Unlocking the mystery: Will a murder conviction exonerate a fired Fort Myers police officer?

Reporter: Peter Fleischer Writer: Derrick Shaw
Robert Ward (Credit: LCSO booking photo)

A recent court conviction might be the key in exonerating a Fort Myers police officer fired for alleged misconduct and illegal contact with criminals.

Robert Ward, of Fort Myers, was recently found guilty of drug trafficking and killing an FBI informant who formed with the Fort Myers Police Department.

The murder happened almost a decade ago, but Ward’s conviction last week could finally open up secret information related to the police department.

Jason Jackson and three other officers were suspended just before the Freeh report, a critical audit of the department, came out in Feb. 2017.

“They did nothing wrong. Period,” said Gulf Coast Police Benevolent Association President Matt Sellers.

Sellers said, finally, there is clarity in a case that spanned almost a decade.

“The conviction of Robert Ward is the biggest exoneration for not only Jason Jackson but all four officers in their accusations of misconduct,” Sellers said.

Officer Jason Jackson (CREDIT: WINK News)

Jackson remained on leave for four years while the FBI investigated claims of police corruption. He never faced any criminal charges.

But in 2021, Fort Myers police launched an internal affairs investigation into Jackson, speaking with 27 members of the community.

One person claimed Jackson warned Ward the police were watching him. The person also claims Ward paid Jackson for information.

“There’s never been any evidence, there were never any indictments,” Sellers said.

Ward was convicted of orchestrating the death of Kristopher Smith, a Fort Myers man and confidential informant, who was gunned down after dropping off his child at school in 2013.

Sellers said Ward’s conviction and Jackson’s complete absence from the trial erased doubt about the former officer.

“I testified at the trial. I was never asked any questions under direct or cross-examination about these officers’ involvements. There’s never been a shred of evidence,” Sellers said, adding that, “There was someone that was convicted of this. These officers had no involvement.”

Sellers is also in a unique position to say that because he was the lead investigator into Smith’s murder from 2013 to 2016 until he retired.

“I was assigned to the case, never once was there an officer’s name or any officer ever came up,” Sellers said.

Now that Smith’s murder has been solved, there is hope that the entire Freeh report and all related investigations will be made public.

“There’s been a long history here with a lack of transparency. Now we’re here today, there’s still no transparency. We just want to get to the bottom of the truth. Who made these false accusations and what’s going to be done about them,” Sellers said.

WINK News reached out to Fort Myers City Councilman Johnny Streets, a former FMPD officer and a family friend of the Jackson family. He said he didn’t know enough of the latest information to do an interview, but then expressed his frustration at the most recent city council meeting.

“I can’t answer them because I don’t have the report,” Streets said. “I think it’s incumbent that this council needs the full report, or whatever can be given out. But we haven’t gotten that.”

The Fort Myers Police Department continues to decline our request to release the redacted sections of the Freeh report or to talk on camera.

Jackson is still appealing FMPD’s decision to terminate his job. He declined a request for an interview.

We reached out to the other three officers and did not hear back.

As for Ward, his attorney said he cannot comment.

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