn’t more in-depth investigation to solve the alleged theft of the gun, Reinke said “That’s FDLE’s investigation. You’ll have to ask them.”
Case documents say Naples Police consulted the Collier County Sheriff’s Office to assist with processing fingerprints taken from the cabinet where Lt. Bobby Young says he left his gun. This journalist at Naples City Desk submitted a public records request for any documents surrounding the prints, which couldn’t be deciphered.
The day after Ayers’ arbitration hearing, a Collier Sheriff’s spokeswoman responded that Naples Police had requested that the Sheriff’s Office withhold public records about the missing gun from this journalist at Naples City Desk. Naples Police Lt. Finman said the public records can be withheld as exempt from public disclosure because Naples Police have an active investigation of the missing gun.
Naples Police didn’t point to an active investigation exemption and seek to block release of other public records in the case when the department provided videos and case memos to this journalist at Naples City Desk on Oct. 24.
Tragedy and Talk
When Lee County Sheriff’s investigators were trying to determine who shot who at the tragic scene at Sgt. Amy Young’s Estero home they interviewed Ayers and they asked him what he knew and what rumors were circulating in the department.
Ayers told Lee investigators about statements he’d made in prior Naples internal affairs investigations. “Amy is a hot head. She’s threatened to shoot people in the head before,” Ayers said.
Sgt. Amy Young, then an officer, was having an affair with a senior commander in the department and that Amy caught the senior commander with another woman, another female Naples Police officer.
The senior commander told Ayers Sgt. Amy Young smashed a bottle of wine at his house and told him if she had a gun she’d shoot both of them in the head, Ayers told the Lee investigators. Amy Young acknowledged the extramarital relationship and that a sex tape with him was the source of nude photos of her that were circulated around the department and to the media. But she denied making the threat in the internal investigation and the commander, who was fired for writing an anonymous letter to the chief, declined to be interviewed in the internal affairs probe.
Ayers said he’s been an outsider at the department for many years after he reported misconduct, including that Sgt. Amy Young was sleeping on duty.
“When they asked me, I was truthful. That started it. Because I was truthful. The whole department got pissed off at me because I was honest,” Ayers told Lee investigators.
Ayers and his wife complained in 2003 about officer misconduct and Naples Police officer Ryan Schickfus was disciplined for scaring and intimidating Ayers’ wife by tailing her home. At the time, Bobby Young was one of three officers in contact on the radio with Schickfus and a city lawyer said he failed to discourage the conduct.
Later, Ayers – not the officers involved -- was disciplined by the chief for going outside the chain of command with a complaint to the City Manager about the harassment by fellow officers of his wife.
Finman, in his firing case against Ayers, said Last week, the city’s attorney Helsby, called Lt. Bobby Young to testify. The city says Ayers’ firing was based in part because he violated city policy when he made false or malicious statements concerning a fellow officer.
Lt. Bobby Young complained to Internal Affairs’ Finman that a long-time friend outside the department told him that Ayers called him a criminal.
“You want to watch your back,” Lt. Bobby Young said relating what his friend told him.
Lt. Bobby Young said his friend told him that Ayers was convinced that Bobby Young had something to do with the shooting involving his ex-wife Sgt. Amy Young and Naples Officer David Monroig, saying he believed a third person had to be at the scene.
Ayers denied the account to Internal Affairs but confirmed he spoke to Young’s friend about religion. Bobby Young’s friend of 20 years spoke to Finman, but he declined to be a witness for the city in Ayers’ firing case.
During cross examination, Ayers’ attorney asked Lt. Bobby Young if he was subjected to an internal affairs investigation for leaving his firearm unlocked? He also asked whether he was ever reprimanded for making disparaging comments about Ayers, his fellow officer, and calling him mentally ill.
Lt. Bobby Young answered no to both questions.
The arbitrator agreed to give the city a continuance to Jan. 9 to finishing putting on its evidence to uphold the Naples Police's firing of Ayers. Ayers made an estimated $70,000 a year plus benefits after more than 17 years with the department. He’s seeking his job back plus back pay. At that time, Ayers attorney Buschel will be allowed to present Ayers’ side.
Gina Edwards is a national award-winning reporter and editor who has lived and worked in Southwest Florida for more than 20 years. She is the founder of Naples City Desk, a multimedia publication on Watchdog City.com. Her work at Watchdog City was honored with a statewide Freedom of Information Award by the Florida Press Club in 2015.
Contact her a 239-293-3640 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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