Deputy's girlfriend's death investigated

Sheriff says FDLE investigators lied in report

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Jeremy Banks and Michelle O'Connell

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - The St. Johns County sheriff is blasting the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in a scathing 160-page report in which the sheriff says FDLE investigators lied and manipulated evidence to try to blame a deputy for the death of his girlfriend.

Sheriff David Shoar said he will use his last two years in office defending the deputy involved. He said Michelle O'Connell committed suicide and was not killed by the deputy.

On Sept. 2, 2010, O'Connell died of a gunshot wound to her head by a bullet fired from her the service pistol of her boyfriend -- St. Johns County Deputy Jeremy Banks. It was ruled a suicide.

Now two and a half years later, there is still debate if it really was or if it was a homicide made to look like a suicide covered up by Banks.

Evidence shows the couple had problems and were on the verge of breaking up.

Three medical examiners have ruled the death a suicide, as well as a special prosecutor, who closed the case. But an investigation by FDLE Investigator Rusty Rodgers has been questioning all of that and placing the blame for O'Connell's death on Banks.

On Thursday, Shoar fired back. He had his homicide team review all the evidence in the case and is accusing the FDLE investigator of sloppy and inappropriate police work.

"We have been above board with everybody. Everything we have is out in the open," Shoar said. "I asked to review this case on possible misconduct on those two agents. It not us against the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It is not us saying our house is completely clean on this issue."

The report highlights many problems with the investigation. But it concludes that the death of O'Connell was a tragic event. It says the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office should have been more thorough and comprehensive in its investigation.

But Shoar said FDLE followed a preordained path and its very early conclusion was homicide committed by Banks.

The sheriff says the FDLE agent and his superior acted recklessly and maliciously.

Shoar said the Rodgers had an inappropriate relationship with family members of O'Connell and became a family advocate. The sheriff says Rodgers used false and misleading information to obtain search warrants, ignored evidence and influenced experts.

Banks' attorney said he will use this report and possibly take legal action to clear Banks' name.

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