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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Medical Examiner Wrongful Death Cover-up in District 1?

"I just want the truth.  It's not about the money.  Society is not fair, but everyone should be treated equally under the law."  Mr. Steve Lillo to author, April 17, 2015.

"Thus, it is not possible to exclude that the most likely reason for Dr. Minyard's purposeful exclusion from her reports and deposition testimony any mention or documentation of her removal of the decedent's posterior cervical spine and spinal cord, is that the physical evidence related to the spine was inconsistent with her reported conclusions, and inconsistent with the interests of Law Enforcement."  Dr. Kris Sperry, Chief Medical Examiner for the state of Georgia, affidavit to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission.


The Medical Examiner for District 1, one of 24 such medical examiner districts, is Andrea N. Minyard M.D.  District 1 includes Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Walton counties.

Dr. Minyard is arguably the top Medical Examiner in the state of Florida.  She was the chair of the fifteen-doctor committee that wrote the July 28, 2010, Practice Guidelines for Florida Medical Examiners (see other publications at link).  The Introduction (p. i) noted that administrative code, like statute, "is written in absolutes (shall and shall not)...[and] differs from statute in that it is more flexible and attuned to the current state of medical examiner practice."  The Practice Guidelines "are usually crafted in language that is more discretionary."

The administrative code that the Practice Guidelines refers to is Chapter 11G of the Florida Administrative Code.  Two parts of Chapter 11G at issue here are rules 11G-2.004 on "Physical Evidence, Body Parts, Specimens" and 11G-2.005 on "Records, Autopsy Report." Again, the Practice Guidelines remind us that administrative code "is written in absolutes (shall and shall not)."  This means, there is no discretion on the part of the Medical Examiner.

The Practice Guidelines further state that "the word 'shall' is to be taken [here] to mean that there is no discretion to deviate from the guideline unless it is stated explicitly in the text of the guideline.  The word 'should' is to be taken [here] to mean that the guideline is to be observed unless there is a compelling reason not to do so, and that the guideline should be observed in the majority of instances."

Thus, in raising the very serious accusatorial question of a potential cover-up of a wrongful death, Dr. Minyard's knowledge of statutes, rules, and guidelines is not in doubt.  She is undoubtedly an expert and her expertise is not in question.

The question is, did she knowingly and willfully cover-up a potential wrongful death in the case of Mr. John 'Ronnie' Lillo, Jr., who died in the presence of multiple Fort Walton Beach Police Department, Fire Department, and Emergency Medical Team personnel while at the Bridgeway Center in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.  Bridgeway Center provides "psychiatric medicine" and "psychological and psychosocial wellness," according to its website.

Mr. John 'Ronnie' Lillo, Jr.

This blogpost can provide no definitive answer, but the fact that it can be raised, based on an expert deposition from Georgia's Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Kris Sperry, M.D., suggests that an independent agency should investigate this possibility.

The Case Law "Facts" of Regarding the Death of Mr. Ronnie Lillo

On April 17, 2015, I interviewed Mr. Steve Lillo, an outgoing Italian restaurant owner of Lillo's Tuscan Grille in Gulf Breeze, Florida.  Steve Lillo had standing to sue as the "personal representative" of his deceased brother's estate.  Mr. Lillo sued nine members of the Fort Walton Beach Police Department for "cruel and unusual punishment, excessive force, unlawful seizure, failure to intervene, and deliberate indifference to a serious medical need."

All the facts quoted below are taken from the description of the case at I have also included Mr. Steve Lillo's version when it differs.

There is no doubt that nine members of the Fort Walton Beach Police Department were involved to one degree or another in physically restraining Mr. Ronnie Lillo with leg restraints, more than one set of handcuffs, and a nylon rope to 'hogtie' Mr. Lillo during the early morning hours of January 22, 2004.

According to the FindaCase report, after Mr. Ronnie Lillo was restrained with only leg restraints and placed into a chair, a Bridgeway doctor prescribed Ativan and Geodon "to control Lillo's violent behavior."  These drugs would be administered later.

However, Mr. Steve Lillo told me that his brother had been handcuffed in the police vehicle, had leg restraints placed on him outside the vehicle, and was then carried into the Bridgeway Center by the police officers; his brother may have hit his head on the door frame and was always restrained face down on the ground.  He was never placed in a chair and he never tried to walk out of the Center.

Mr. Steve Lillo told me that his brother Mr. Ronnie Lillo, did not want to be treated at Bridgeway and did not want any drugs put into his system.  He said that his brother had pleaded, "No needles, no needles."  He had not resisted being arrested and thought he was being taken to jail.  He was taken to Bridgeway Center without his consent.

Mr. Steve Lillo told me that his brother had taken his medication within 30 days prior to this police arrest and did not want any other drugs in his system.  The 30-day window was normal dose for his bipolar condition.

According to FindaCase, "At that point, according to Bridgeway records and the testimony of the police officers, Lillo became agitated and struggled with police.  Brown, Harran, and other officers pulled Lillo to the floor by his waist and shoulders.  Brown, Harran, Millard, and Yeakos restrained Lillo on the ground by applying pressure with their hands to his shoulders and extremities."

After that, Mr. Ronnie Lillo was hogtied and the drugs Ativan and Geodon were administered by a Bridgeway Center staff member.  Mr. Lillo was turned on to side so that he could breathe.  At 1240 A.M., the Bridgeway staff observed Mr. Lillo "restrained with his face down and to the side."

Again, Mr. Ronnie Lillo was rolling around the floor because he did not want any drugs put into his system.  Mr. Steve Lillo contends that his brother was face down the entire time and was not on his side.

At 0110 hours, the Fort Walton Beach Fire Department's battalion chief and paramedic, and two Emergency Medical Technicians arrived at Bridgeway.  The first Emergency Medical Technician to arrive observed Mr. Lillo standing and then being taken down to the floor because he was "disruptive and violent." The battalion chief and the second EMT "testified Lillo struck his own head against the floor repeatedly" and that the battalion chief, a paramedic, to prevent further injury "used his hands and knees to keep Lillo's head still."

It is important to note that Mr. Ronnie Lillo was 5' 10" and weighed about 265.  The battalion chief who put his knee on the back of Mr. Ronnie Lillo's neck weighed around 250 pounds. Two other personnel were helping hold Mr. Ronnie Lillo down around his shoulders and two other personnel were pinning his legs down, according to Mr. Steve Lillo.

At 0115 hours, two Okaloosa County Emergency Medical Service personnel, a paramedic and an EMT, arrived at Bridgeway.  This paramedic, authorized by the Bridgeway doctor, administered "Haldol, an anti-psychotic medication" at 01:30 hours.

Mr. Lillo immediately stopped breathing and no pulse was detected; the paramedic administered CPR, Mr. Lillo's pulse returned and at 0145 hours Mr. Lillo was transported to the Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, where he arrived ten minutes later.  At 0219 hours, Mr. Lillo was pronounced dead.

Mr. Steve Lillo contended that his brother actually expired inside the Bridgeway Center.  The idea that his pulse had returned was a function of the needle moving while they were giving him CPR.  The whole point of this exercise was to give the impression that Mr. Ronnie Lillo had not died in police custody.

At the hearing to grant or deny qualified immunity to the police officers involved, according to the summary report, "Dr. Andrea Minyard reported Lillo's cause of death as complications of acute psychosis.  Her report noted multiple abrasions, lacerations and contusions of the face, scalp, and extremities, as well as deep contusions of the skin and muscle of the posterior neck."

Mr. Steve Lillo's expert witness, "Dr. Michael Berkland testified that Lillo's autopsy photographs depicted 'extensive deep subcutaneous hemorrhage that extends down and involves the musculature of the cervical and upper thoracic spine."  Actually, there was no testimony.  It was Dr. Berkland's deposition that contained his expert opinion on the cause of death.

Furthermore, based "on the injuries to Lillo's neck, and the reports of Bullard [the battalion chief and paramedic] restraining Lillo's head with his hands an knees, Berkland concluded that Lillo's death was the result of asphyxia induced by compression and restraint of the neck and upper back."

Mr. Steven Lillo's lawsuit against the nine police officers was unsuccessful because the Court ruled that they had "qualified immunity."  The judge summarily granted seven of the police officers "qualified immunity" as well as two police officers who had not made the request.  Mr. Lillo's lawsuit, contesting this granting of a summary judgement of qualified immunity, including the two who had not requested it, eventually made it up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which let the federal Appeals Court ruling stand.

Thus, this blogpost is not about the facts at the hearing or appeal.  It is about the potential cover-up of a wrongful death by the Medical Examiner for District 1, Dr. Andrea Minyard.

Elements of the Cover-up Based on Mr. Steve Lillo Narrative

Some of what Mr. Lillo told me cannot be corroborated or verified, though the actions of Dr. Minyard are clear-cut and virtually irrefutable.  However, we start with information that Mr. Steve Lillo accumulated from unrecorded, off-the-record conversations he had with various police officers and at least one Bridgeway staff.

Approximately six months before Mr. Ronnie Lillo died, he had a bipolar episode.  He had been working for a local construction company.  His paycheck bounced.  Checks for bills he had paid began to bounce.  Under increased psychological pressure, Mr. Ronnie Lillo would quote the Bible.  This was the first time he had an altercation with a police officer.

A very big man, possibly at the time approaching 300 pounds, Mr. Lillo in the confrontation came to be on top of the officer.  Though Mr. Lillo had not swung at the police officer, the officer sustained a broken nose.  Another officer suffered an injured arm.

Mr. Ronnie Lillo told his brother Mr. Steve Lillo that one of the two police officers who had been injured and embarrassed in front of fellow police officers, told Mr. Ronnie Lillo, "I'm going to kill you."  Months later, with police officers still harassing him, the Chief of Police in Fort Walton Beach allegedly told his officers to leave Mr. Ronnie Lillo alone if they see him on the street and call Mr. Steve Lillo.

During the day of January 21, 2004, Mr. Ronnie Lillo, who used to be homeless, was seen by the local police walking in or near the street, but did not stop him.  Mr. Ronnie Lillo wanted to be a preacher and on this morning he was sort of giving a "sermon" to the homeless across the street from the police station.

Ronnie Lillo's back was to the street and he was urinating.  A police car pulled up behind him.  The police officer told him to stop urinating.  When Ronnie Lillo saw who the police officer was--the same one he had broken the nose of--he pulled his pants down and put his hands in the air.  He was handcuffed and put into the police car.  Mr. Steve Lillo told me that his brother had not been defecating in the street, as the police officer alleged.

Internal Affairs officers who spoke with Mr. Steve Lillo told him that they were starting an investigation and knew about the first confrontation with the police officers.  But, Internal Affairs was not being truthful when they Mr. Steve Lillo that the police officer who had been injured previously was not working that night.

Mr. Lillo's inspection of the park and roadway revealed no fecal matter in the alleged area. A homeless person also told Mr. Steve Lillo that Mr. Ronnie Lillo was urinating, not defecating. In fact, when Mr. Steve Lillo initially heard the dash cam video, the police officer clearly ordered Mr. Ronnie Lillo to "stop urinating."

The allegation that Mr. Ronnie Lillo had kicked out a window in the police car could not be corroborated by Mr. Steve Lillo's inspection of the area looking for broken glass.  Mr. Steve Lillo also told me that what should have been a five-minute ride to the Bridgeway Center actually took twenty-five minutes--a time gap in which anything could have been said or done to Mr. Ronnie Lillo to make him suspicious of the police's motives and angry.

In fact, the elapsed time is based on the difference between the dash cam recorder showing the time Mr. Ronnie Lillo was picked up and the time the Bridgeway Center recorded him arriving.

Mr. Steve Lillo was told by at least one Bridgeway Center manager that "no one at the Center injured your brother John, and you can read between the lines."  But, no further information was apparently forthcoming because the Center relies upon funds from the city.

Mr. Steve Lillo told me that within two days of his brother dying, the police had told him that they had a video of the event.  Mr. Steve Lillo told me that the video showed his brother Ronnie being taken into custody with no struggle or resistance.

Two years later, Mr. Steve Lillo's second lawyer told him that there were two videotapes--one with audio and one without audio.  Both video tapes were dash cam recordings. Apparently one of these two videos or a third video was circulating in law enforcement circles because another Lillo brother found a source in  the Sheriff's Office who told him that on the video with audio there is clearly a voice saying, "Get off of him, you're going to kill him."  The second video had all audio removed.  Now we know why, said Mr. Steve Lillo.

But, it is not clear which video contains this information.  The two dash cam videos show Mr. Ronnie Lillo walking towards the police car and disappearing from view.  He is behind the camera.  What actually happened to Mr. Ronnie Lillo after he was out of the line of sight of the camera and without audio is impossible to say.

Mr. Steve Lillo told me that on the day of the autopsy Dr. Minyard told him that there was heavy bruising on the neck and that she was looking for a broken neck.

Two years later, after she gave her deposition, she allegedly told Mr. Steve Lillo, "I cut your brother's neck out" and had found no break.  That information is not in her deposition and not in her official autopsy report.

This act of omission by Dr. Minyard is what prompted Mr. Steve Lillo to exhume his brother's body and try to find the truth.

The Alleged Cover-up According to Counter Expert Testimony

Seven and one-half years after Mr. Ronnie Lillo was buried, Mr. Steve Lillo had his body exhumed and Dr. Kris Sperry, the Chief Medical Examiner for the state of Georgia, performed a graveside autopsy on Mr. Ronnie Lillo's remains.

Dr. Sperry was appointed to his position in June 1997, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's biography of Dr. Sperry states unequivocally: "Dr. Sperry is a nationally recognized expert in the fields of forensic pathology and childhood injury..."

In other words, to a layman like me, he's an experts expert--and not some fly-by-night pathologist offering his opinion for money.

Recall, that Mr. Steve Lillo's first expert witness, Dr. Michael Berkland, had concluded that "Lillo's death was the result of asphyxia induced by compression of the neck and upper back."  Now, Dr. Berkland was fired as the Medical Examiner for District 1 in 2003, "for not completing autopsy reports" and had his medical license withdrawn, according to a CBS News report.  In 1996, Dr. Berkland had been fired from his "contract medical examiner" position in Jackson County, Missouri, and eventually lost his medical license in that state, according to the same report.

Thus, the expert opinion of Dr. Kris Sperry is crucial to understanding the possibility of a cover-up by Dr. Minyard.  Dr. Berkland's expert opinion can be impeached on credibility grounds.  Dr. Sperry's expert opinion cannot be impeached on credibility grounds.

In the graveside autopsy video, taken on or about July 23, 2011, which I watched with Mr. Steve Lillo, Dr. Sperry did indeed find that Dr. Minyard had cut a significant portion, about eight inches, of Mr. Ronnie Lillo's neck out.  The video shows Dr. Sperry pointing out the missing part of the neck and describing how it would have been done.  Dr. Sperry also remarked that there was "no red bag" containing body parts or organs that are removed during an autopsy.  Dr. Sperry remarked that the "red bag" could have been removed by the embalmer. Nevertheless, the "red bag" was of no real consequence because, as Dr. Sperry explained on camera, the neck bone that had been cut out would have been decayed and damaged to the degree that it would not be possible to know what had happened.

Thus, Dr. Minyard's official autopsy report and all her notes and observations made during the autopsy are of critical importance.

Here is the verbatim quote from Dr. Sperry's "Affidavit of Kris Sperry, M.D. In Support of Complaint" in the case before the Florida Medical Examiners Commission of Stephen Lillo vs. Andrea Minyard, M.D.

According to Dr. Sperry's affidavit, prior to viewing Mr. Ronnie Lillo's body, he "reviewed the complete autopsy of John R. Lillo performed by Dr. Andrea Minyard (including the original autopsy on January 23, 2004, the subsequent edit to the autopsy report dated April 9, 2004, and the finalized autopsy report dated April 27, 2004).  I also reviewed the depositions of Dr. Andrea Minyard (taken September 9, 2008) and Stephen Lillo (taken October 20, 2008). Through my review of these documents, I was sufficiently informed as to the relevant facts surrounding the death and autopsy of the decedent" (paragraph 7).

In paragraph 11, Dr. Sperry stated:  "The removal of the dorsal vertebral column segments had been accomplished through a vertical incision to the posterior neck, from the base of the skull to the upper posterior thorax, and the dissection of the paraspinous musculature away from each side of the vertebral column to then expose the dorsal and transverse processes; then, the transverse processes were sawn on the right and the left with a bone saw, thus accomplishing the 'unroofing' of the spinal canal and spinal cord.  This is a conventional approach utilized in forensic pathology examinations to effectuate evaluation of the spinal cord in the cervical and upper thoracic regions, and also to evaluate the integrity of the bony structures of the cervical spine.  The portion of the dorsal spine which had been removed was approximately 8 inches in length."

In paragraph 12, Dr. Sperry concluded that Dr. Minyard or someone under her supervision had performed this specialized and intricate procedure: "Among the purposes of this specialized dissection, one specific purpose is to allow inspection and detection of the presence of any injury or any other trauma in the neck or spinal cord.  This type of procedure would not be done by a funeral home director or embalmer.  Accordingly, the removal of the spine was, in my opinion, either performed personally by Dr. Andrea Minyard, or performed by a trained autopsy assistant at Dr. Minyard's specific direction."

And, here is where Dr. Minyard's possible cover-up of a wrongful death begins.

According to Dr. Sperry (paragraph 13), "It is a breach of the standard of care by Dr. Minyard to fail to provide any description, documentation, notation, cataloging, or otherwise mention in any way this procedure in her autopsy report or deposition.  Dissection, examination, and removal of organs or body parts such as the spine for further examination are common during autopsies when required to determine cause of death.  However, the performance of such procedures and the detailed findings related to these procedures must be included in the autopsy report.  Above and beyond the description and documentation that such specialized autopsy procedures were performed, the resultant findings should also be described in sufficient detail to support the diagnoses, opinions, and conclusions.  Here, Dr. Minyard's reports and depositions are silent on this critical procedure that was clearly performed, and the results of this procedure."

Let us now examine Rule 11G-2.005 on "Records, Autopsy Report."  Recall that the Practice Guidelines that Dr. Minyard chaired stated that under Chapter 11G "code is written in absolutes (shall and shall not)."

According to 11G-2.005:  "The district medical examiner shall keep among the official records:....All other notes or documentation forming a record of the investigation." And, the autopsy report's "objective observations to be included or appended shall be the gross evaluations, any microscopic observations, and any results of toxicology tests.  Among the opinions to be included shall be the cause of death."

In the Practice Guidelines, which Dr. Minyard, as the chair of the writing committee helped write, Article 20 (1) states, "The gross findings should be described in sufficient detail to support the diagnoses, opinions, and conclusions."

Recall that in the Practice Guidelines the "word 'should' is to be taken to mean that the guideline is to be observed unless there is a compelling reason not to do so, and that the guideline is to be observed in the majority of instances."

What was Dr. Minyard's compelling reason for not including these legally required notes and documentation?  Florida's rule 11G provides no discretion to Dr. Minyard.  Under administrative code it is "written in absolutes (shall and shall not)."

Under Article 23 paragraph (1)(b) of the Practice Guidelines, an "internal examination....Optionally includes inspection and dissection of the posterior neck compartment, cranio-cervical articulation, lateral neck compartment, spinal column and cord, or the extremities."

Clearly, it is highly probable, based on Dr. Sperry's expert analysis, that Dr. Minyard performed this "optional" part of an "internal examination."  And, if Dr. Minyard did not include in the "all other notes or documentation forming a record of the investigation," then she violated rule 11G-2.005.

In paragraph 14 of Dr. Sperry's affidavit, he stated that "Dr. Minyard's dissection and examination of John R. Lillo's spine should have been documented in detail, and the objective results of any examination or testing of the spinal tissue should have been included in the autopsy report."

In paragraph 16, Dr. Sperry opined, "These failures by Dr. Minyard constitute, in my professional view, a willful non-disclosure and a gross breach of the Medical Examiner's Code of Ethics and the public trust.  Moreover, the fact that the death of John R. Lillo occurred during the course of a law enforcement custody event significantly elevates the importance of thorough and complete documentation of all autopsy procedures and relevant findings (both positive and negative), given the heightened scrutiny of such high-profile deaths.  Furthermore, the purposeful omission by Dr. Minyard and her subsequent findings would constitute a material misrepresentation of data upon which an opinion or conclusion by the medical examiner is based.  Consequently, her conclusions cannot be relied upon" [emphasis added].

In other words, Dr. Minyard deliberately and knowingly withheld information from her autopsy report which constituted, as Mr. Steve Lillo contended, and neither the Florida Medical Examiners Commission nor a local judge would consider--fraud and possibly even obstruction of justice and a violation of Mr. Ronnie Lillo's civil rights.  And, her conclusion regarding the cause of death in the case of Mr. Ronnie Lillo "cannot be relied upon."

In short, her allegedly fraudulent autopsy report does not meet the legal requirements for completeness upon which one can reasonably determine his cause of death.  Mr. Ronnie Lillo may very well have died from asphyxiation from a broken neck.

In paragraph 17, the Chief Medical Examiner for the state of Georgia, a "nationally recognized expert in forensic pathology," concluded: "This type of dissection is memorable for a forensic pathologist and a medical examiner, and is performed for specific purposes as part of the investigation of a custody-related death, and despite multiple opportunities to document the performance of this procedure as part of John R. Lillo's autopsy examination, no such documentation exists.  Thus, it is not possible to exclude that the most likely reason for Dr. Minyard's purposeful exclusion from her reports and deposition testimony [of] any mention or documentation of her removal of the decedent's posterior cervical spine and spinal cord, is that the physical evidence related to the spine was inconsistent with her reported conclusions, and inconsistent with the interests of Law Enforcement" [emphasis added].

In other words, the reason for Dr. Minyard's deliberate exclusion of this legally required information was to shield a public entity from a wrongful death lawsuit from Mr. Ronnie Lillo's legal representative, his brother Mr. Steve Lillo.

The Florida Medical Examiners Commission Protect Dr. Minyard

Mr. Steve Lillo sought to have the Florida Medical Examiners Commission investigate Dr. Minyard for her faulty analysis of the cause of death.  Specifically, he was claiming that Dr. Minyard had committed fraud and violate the administrative code governing autopsies.

An April 3, 2012, letter from Margaret A. Edwards, staff director of the Florida Medical Examiners Commission, took the low bureaucratic road and rejected Mr. Steve Lillo's effort on the narrow grounds that the "the section of spinal column that was allegedly retained by Dr. Andrea Minyard does not meet the definition of a body part or organ, as spelled out in Rule 11G-2.004(1)(a) and 11G-2.004(1)(b).  She continued, "Accordingly, the portion of the cervical spine at issue does not meet the definition of a body part or that of an organ."

In other words, rather than examine Dr. Minyard's lack of documentation of her procedures and findings in contravention of Florida's administrative code and guidelines that might have led her to conclude a different cause of death that implicated Fort Walton Beach Police Department or the Fire Department, the Florida Medical Examiners Commission took the easy way out and simply stated that the neck was not a "body part."

Without the Florida Medical Examiners Commission finding of fraud, a local judge refused hear Mr. Lillo's legal argument for a trial.  The judge rejected his claim stating that it was too late to bring in new evidence.

Seriously?  An allegedly fraudulent autopsy report is not worthy of consideration in the legal system in Florida?

The Financial Pressures on Florida's District Medical Examiners

Dr. Minyard is not an independent actor in the judicial system.  She is, in fact, under contract with at least two counties who use her services as a medical examiner, according to budget documents.

According to WebMd, Dr. Minyard is the owner of Gulf Coast Autopsy Physicians PA, and she is the only physician employed by her company.

Dr. Minyard's contract with Escambia County for one year (October 1, 2014 through September 30, 2015) is worth $847,300.

Dr. Minyard's contract with Okaloosa County from October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014, was $510,568, an increase of $70,031 from the previous year.

Although I cannot find budget data for the other two counties, I assume she is paid by those counties for her services.

While it is not known how much she received for her services in 2004, she is now probably earning in the neighborhood of about $1.6 million per year for a one-physician office.

Moreover, all four county Sheriff's Offices apparently must sign off on her reappointment. They must give her a "favorable" rating on the "Recommendation for Reappointment" document.  The Northwest Florida Daily News website reported that as of April 2015, "all four county sheriffs within Minyard's jurisdiction recommend that she be reappointed."  The website went on to note that Dr. Minyard's gubernatorial appointment expires on July 1, 2015, and after that date Governor Rick Scott must re-appoint her or her replacement.

Concluding Observation

It is not too difficult to imagine that financial considerations could enter into Dr. Minyard's work.  Her hypothetical alternative finding that Mr. Ronnie Lillo's death was caused by excessive force applied either by the Fort Walton Beach Police Department and/or the Fire Department could have cost the county or city a huge settlement--perhaps larger than her contract.

How could she have foreseen that a brother's love and search for answers would lead to the exhumation of the deceased and the finding that the neck had been removed, no documentation presented in her autopsy report or deposition, and her finding of death by "complications of acute psychosis" challenged by a "nationally recognized forensic pathologist" who found that her methodology and lack of documentation meant that her "conclusions cannot be relied upon"?

We all deserve equal justice under the law and that is all Mr. Steve Lillo is asking for--justice for all--not justice for just us, the elites who run the system.

Sweetheart Deal for Robber, Others Get Hard Time


On December 29, 2013, in Escambia County, five people--four adults, two white and two Black, and one white juvenile--robbed a house they believed had marijuana and money. The case received regional attention because when the robbers left the house disappointed with only $16 in cash and no marijuana, they took two pit bull puppies in a cage.  News outlets like NBC Miami featured a lovable little puppy underneath the headline to highlight the story. Essentially, they were the "puppy robbers."

The sentencing of the four perpetrators is so disparate, that it would appear that the Escambia County Sheriff's Office and the State Attorney's office for Florida's 1st Judicial Circuit have a special black box of favors that they dispense without apparent rhyme or reason.  One defendant received such favorable treatment that it appears to be a sweetheart deal with an unknown quid pro quo.

Let's Go To The Court Records

According to court records, Mr. Tyler Raley (white) pleaded guilty to the charge of "home invasion robbery with firearm (without discharge)."  He was sentenced to five years in prison with credit for 173 days.

Mr. Demetri Ranaldson's court records indicate that he pleaded "no contest" to the reduced charge of "aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill."  He received a five-year sentence.

Mr. Demontre Russell's court records also indicate that he pleaded "no contest" to the reduced charge of "aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill" and received a five-year prison sentence.

But, Mr. Jordan Dustin Michael Rowell (to distinguish him from his father, Mr. Dustin Michael Rowell), pleaded "no contest" to "home invasion robbery with firearm or other deadly weapon."

But, Mr. Rowell received a sentence of probation and community supervision and total restitution in the amount of $700.00. In fact, while Mr. Jordan Rowell's court record provides the restitution amounts for each victim, the additional favoritism is shown by the actual "Order of Judgment and Sentence" for Case 2013 CF 006324 B instrument number 2015019072.  That sentencing document shows that he pleaded "no contest" to "home invasion robbery with a firearm" and was assigned to the "Youth Offender Program."  Mr. Jordan Rowell was 19-years old at the time of the robbery.

In other words, like Mr. Raley, he pleaded to a higher charge of "home invasion" and received four years of supervised probation and two years of community control.  On the other hand, Mr. Russell and Mr. Ranaldson pleaded "no contest" to a reduced charge of "aggravated assault" and received five-years in prison.

Why did Mr. Jordan Rowell receive such a light sentence?

Let's Compare the Court Records

Putting all four court records for the four defendants side-by-side reveals some rather interesting points.

All four defendants had their cases heard by Chief Judge Terry D. Terrell.  But, due to different arrest dates, the judge assigned date differed.  Mr. Rowell's and Mr. Raley's were assigned on December 30, 2013, the day after their arrest.  Mr. Russell's assignment date was January 10, 2014, two days after his arrest date.  And, Mr. Ranaldson's assignment date March 27, 2014, two days after his arrest date.

Initially, three of the defendants had their bail bond set at either $20,000 (Ranaldson) or $25,000 (Rowell and Raley).  Mr. Russell's bail bond was set at $150,000 for some unknown reason.  His bond was reduced to $25,000.

Their "not guilty" pleas were entered on different dates: Mr. Rowell (January 22, 2014); Mr. Russell (January 23, 2014); Mr. Raley (January 31, 2014); and Mr. Ranaldson (April 16, 2014).

However, their pleas of "guilty" or "no contest" differ significantly.

Mr. Raley pleaded "guilty" to "home invasion robbery" on July 24, 2014.

Mr. Ranaldson pleaded "no contest" to the reduced charge of "aggravated assault" on November 21, 2014.

Mr. Russell pleaded "no contest" to the reduced charge of "aggravated assault" on November 24, 2014, just three days later before the same judge.

Mr. Rowell entered his plea of "no contest" to "home invasion robbery" on December 1, 2014.

And, their sentencing dates were also spread out: Mr. Ranaldson (January 8, 2015); Mr. Russell (February 12, 2015); Mr. Raley (February 25, 2015); and, Mr. Rowell (March 6, 2015), though his restitution order was prepared four days earlier.

Now, some of the differences in dates can be attributed to different dates lawyers being assigned, dismissed, and another lawyer reassigned.  Some could possibly be due to different lawyers filing more or less motions.

But, throughout the judicial process, Mr. Rowell always lags behind the other defendants.

The Lawyers Involved in the Cases

All four defendants appeared to have highly competent lawyers, but from the start of the judicial process, it appears that Mr. Rowell came from a family of money and was represented by a very reputable law firm in Pensacola.

Mr. Demontre Russell was initially represented by Mr. Paul John Hamlin, Jr. of The Hamlin Law Firm which specializes in criminal defense cases including weapons cases, robbery, drug cases, and assault cases.  Mr. Russell then was represented by Mr. Randall J. Etheridge, a law firm specializing in "aggressive criminal defense," "aggressive and savvy defense," and "highly skilled in drug offense defense and racketeering charges," according to their website.

Mr. Demetri Ranaldson initially had a Public Defender; then a Criminal Conflict Counsel lawyer for indigent clients; then a Mr. Spiro Kypreos, a criminal lawyer with no apparent presence on the Internet and no known reputation; and, finally, the court assigned Mr. Gene Edward Mitchell, a board certified criminal trial lawyer.

Mr. Tyler Raley initially, on December 30, 2013, the day after his arrest, was represented by Mr. Ralph Parnell of the Morris Parnell & Ellis law firm.  Due to an apparent conflict of interest, by January 23rd of the following year Mr. Raley was looking for another lawyer and on February 3, 2014, the court assigned him a Public Defender.  One month later, the court assigned him a Criminal Conflict lawyer, an entity created by the state of Florida in 2007 to represent indigent clients.

Mr. Jordan Rowell, on the other hand, was represented by a top law firm in Pensacola, the Morris Parnell & Ellis law firm, the same one that initially represented Mr. Raley on December 30, 2013, the day after both men had been arrested.

Mr. Rowell's Sweetheart Deal in Exchange for Fingering Two Black Suspects

To piece together the Escambia County Sheriff's Office and the State Attorney's Office sweetheart deal with Mr. Rowley, it requires reviewing three arrest reports.

Mr. Rowell's arrest report, ECSO13ARR025503, was written by Deputy Sheriff Amanda Kelly.  Deputy Kelly, however, interviewed only the victims, not Mr. Rowell.  In Mr. Rowell's arrest report, she reported interviewing six victims.  In Mr. Raley's arrest report, also written by Deputy Kelly, only five victims' interviews are reported--the girlfriend of Mr. Nicholas Snelson, Ms. Baile Lauren Davis, at the time of the incident unemployed, but previously employed as a dancer at Sammy's Gentlemen's Club, Diamond's, and Babe's Show Club is omitted, perhaps by the mistake of failing to cut and paste properly.

Mr. Russell's arrest report, ECSO13ARR025546, was written by Deputy Sheriff Michael Deerman, a member of the Gun Response Team.  Deputy Deerman's interview with Mr. Rowell took place on the morning of December 29, 2013, right after the arrest in the interview rooms.  Mr. Rowell was given his Miranda rights and signed the statement.  He then gave a statement that two of the robbers were "Dimitry" and "Demontre."  Deputy Deerman then "presented a photo lineup to S/Rowell and he immediately circled and indicated S/Demontre Lakesse Russell as one of the suspects with whom he had committed the home invasion and who had possessed the firearm."  In the same arrest report, Mr. Tyler Raley "would not identify S/Russell as having been involved in the home invasions and denied knowing S/Russell at all."

So, the first Black suspect, Mr. Demontre Russell, was identified by Mr. Rowell.

Mr. Ranaldson's arrest report, ECSO14ARR004864, was written by Deputy Sheriff Joshua Rasmussen, another member of the county's Gun Response Team.  It provides a second interview with Mr. Rowell.  However, this arrest report is copied directly from Mr. Russell's arrest report written by Deputy Deerman.  With the exception of adding two commas, the paragraph describing the results of the interview with Mr. Rowell are identical.  So, who actually interviewed Mr. Rowell?

In Mr. Ranaldson's arrest report, Deputy Rasmussen interviewed Mr. Rowell at the "law offices of Boyles & Boyles" and Mr. Rowell's attorneys "Tray Parnell and Brandon Morris" were there.

Now, it is important to note that Boyles & Boyles has only two lawyers, presumably father and son, Mr. Karl W. Boyles and Mr. Joseph W. C. Boyles, respectively.  This law firm specializes in business and corporate law.  In other words, they were probably the law firm for whatever business Mr. Dustin Rowell and/or Mrs. Tiffani Rowell were engaged in.

I say whatever business they are engaged in because a Google search and a search of Florida business records reveals they have no easily identifiable businesses that they own. Mr. Dustin Rowell's name is connected to a company called Southern Star Auto Group via a Florida Department of Environmental Protection document, but business records filed by the company with Florida's Secretary of State never mention him in their annual reports.  Mr. Dustin Rowell may very well own the company, but his link to any business requiring the services of Boyles & Boyles is difficult to find.

In fact, searches of public records, however, indicates that they have a great deal of unpaid public debts and other disparaging information.

In August 1997, Mr. Dustin Rowell was found guilty of seven counts of credit card fraud and given six months of community control under the supervision of the Florida Parole Commission (see Instrument 1997418093).

On June 17, 1998, though the record is not publicly available, both the Florida Department of Revenue and a Ms. Brandy E. Jordan were apparently successful in Paternity Order 97 1915 CJ (Instrument 1998493666).  See also Support Order CJ 97 1915 (Instrument 1998502862).

On August 29, 2000, the State of Florida issued a Civil Restitution Lien Order in favor of Escambia County for $1500 (see Instrument 2000769700).

On August 14, 2001, though the record is not publicly available, the State of Florida and Ms. Denise Wilson were successful in winning Juvenile 01 2073 (see Instrument 2001872410). Ms. Wilson was Mr. Dustin Rowell's ex-wife.  However, the Escambia County court records indicate that Ms. Wilson was successful in proving paternity--roughly three years after Mr. Dustin Rowell had married his current wife, Tiffani Deann (Kelly) Rowell.  On December 31, 2001, Ms. Wilson filed a Certificate of Delinquency Support (see Instrument 2001916511).

On January 2, 2002, Ms. Brandy E. Jordan filed a Certificate of Delinquency in case 97 0001915 CJ--the case she and the State of Florida had apparently won in June 1998.

In October 2002, the Florida Department of Revenue filed a "warrant for collection of delinquent sales tax" in the amount of $1,625.92 regarding their jointly owned Prell Auto Parts and Sales, a company that apparently no longer exists, according to the lack of a record.

In November 2002, the West Florida Regional Medical Center was awarded a judgment of $18,249.50 plus an initial interest award of $2,245.50, plus an interest rate of 9 percent per year (see Instrument 2002031118).  In February 2005, the West Florida Regional Medical Center won an additional final judgment for $2,581, costs of $290, and prejudgment interest of $164.34, and interest rate of 7 percent (see Instrument 2005341670).

Also in February 2005, the Florida Department of Revenue issued a "warrant for the collection of delinquent sales and use taxes" totaling with tax owed, penalties, and interest $90,793.06 (see Instrument 2005342448).  In June 2005, the Florida Department of Revenue issued another warrant for unpaid taxes totaling $1,827.32 (see Instrument 2005384892).

In May 2014, the federal Internal Revenue Service filed a notice of a Federal Tax Lien for tax year 2010 in the amount of $62,080.49 (see instrument 2014031589).  On June 5, 2014, a public notice was issued that their home would be "sold to the highest bidder at public auction" on July 7, 2014.  And, for tax year 2013, the Rowell's owed Escambia County $1,717.69 for real estate taxes.

So, the Boyles & Boyles business law firm, apparently retained by Mr. Dustin Rowell, hosted the two principal partners of the criminal defense law firm of Morris Parnell & Ellis.  That firm specializes in criminal law and state trial practice with specialties in burglary, drug possession/trafficking, robbery, and assault/battery.  The "Tray Parnell" in the arrest report is actually Mr. Ralph Wallace 'Trey' Parnell III.

At this meeting of high-powered lawyers, Mr. Jordan Rowell stated that after he was released on the $25,000 bond he returned to his residence where he had allowed Mr. Raley to reside. While cleaning up with Mr. Raley's belongings "he found a driver's license belonging to the fifth suspect who had previously not been identified.  S/Rowell stated that this suspect, S/Demetri Ranaldson, was friends with S/Tyler Raley and must have left the Florida driver's license at the residence while visiting S/Tyler Raley."

According to this second interview, Mr. Rowell,with his lawyers present, then "positively identified S/Ranaldson as the fifth suspect involved in the home invasion.  S/Rowell stated that during the home invasion, S/Randalson had possessed a firearm, had worn a mask, had pointed the firearm at victims inside the home, and had taken items from the home and fled with them in the getaway vehicle.  S/Rowell stated that on the drive from his residence to the Tiffany Drive location, he had been seated next to S/Ranaldson."

So, the only "positive identification" of the two Black suspects, Mr. Russell and Mr. Ronaldson, came from Mr. Rowell who from the first interview with the Gun Response Team on December 29, 2013, was identifying previously unidentified and/or unknown suspects.

It should be noted that the charge of using a mask during the home invasion was dropped for all four suspects due to lack of probable cause.

The Internal Contradictions of the Victims Statements

What kind of residence is 1204 Tiffany Drive?

According to the real estate website, it is a single-story dwelling of 1,814 square feet with two and one-quarter bathrooms in a neighborhood where the average price of a home in zip code 32514 is $184,635. suggested that its retail value was $132,600.  According to, the dwelling has five total rooms, including three bedrooms.  However, there is no layout of the dwelling depicting where the rooms are.

The only Deputy Sheriff to interview all six victims was Deputy Amanda Kelly.  Based on a review of the arrest report, we can state the following the regarding which victims were in which rooms and what they saw.

In the probable living room, sitting on a couch, were Mr. Branden Hoffman and his cousin Mr. Christopher Mason.  The doorbell rang at some time prior to 0409 hours (when the Sheriff Office's was responding to shots fired from the getaway car on Davis Highway) and both men answered the unlocked door.  Mr. Hoffman stated that "a bunch of people with guns pushed through the door."  This "bunch" made Mr. Mason lay down on the floor.  They also made Mr. Hoffman lay face down on the floor.

Mr. Mason told Deputy Kelly, that "three white males and two black males" "rushed in" and "all had guns."  The statement continued, "So me and Brandon hit the ground and laid down....Had a gun to my head the whole time."

Deputy Kelly then interviewed Mr. Mike Gann.  Mr. Gann was in a bedroom with his two small boys.  He stated that he "walked out of my room" and "two guys with guns" told him to get on the floor and give them his money.  Mr. Gann then laid face-down on the floor.  He then stated, "They took Brandon into Nates room and got him out of the bed and made him get on the floor....One guy staid [sic] with Nate and myself at gun point as we laid on the ground face down."  Mr. Gann thought he "saw four people all with guns in the house."

So, Mr. Gann has Mr. Hoffmann being taken into Mr. Nathaniel 'Nate' Phillips' room.  Mr. Hoffman stated that he was on the ground, presumably in the living room, with a "gun to my head the whole time."  Not only that, but Mr. Gann states that after Mr. Phillips got out bed, they made him "get on the floor" right next to him where he was guarded by one armed intruder.

Ok, what did Mr. Nathaniel 'Nate' Phillips tell Deputy Kelly?

Mr. Phillips stated, "My brother's friend woke me up saying people were in the house with guns.  I went and laid down on the living room floor until they left."  Mr. Phillips only saw a "white male with a mask on carrying a gun" and a "Black male with orange shoes...also carrying a gun."  Mr. Phillips then "allowed a few minutes to pass then I left the house to follow them."

Deputy Kelly apparently never asked Mr. Phillips who had actually woken him up.  If Mr. Gann statement is true, then Mr. Hoffman is the "brother's friend."

But, Mr. Gann has Mr. Hoffmann being taken into Mr. Phillips' room and Mr. Phillips lying down on the floor in his bedroom.  Mr. Phillips is woken up by a person unknown to the Sheriff's Office and Mr. Phillips walking into the living room where he presumably sees a "white male" and a "Black male."

But, Mr. Hoffmann stated that he never moved from the living room where he was guarded and never stated that he woke up Mr. Phillips.

Deputy Kelly took Mr. Phillips to the location where the suspect's vehicle was stopped at the intersection of Brent and Davis Highway.  Based on the clothing they were wearing he identified only three white suspects, Mr. Tyler Raley, Mr. Jordan Rowell, and Mr. Brandon Raley, Tyler's brother and a juvenile.

Deputy Kelly interviewed another victim, Mr. Nicholas Snelson, who was located in a bedroom with his girlfriend, Ms. Bailie Davis, a former dancer.

Mr. Snelson told Deputy Kelly that he was in bed with his girlfriend when one white male and one Black male came into the room with guns.  They took his phone, $16 from his girlfriend, and two puppies.  He then claimed, "Throughout all of this happening, two more males (one white, one black) entered my room, searched around, then walked out.  Every suspect had a gun to someone's head at one point."

What did Ms. Baile see?  She told Deputy Kelly that "four masked men, two black, two white, busted through the door pointing their guns at us and telling us to give them everything we had."

Another contradiction.  Mr. Snelson has two males (one white, one black) entering the room, demanding money, tossing the room, and taking the cash, a phone, and two puppies.  Ms. Baile has four males entering the room at once (two white, two black) toss the room, take her cash and the two puppies.

Let's see if we can make sense of these mutually contradictory stories that make each statement not credible.

First, Mr. Phillips is woken up by Mr. Hoffmann, according to Mr. Gann's statement.  But, Mr. Gann has Mr. Hoffmann being escorted to Mr. Phillips' bedroom by one of the intruders.  As he told Deputy Kelly, "They took Brandon into Nates room...and made him get on the floor."

Mr. Phillips's claimed that he was woken up by an unnamed person that Deputy Kelly wrote was Mr. Phillips' "brother's friend."  Mr. Phillips does not describe this person as being escorted into his room.  Deputy Kelly did not bother to decipher who this "brother's friend" actually was.

Second, Mr. Hoffman claimed he was lying face down on the floor the whole time with a gun to his head, near the front door, presumably in the living room.  If Mr. Hoffmann's statement is true, he could not possibly have been taken to wake up Mr. Phillips in the latter's bedroom.

Third, the only victim who claimed that he was able to walk around the house un-escorted by an armed intruder was Mr. Phillips.  Mr. Phillips claimed that after being woken up by his "brother's [unidentified] friend" that he walked into the living room and laid down "until they left."  But, his claim is contradicted by Mr. Gann's statement that an intruder "staid [sic] at the door with Nate and myself at gun point."

Well, if Mr. Phillips is on the floor in his bedroom, presumably at gun point, how did he manage to walk sight unseen through the house and lay down in the living room?

Fourth, if Mr. Phillips walked into the living room, and if the living room is close enough to the front door that both Mr. Hoffmann and Mr. Mason could get off the couch to answer the doorbell, then why didn't Mr. Phillips see Mr. Hoffmann and Mr. Mason?  Why didn't Mr. Hoffmann and Mr. Mason report seeing Mr. Phillips come into the probable living room? And, since both Mr. Hoffmann and Mr. Mason were being held at gun point, why wasn't Mr. Phillips also held at gun point?

Fifth, Mr. Snelson, cuddling up with his girlfriend Ms. Davis in bed, saw only two males enter the bedroom with guns--one white and one Black.  Ms. Davis, in the same bedroom, saw four males enter the room with guns--two white and two Black.

If Ms. Davis's statement is correct, four intruders are in her bedroom while cuddling with Mr. Snelson.

That leaves only one armed intruder guarding Mr. Hoffmann and Mr. Mason near the front door.

But, Mr. Gann reported that one armed intruder was guarding him and Mr. Phillips.

Mr. Gann also reported that "they," meaning two or one armed intruders, went to go get Mr. Phillips.

So, Ms. Davis's statement cannot possibly be correct in terms of how many armed intruders burst into the bedroom she shared with Mr. Snelson.

If Mr. Hoffmann's statement is correct, he and Mr. Mason, were in a room near the front door, presumably a living room which is quite common in American homes, with a gun to his head and never saw Mr. Phillips walking around and laying down on the floor.

This all sounds like a hastily constructed six-part story of a robbery in which every narrative contradicts another narrative.

The only thing that matched the story was that the two puppies were stolen and two puppies were found in the suspects' car.

Concluding Observation

Out of all these mutually contradictory stories, the Escambia Sheriff's Office and the State Attorney's Office brought "home invasion robbery with a deadly weapon" against four suspects.

There was no trial by jury with a cross-examination of the witnesses.  All the hearings were conducted by deposition--no doubt smoothed out to sound credible, since their initial stories are a hodgepodge of contradictions.  Their credibility was never put to the test.  In fact, given the quality of at least two of the defense firms involved in the case, it is difficult to believe that the six alleged victims' testimony would not have fallen apart on the witness stand.

My source told me that Mr. Russell took the "no contest" plea to a reduced charge of aggravated assault because he did not want to take his chances with an all-white jury.  My source told me that Mr. Russell had never entered the house; neither had Mr. Ranaldson. Both Mr. Russell and Mr. Ranaldson had merely gone along with the three others to get some marijuana. They did not learn of the robbery until the three white men came out of the house with the two puppies and told them they had robbed the house.  At the first available moment, Mr. Russell and Mr. Ronaldson exited the get-away vehicle and walked on foot away from the real criminals in this case.  Their exiting the vehicle is corroborated by Mr. Phillips' statement to the Sheriff's Office that he observed one or more persons exiting the get-away vehicle he was following.

Mr. Russell had no need to rob anyone.  According to his 2013 W-2 form from the Grocery Outlet where he worked as a stock clerk, he earned $10,848.22.  He was also working for a delivery business.  He had graduated high school one year behind his class because of an earlier injury in a car accident that kept him out of school.  Mr. Russell had graduated with mostly As and Bs from the S.L. Jones Christian Academy.  He had already been accepted to Pensacola State College where he was going to train to become an air conditioning and coolant technician.

Mr. Demontre Russell graduating from S.L. Jones Christian Academy

For some unknown reason, Mr. Rowell, from an apparently well-off family involved in unknown business dealings, but retaining the notable Boyles & Boyles business law firm, and hiring a top notch criminal law firm, Morris Parnell & Ellis, was able to get a sweetheart deal based on his family's money and possible connections.  He was sentenced as a youth offender, given a modest restitution penalty, and probation and community supervision.

What is fairly clear is that Mr. Rowell was given a sweetheart deal by Escambia Sheriff's Office and the State Attorney's Office in exchange for convicting the two Black suspects who, at worst, were accessories to a crime they did not know was occurring.  One of the suspects, Mr. Tyler Raley, did not identify Mr. Russell.  And, despite the fact that Mr. Rowell claimed that Mr. Ranaldson's Florida driver's license had been left at his house because Mr. Ranaldson had visited Mr. Raley, the latter never mentioned Mr. Ranaldson.

His lesser-well off defendants were not so fortunate.  Despite pleading "no contest" to a reduced charge of "aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill," Mr. Russell and Mr. Ranaldson, both Black, were given five years in prison.  Coming before the very same judge, Chief Judge Terry D. Terrell, they were never offered the opportunity to make restitution to the alleged victims.  Mr. Raley, an indigent client, pleaded guilty to "home invasion robbery with a firearm (without discharge). He has a five-year prison sentence.  He was not offered the opportunity to plead to a lesser charge and make restitution.

This was a sweetheart deal in order to convict two Black suspects.  Both of these suspects have family ties to Mr. Doug Baldwin Sr. who is now running for Sheriff.

Tell me that this did not figure into the equation.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sheriff Morgan's 'Dred Scott' Attitude--Time for School, Sheriff

"So, I would tell you that statistically, anyone that makes an argument that the United States of America is a racist nation is focusing on specific instances of where we may have had problems with race relations.  But, it certainly does not paint any organization or any individual or any nation as racist."  Sheriff David Morgan, August 23, 2013 (on video tape).


Sheriff David Morgan had much more to say and the Street Report will be schooling the Sheriff on those remarks.  The Sheriff of Escambia asked his Internet audience that night, "So, what are the issues in the minority community in Escambia County?  Many are real and many are perceived. And, I will tell you that most of them are perceived.  And here is why."

Sheriff Morgan's remarks then dropped into the abyss of whitewashing America's racist history, current state of institutional racism, and general inanity.

Even the Sheriff's opening foray reveals his arrogance and utter contempt for the Black community or the African-American community in Escambia County, and, indeed across the entire country.  He told members of the "minority community" that whatever you think is real, is not.  In other words, your viewpoint; the facts you may bring to the discussion; your grievances and concerns; and, the priority of issues you deem important for yourself, your family, your neighborhood, and your community--are illegitimate--they are just "perceived" issues and priorities and facts--and I, Sheriff Morgan, will set you straight and tell you what is "real."

Sheriff Morgan's attitude is a not so distant echo of the 1856 Dred Scott U.S. Supreme Court decision in which Chief Justice Taney wrote that it had been a settled issue for more than a century that the "[Negro] had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." Substitute "real issues" for "rights" and Sheriff Morgan's meaning is clear.

Let's go to the videotape, as famed broadcaster Warner Wolf used to say.

Sheriff Morgan:  In His Own Words

The following transcript, which I wrote, captures every word Sheriff Morgan said on the original August 23, 2015, broadcast.  The excerpt starts at roughly the 7:30 mark and ends at roughly the 9:20 mark.

After telling his audience what is "perceived" and what is "real," Sheriff Morgan tells his audience that you can draw a straight line from where we were as a country at its constitutional founding to where we are today:  "Again, let's go back to the history of our nation and where we currently are today."  Thus, if America is not racist today, it was not racist at its founding.  This will become clearer as we move into through his presentation.

Begin Morgan Quote

Not that many years ago the thought of electing an African-American president would have been unthinkable in the United States of America.

And I would remind black Americans that you are a little less than 13 percent of the entire population of the United States.  Less than 13 percent.  Now, that's every man, woman, and child in the United States of America of black ancestry.  Had every one of those people been voter eligible, only 13 percent could have voted for President Obama.  But, President Obama has won two elections as President of the United States."

Now, what does that mean?

That means a whole host of white people, and Hispanic people, and Asian people, and American Indians cast a vote for President Obama.

The statistics are that if we were such a racist nation, why do we currently have an African-American president?  Why was General 'Chappie' James the first four-star black general? And why was General Colin Powell promoted to Chief of Staff and later Secretary of State? Why do we currently have an Attorney General Eric Holder, who is also a black American?

End Morgan Quote

A First Critique of Sheriff's Morgan's Statements

The good Sheriff apparently has difficulty with higher math.  He claimed that if all 13 percent of "black Americans" had voted for candidate Obama, then "only 13 percent could have voted for President Obama."

The other problem with Sheriff Morgan's analysis is that it is too simplistic to capture the real dynamics of the 2008 presidential race.  Senator Obama won the presidency despite racial resentment playing the strongest role in a presidential race in two decades--not because America had entered post-racial bliss.  In other words, Senator Obama triumphed within a racially charged negative political atmosphere, not a benign or positive one.

Let us examine the "higher" math first.

According to the Roper Center's 2008 exit poll, the nation's repository of political exit polls, in 2008, then Senator Obama garnered 95 percent of the "African-American" vote, 65 percent of the Hispanic vote, 62 percent of the Asian vote, 66 percent of the "Other" vote, and 43 percent of the white vote.

According to the Roper Center's 2012 exit poll, President Obama received 93 percent of the African-American vote, 71 percent of the Hispanic, 73 percent of the Asian, 58 percent of the "Other," and 39 percent of the white vote.

But, these figures do not come in a vacuum.

The American electorate has been changing, with the proportion of white voters declining and the proportion of non-white voters increasing. The University of Virginia's Center for Politics pointed out that "between 1992 and 2008 the nonwhite share of the electorate doubled, going from 13 percent to 26 percent.  Helped by an aggressive Democratic registration and get-out-the-vote campaign in African-American and Hispanic communities, the nonwhite share of the electorate increased from 23 percent in 2004 to 26 percent in 2008 with African-Americans going from 11 percent to 13 percent, and Hispanics going from 8 percent to 9 percent."

Sheriff Morgan's rather bland statement, "That means a whole host of white people...cast a vote for President Obama" implies that conservative white people like Sheriff Morgan cast votes for Senator and then President Obama.  Actually, in 2008, Senator Obama carried 85 percent of the Democratic base--white liberals and non-whites.  He also carried 53 percent of the "white moderates" vote, according to the Center for Politics' analysis.

Yes, Senator Obama attracted white votes, but they were liberal and moderate on race issues.

Between 1976 and 2008, the Democratic Party's and the Republican Party's coalitions have shifted and become more racially polarized.  According to the Center for Politics, in 1976, President Carter's coalition consisted of 21 percent liberal whites; 59 percent white moderates or conservatives; and, 20 percent non-whites.  Governor Clinton's coalition was 28 percent liberal whites; 42 percent moderate or conservative whites; and, 31 percent non-whites.  Senator Obama's coalition was 28 percent liberal whites; 33 percent moderate or conservative whites; and 39 percent non-whites.

By the same token, the Republican Party since 1976 has been a virtually all-white political party with the share of its coalition being non-white, falling from 10 percent in 1992 to 4 percent in 2008.

"Symbolic racism" or "racial resentment" is a social science construct to measure white attitudes towards Black people (see Tesler and Sears, pp. 18-9).  It consists of four themes: "(1) blacks no longer face much discrimination, (2) their disadvantage mainly reflects their poor work ethic, (3) they are demanding too much too fast, and (4) they have gotten more than they deserve."

Social scientists have operationalized "symbolic racism," that is, figured out how to measure this construct to produce valid and reliable results.  Since 1986, the American National Election Study has included the following four statements:

(1) "Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up.  Blacks should do the same without any special favors."
(2)  "Generations of slavery and discrimination have created that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class."
(3) Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve."
(4) "It's really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well as whites."

The political scientists Michael Tesler and David O. Sears in their 2010 book, Obama's Race: The 2008 Election and the Dream of a Post-Racial America, reported (pp. 59-60) that "racial resentment clearly had a much larger impact on general election votes in 2008 than it had at any earlier point in the prior two decades.  This strongly supports our central claim that the 2008 election was more sharply racialized than any campaign in the prior two decades, contrary to the hopes and wishes of the Obama campaign."

Examining how positive or negative evaluations of Senator Obama correlated with support or opposition to public policy issues (in 2008, mind you) Tesler and Sears found (p. 92) that "any issue Obama takes a public stance on might soon become polarized according to racial predispositions....Such a racialized environment would have the potential to make reaching common ground on public policy an even more difficult task in the age of Obama."

And, when Tesler and Sears examined Obama's "otherness" in relation to how Americans perceived and felt about Muslim Americans, as well as how Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator John McCain, and then Alaska Governor Sarah Palin all tried to paint Senator Obama as somehow not quite a real American or possibly a Muslim or someone close to terrorists.

Tesler and Sears found (pp. 139-40) that "Attitudes about Muslims were much more important in evaluating Obama than other partisan figures, and such effects were not merely artifacts of the correlation of anti-black and anti-Muslim attitudes."

In other words, the McCain-Palin ticket which attempted to make Obama into something strange, something alien, something other, activated right-wing animosities that Obama had to overcome in order to win the presidency.

So, how did Senator Obama win?  According to Tesler and Sears (pp. 73-4), Obama succeeded in doing three things:  One, "he activated much greater support among racial liberals" than other Democratic candidates.  Two, he "succeeded in activating Democratic partisanship" and negative views of the sitting Bush administration.  And three, he attracted "racial moderates who were inclined to vote with the prevailing short-term forces of the election year."

On November 6, 2008, the progressive media monitoring group, Media Matters, issued a report on the vitriolic hatred spewing from the mouths of conservative talk radio hosts. Wrote Media Matters: "radio host have compared Obama to the Antichrist, as well as to Hitler and Mao and suggested that his loyalties lie outside the United States, including with some radio hosts, with Kenya and Kenyan political figures.  The first-ever nomination by a major party of an African-American has also inspired extensive, racially tinged commentary on conservative radio, with direct attacks on Obama, his qualifications for office, and the motivations of his supporters."

Obama won, Sheriff Morgan, not because America had entered the nirvana of a post-racial America, but despite the fact that first Hillary Clinton and then the McCain-Palin ticket made Obama a racially polarizing figure.

Oh, and General Colin Powell?  The smell of the McCain-Palin campaign led him to endorse Senator Obama in October 2008.

Sheriff Morgan:  In His Words, Again

Begin Morgan Quote

So, I would tell you, statistically, anyone that makes an argument that the United States of America is a racist nation is focusing on specific instances of where we may have had problems with race relations.  But, it certainly does not paint any organization or any individual or any nation as racist.  Because the facts do not support those premises.

End Morgan Quote

Let's see.  About 250 years of slavery, another 100 years or so of near-slavery during post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow, and another 50 years or so of the New Jim Crow (the prison industrial complex) constitutes "specific instances of where we may have had problems with race relations"?

That's like saying that between 1934 and 1945 the Jews of Germany "may have had problems with Jewish-German relations."  You think?

Concluding Observation

I could cite chapter and verse on the racist foundation of the constitutional republic to preserve white supremacy in the face of Britain entertaining the policy of freeing the slaves; the racist foundations of the American and global capitalist economy; the widespread benefits of slavery to whites in the southern and northern states; northern corporations collaborating with white supremacists in the southern states to virtually re-enslave African-Americans for profit; the collaboration of the federal government with southern state governments to allow widespread lynching and Jim and Jane Crow laws to disenfranchise and impoverish African-Americans; and, the War on Drugs producing the New Jim Crow which resulted in a War on the Black Family and Black Men in which 1.5 million Black men have gone missing.*

Or, I could cite study after study showing disparate racial impacts on wealth, income, health, education, environmental safety, or any other metric.

But, what would be the point?  Sheriff Morgan exists in an alternate universe of American history and has a 'Dred Scott' mentality.

* Note See:

Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jennifer Frank, Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery, New York: Ballantine, 2005.

Gerald Horne, The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America, New York: New York University Press.

Edward E. Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, New York: Basic Books, 2014.

Greg Grandin, The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014.

Douglas A. Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War II, New York: Anchor Books, 2008.

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, revised edition, New York: The New Press, 2012.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Sheriff Morgan: 'African-American Divisive'--An Italian-American Retort

"I'm sorry, did I break your concentration? I didn't mean to do that. Please, continue, you were saying something about best intentions. What's the matter? Oh, you were finished! Well, allow me to retort."  Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), Pulp Fiction (1994)


In the August 2013 video--an excerpt from which collected at least one million views on Facebook for Occupy Pensacola 2.0--Sheriff Morgan reveals his inner white nationalism and arrogance towards Black Americans.  In his own authoritarian mind he believes that his badge makes him an authority on what is wrong in the "minority community" in Escambia County and that as a white Sheriff he is entitled to declare what is the source of "divisiveness" in America.  In the video, the mask comes off and he reveals his paternalistic, racist outlook towards the Black community.

This Street Report provides an Italian-American's retort to Sheriff Morgan.  Sheriff Morgan is clearly another in a long line of White Anglo Saxon Protestants who think it is their God-given right to lecture lesser folks about what they should call themselves, challenge their 'American-ness,' and denigrate them as the source of America's divisiveness.

In this Street Report, we will just peel the mask off a little bit more to reveal more of your inner thinking.  You are a bigot and a racist.  You are arrogant.  But worse of all, you are arrogant and intellectually-challenged.

Let me state at the outset that I come from an Italian-American family that settled and lived in Brooklyn, New York, and Long Island, New York for several decades.  When I was a child growing up in the 1950s I was fortunate to spend some time with my paternal great grandfather and paternal great grandmother.  Between the two of them, they could not speak two words of English.  My paternal grandfather--himself born in Sicily and having come to America as a four-year old in 1904--had to translate my great grandfather's Sicilian into English.  Our family stories stretched back to the early 1900s and the racism and violence that my great grandfather, a single parent with several young children, faced as an immigrant who kept traveling back forth between Brooklyn and Sicily.

When I was at Stanford University, my mentor and doctoral chair, Marty Lipset, had me research how immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century were characterized in order to compare how Mexican immigrants were being characterized as the Reagan administration was in the process of passing comprehensive immigration reform in 1986.

I opened volume after volume of a eugenics journal that was probably produced by the American Eugenics Society.  I was openly angered by the language used to describe my paternal great grandfather and those of his cohort who came to America to work, raise families, and scrimp to get by economically.  I remember reading about how Italians were feeble-minded, morons, imbeciles, lazy, criminals, immoral, disease-ridden, and would never be successful in America.  We were genetic refuse; scum; garbage that should be sent back to Italy.  National Public Radio revealed one racist exhibit from the American Eugenics Society with many of the same terms.

The "Negro problem" and Sheriff Morgan

The "Negro problem" has shifted over decades from the racist explanation that their maladies are due to bad genes (biology) to the racist explanation their problems stem from bad values (culture).  This is the general framework within which to understand Sheriff Morgan's fanatical defense of his "Super Predator" thesis.

The great sociologist, W.E.B. DuBois, opened his 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folk, with a question from whites that troubled him because it was the Negroes responsibility to answer: "How does it feel to be a problem? they say."

Later in the book, DuBois criticized Booker T. Washington and others for shifting the burden for the solutions of the "Negro problem" onto the "Negroes."  Wrote DuBois (pp. 34-5), "His doctrine has tended to make the whites, North and South, shift the burden of the Negro problem to the Negro's shoulders and stand aside as critical and rather pessimistic spectators; when in fact the burden belongs to the nation, and the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs."

As they say, 'Stop him when he's lying.'

Sheriff's Morgan's rant about "African-Americans" and "divisiveness" is but the latest repetition of an old refrain about how the "Negroes" or "the blacks," as Sheriff Morgan derisively called the Black community, are responsible for solving a problem they did not create, while shifting responsibility away from the dominant white culture and institutions that created the problem in the first place.

Sheriff Morgan In His Own Words

I start this retort by quoting Sheriff Morgan verbatim and providing the video excerpt so that you can watch his clenched jaw and the anger that he is keeping under control.  Sheriff Morgan is attempting to keep himself under control before the cameras.  And, this written and visual record is provided so that he cannot claim that his words were taken "out of context."  My comments immediately follow his presentation.

The video excerpt is below.


"And so, let's review a little bit of this.  First, let me take issue with the title of African-American.  We're Americans.

I am fourth-generation Welsh.  I or my family do not pretend nor do we say we are Welsh-Americans; we are Americans.  I was not born in Wales.

And the blacks that currently reside in the United States of America are not from Africa.

Those sorts of terms that society has come to to use are divisive in nature.  They keep us apart as a community, and most assuredly as a nation.  We must share a common touchstone or a common understanding of who we are.


A Pensacola-based Black Lives Matter Activist Responds

Pensacola Black Lives Matter activist, Haley Morrissette, responded to this claim by Sheriff Morgan by stating that the term African-American is found everywhere--including job applications.  Wrote Ms. Morrissette, "Unfortunately, I cannot stop calling myself African-American because every time I fill out an application or give information at an important business office that pesky little check box is there using black and African-american [sic] interchangeably.  That check box is there for a reason.  I am both Black and African-American."

Ms. Morrissette also took the Sheriff to the woodshed for his arrogance and paternalism.  Ms. Morrissette stated that "I have the privilege to identify however I damn well please."

Ms. Morrissette also had to point out to the Sheriff of Escambia that unlike his relatives who chose to come to America, "My family did not choose to immigrate from Africa.  I am not a 6th or 7th generation African who has access to my family across the sea.  My only connection to my West African roots is my kinky hair and dark skin."

Ms. Morissette then challenged directly the Sheriff's claim of about "divisiveness":  "Just as you have the privilege to identify as strictly American without people asking you, 'where is your family REALLY from?'.  Sheriff, it is not divisive to identify and take pride in heritage, it is divisive when you are treated differently because of the features that come with your heritage."

Exactly, Ms. Morrissette.  It is the Sheriff of Escambia that is "divisive."

The Italian-American Response

The Italian-American, Sheriff, "most assuredly" does not view their widespread use of the term "Italian-American" and their "Italian American festivals" or "Italian festivals" as divisive.

According to the National Italian American Foundation, the foundation's mission "Is to serve as a resource for the Italian American community; to preserve the Italian American heritage and culture; to promote and inspire a positive image and legacy of Italian Americans; and to strengthen and empower ties between the United States and Italy."

Sounds really "divisive" to me.

Here is the website Life In Italy describing the tradition of Italian American festivals in the United States of America.  It noted that the tradition of holding religious festivals dated back to "the middle ages."  Many of these religious festivals were carried to America by southern Italian immigrants to "New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and New Orleans."  It noted that "Many of these have been celebrated for close to one hundred years."  Life In Italy reported that as Italian Americans integrated into American society, many of these festivals became dormant and "many forgot these traditions and their ancestral language."

The Life In Italy website then pointed with pride to the rebirth of this positive ethnic spirit:  "However, on a positive note resurgence in ethnic pride among Italian Americans has seen a rebirth of the Italian festival in the last twenty years, with new festivals springing up all across the country.  Not only are these new festivals gaining momentum, but it seems that in many places the younger generations are carrying on the older festivals with renewed gusto--and becoming a boon to their respective city's tourism in the process."

Holy crap, Sheriff.  A "resurgence of ethnic pride" that is "gaining momentum"?  Goddamn, somebody tell the governor to call out the National Guard.

Hey, Sheriff, let's go to New Jersey, you know, the home of the fictional crime family The Sopranos--the guys who, if you insulted their identity as an Italian American, would send you to the fishes.

The New Jersey Leisure Guide just gushed with enthusiasm for the state's 15 Italian American festivals running from May to October.  These festivals promote "the Italian culture and family unity."  Furthermore, these festivals or feasts "are usually organized by either a Catholic Church with a large Catholic following or an Italian community service organization with an interest in promoting their culture and providing knowledge and stories for future generations to benefit from."

Let's travel, Sheriff, to Portland, Oregon, and their description of the revival of ethnic pride and the purpose of the Italian American festival in that city and area of Oregon.

The Festa Italiana Association, the organization that puts on the annual festival, explained that during the Second World War that "Italian Americans were disparaged and looked down upon.  There were situations of evacuation and internment of Italian-Americans, especially on the West Coast.  Therefore, after 1938 and up to 1991, the Italian-American culture in the city was scattered and unrecognized throughout the Portland Metropolitan area and there was a total lack of unity among Italian-Americans."

In 1991, the Italian-American community in Portland formed the Festa Italiana Association.  The mission statement and by-laws were all intended "to promote Italian culture throughout the Greater Portland Community, to provide an opportunity for people, Italian-American and non Italian-American alike, to celebrate the unique and contributions of Italy and her sons and daughters to the thought, art, and science of the Western World throughout the centuries.  A focus of the association is to promote and coordinate a cultural celebration annually as a gift to the people of Portland so that they may share the beauty of Italian culture."

And, Sheriff, guess what.  I will let you in on a secret.  They have Italian-American festivals in Florida.  You can attend one of these celebrations at the following locations: Clearwater, DelRay, Fort Walton Beach, Jupiter, Palm Coast, Port St. Lucie, Tampa, Tallahassee, Venice, and Vero Beach.

Why Sheriff Morgan Is A Racist

If you read through the statements from the National Italian American Foundation, Life In Italy, the New Jersey Leisure Guide, and the Festa Italiana Association, the following words pop out: "Italian American heritage and culture;" "legacy of Italian Americans;" "Italian culture;" "contributions of Italy;" and, "beauty of Italian culture."

Sheriff, the Italian-Americans descriptions of our feasts and festivals celebrate Italy and Italian culture and their identity as "Italian-American."  There is nothing in their mission statements about celebrating "America" or "American culture."  They may celebrate the contributions of Italian-Americans to America, but that is not the same thing as celebrating "American culture."  If you come from an Italian-American family, the first culture you learn about is Italian--especially if you come from New York City, a city filled with bustling and vibrant and colorful ethnic neighborhoods.

None of that means that Italian-Americans are not proud to be born in America or identify themselves also as "American."  It does not mean we have not also, like many Black Americans, served our country honorably and well.

But, your declaration that you "take issue with the title of African-American" is a straight forward racist statement.  You declared that it is "divisive in nature."

Do you also "take issue with the title of Italian-American"?  Are Italian-Americans with their festivals celebrating "ethnic pride" divisive?

Come on, Sheriff, speak up.  I can't hear you.

Ms. Morrissette wrote that it was not divisive to "take pride in heritage."

You take issue with the "title of African-American."


If instead of substituting "Nazi with Muslim" as you did, let me substitute "African-American" for "Italian-American;" "African culture" for "Italian culture;" and, "Africa" for "Italy."

That substitution is perfectly reasonable to me.

Does that substitution get you hot and bothered?  Does it bring out your inner Klan?  Does it make you want to tell the Black community "one more thing you know" about the problems in the "minority community."

Sheriff, beneath your badge beats the heart of a bigot.  You hide it well, but every once in a while the mask comes ajar, it slips, and we can see who you really are.

Concluding Observation

And, here's the last point I want you to remember.  You thought you could arrogantly belittle and harass the Black community with your statement, "First off, let me take issue with the title of African-American....Those sorts of terms that society has come to use are divisive in nature."

In your own little authoritarian world where everybody applauds your utterances as the statements of the Great Leader, you thought you were simply addressing the Black community.

No, Sheriff, you were addressing the Italian-American community.

And, you were addressing the Cuban-American community which sponsors their "Cuban-American Heritage Festival" in Key West, Florida, and the "Cuban-American Festival" in Miami, Florida, and the "Cuban-American Film Festival" in Coral Gables, not to mention all the professors and students and wealthy supporters of the "Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies."

Yes, Sheriff, if you ever decide to run for statewide office, I hope this CJ's Street Report becomes a political commercial for your opponent.  You thought you were insulting the Black community and could get away with it.  You have not.  The Black community has long known your racial biases.  They have been calling you out for days and years.  The news has gotten out around the country.

No, Sheriff, these "sorts of terms" includes the Italians and the Cubans and probably many other ethnic groups that have real pride in their history and their culture.

Choke on your words, Sheriff.  Choke on your words.  And watch your political career go into the toilet where it belongs.


Konovalov crewman [to Captain Tupolev]:  Torpedo, dead ahead!

Andrei Bonovia [to Captain Tupolev]:  You arrogant ass!  You've killed us.

Hunt for Red October (1990)