FORT MYERS, Fla. A scathing audit of Fort Myers Police Department practices could lead past criminal convictions to be overturned, according to a defense attorney.
The city-commissioned audit, conducted by a Delaware-based risk management firm, was highly critical of the way some investigations were handled. Fort Myers-based attorney Scott Moorey doesn’t foresee a blanket dismissal of convictions, but he won’t rule out the idea that the audit, released last week, could be a game-changer for some.
“Just a couple bad apples tarnish the entire force’s reputation, but if it’s that bad apple that happens to be the star witness in your client’s case, we got a job to do and that’s to expose those cases, and expose the crime,” Moorey said.
The audit alleged officers of evidence tampering and leaking information to drug dealers, and it suggested many of them didn’t have the experience necessary to perform investigations. It raises questions about whether officers unlawfully withheld information that may have been key to clearing a defendant, according to Moorey.
“We’ve been put on notice now that these officers may have been involved in dereliction of duty, may have been involved in some sort of evidence tampering, may have been involved in investigations where they didn’t turn over all of the facts and information,” Moorey said. “If it comes to light that that officer has not been truthful or failed to do their job, then those cases may very well be reviewed.”
Moorey is only beginning to dig into the audit, which was released last week, and he said he’ll seek further information from the state attorney’s office to see if malfeasance within the department extends beyond what the audit suggests.
Even if such an effort doesn’t uncover any bombshells, it could still prove critical, according to Moorey.
“Many times I see situations where a very minor issue in a case may influence it one way or the other,” he said.
The NAACP is also seeking information from the state attorney’s office to determine whether five Fort Myers police officers placed on leave shortly before the release of the audit had anything to do with the arrest of more than 20 people allegedly involved with the “Lake Boyz” gang.
Lee County NAACP President James Muwakkil believes some of them were wrongfully arrested. But it’s unclear if the officers placed on leave were connected either to the audit or the Lake Boyz arrests.
The state attorney’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment about whether they’ll investigate past cases involving the Fort Myers Police Department.