JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is coming under fire yet again for the way it handles public records.
This time, a complaint has been filed with the Florida Bar against a Sheriff's Office employee who is responsible for overseeing the maintenance and release of public records.
The latest complaint came to light after a News4Jax I-TEAM investigation into why surveillance video from an attack inside the Duval County jail was erased before it could be turned over to an attorney.
It’s not the first time questions have been raised about how the agency retains public records, but this case involves the deletion of an officer’s disciplinary record, which JSO said was purged by mistake.
Last month, Gordon Shutt told the I-TEAM he was severely beaten by another inmate inside the jail. His attorney, John Phillips, was trying to get surveillance footage of the attack to prove what happened.
Phillips later learned that the video was deleted by the agency’s staff, despite repeated requests to preserve the footage and a standing policy to set aside such records until a court order is obtained.
Now Shutt has filed a Bar complaint against Agnes Carswell, JSO’s public records manager. The complaint said Carswell claims to be an attorney. Phillips said he has records that show Carswell attended law school, but she has not yet passed the Florida Bar exam.
His client wants to know why JSO claims she's an attorney.
"He said, 'Why does Ms. Carswell have her job? If I were messing up my job this much, I would be held accountable,'" Phillips said. "So we did a broader conversation and he did the bar complaint."
The attorney said he does not know where his client’s complaint will lead, but it’s the latest legal move by Phillips and others over the way JSO handles and preserves public records.
"For five or six years, every media entity, lawyers that handle these cases and the general public have seen the stakes," Phillips said. "It always works out in the favor of JSO and the city."
Another investigation is underway involving an officer who investigated the case of Jalen Mays, who died from his injuries in May, two days after getting into a scuffle with officers who detained him. In that case, JSO said it mistakenly deleted part of the disciplinary record for one of the officers.
News4Jax Crime and Safety Expert Ken Jefferson, who handled public records requests while working as JSO’s public information officer, said Sheriff Mike Williams is going to have to deal with this soon.
"It appears there is a lot of carelessness going on in regards to public records and public record retention," Jefferson said.
Reached Tuesday, Williams characterized the records criticisms as learning experiences stemming from the large volume of requests the agency handles. He said these are opportunities to improve.
"I think if you look at the grand scheme of things, we are handling about 100,000 public records requests a year," he said. "We want to be perfect, but sometimes we are not going to be. I know we have the jail issue with the tape that fell off and the purge issue, but two separate parts."
News4Jax also checked with Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s Office to see if there are concerns about how JSO handles public records. A spokesperson referred a reporter to State Attorney Melissa Nelson’s Office because the attorney general generally handles multijurisdictional cases.
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