Secret investigation into FMPD costs taxpayers at least $360K

Reporter: Lauren Sweeney
Published: Updated:
Credit: WINK News.

A federal investigation into the Fort Myers Police Department began after the City of Fort Myers hired the Freeh Group International Solutions to look for problems within the department.

In early 2017, the Freeh Group released an audit report that included a recommendation to have an outside agency investigate potential misconduct at the police department.

The same day, the department placed Sergeant Rick Notaro, Sergeant Michael Forbes, Officer Jason Jackson and Captain Melvin Perry on paid administrative leave.

FMPD continues to claim the officers are under investigation but will not link the ongoing federal investigation to the officers.

The United States Attorney’s Office will not confirm the existence of any investigation into the officers. However, in a follow-up report issued by the Freeh Group in May 2018, it stated the department had achieved a recommendation by allowing for an outside agency to conduct a criminal investigation into the police department.

Notaro retired in August 2017, and Forbes retired in March 2018 amid the ongoing investigation.

Perry and Jackson are still collecting salary and benefits, totaling more than $360,000 as of April 26, 2019.

“(The amount of money spent on paid leave) does beg the question that maybe we should just move on, dismiss the officers, set that aside and move on, hire some others,” Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson said. “We may get to a day when that is recommendation for us.”

Henderson said if the council were to get sound legal recommendation that it was appropriate to remove the officers, they would consider it. He also said he had no indication of what was being investigation by the U.S. attorney.

An internal investigation conducted after the release of the Freeh Group report details problems within the department’s special investigations group. The SIG was responsible for conducting drug enforcement in the city and often used confidential informants.

All four men placed on leave were involved with SIG operations at one point or another. Perry and Notaro were actually at the top of it before the department restructured in 2017.

Forbes was at one point a detective as part of the SIG, but his personnel records show that he asked to be moved to patrol in 2010. He was promoted to sergeant of patrol and seemed to excel. A recent evaluation showed that he was eligible for promotion.

Jackson assisted in drug operations with the SIG several years ago and was eligible to become a detective in the team at one point, but his file shows he was also part of patrol when he was suspended.

A few months before that suspension, Chief of Police Derrick Diggs named Jackson as one of the officers of the month.

Notaro and Perry were subjects of an internal investigation into the SIG in the months after they were placed on leave.

A report conducted between April and October of 2017 found problems with how the SIG handled dealings with confidential informants.

The IA found that the department was not following Rachel’s Law, which was set up to protect police informants after a young college student was murdered after acting as an informant.

FMPD was not keeping a log of who accessed informant files. When Notaro was confronted about this, the agency said he was untruthful and claimed there was a log. Captain Perry ultimately took the blame as Notaro’s superior for relying on Notaro to keep the log but never verifying that one existed.

The city agreed with the police department to demote Perry from captain to lieutenant in January 2018, and his salary while on leave was decreased.

In March, City Manager Saed Kazemi wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney Maria-Chapa Lopez asking for an update on the investigation into the police department, citing concerns over the amount of time the officers remain on paid suspensions.

Chapa-Lopez wrote back in early April, stating that federal policy prohibited her from commenting or even confirming the existence of an investigation.

Diggs and Kazemi told us they had no comment.

Mayor Henderson emphasized the need for patience in the situation.

“We’re talking about people’s lives here,” Henderson said. “We’re talking about getting to the truth and doing the right thing. There’s no future in rushing through that.”

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