St. Johns County deputy sues FDLE

Investigator convinced suicide victim's family deputy was involved in her death

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - A St. Johns County deputy whose girlfriend committed suicide in 2010 has filed a civil rights and wrongful arrest lawsuit against the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and a suspended agent because of the way the agency looked into her death.

Three medical examiners concurred that suicide was the official finding in the death of Michelle O'Connell. But FDLE Investigator Rusty Rodgers believed that Deputy Jeremy Banks was involved in the death, and convinced O'Connell's family she'd been killed.

Banks' lawyers say Rodgers "engaged in egregious and repeated misconduct... fabricating evidence and communicating falsehoods to witnesses."

The lawsuit also accuses Rodgers of falsifying information to obtain a search warrant of Banks' home, and trying to influence the medical examiner to change his ruling from suicide to homicide.

Banks' lawyers claim at one point, Rodgers briefly placed Banks under arrest without probable cause of legal authority, but then told Banks he was free to go.

COURT DOCUMENT: Deputy Jeremy Banks' complaint against FDLE

St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar's department released a report slamming the FDLE investigation, saying the agent turned it into a homicide investigation without regard of any evidence. Banks was cleared.

Banks' attorney, Mac McLeod, said his client is ready for this to be over, but he also wants an understanding as to why Rodgers tried to get Banks convicted of a crime that no one committed.

"You can have your theories about the case. What you can't do is make up facts purposely in order to get someone prosecuted for a crime they didn't do," McLeod said.

FDLE suspended Rodgers, and its internal investigation is ongoing.

As for the lawsuit, McLeod said, "They'll find that not only was my client absolutely innocent of any wrongdoing of this, but also the behavior and conduct exhibited of this agent went far beyond the bounds of lawfulness."

McLeod said O'Connell's brother, Scott O'Connell, also plans to file a suit against Rodgers and the FDLE. McLeod said he's ready to bring his client the justice he deserves.

"If this can happen to a police officer, a deputy sheriff, imagine what could happen to someone without the resources and knowledge to contest this," McLeod said. "It's a very scary thing."

McLeod said Rodgers and the FDLE will have a couple of weeks to file a response to the lawsuit before the trial can begin.

Meanwhile, McLeod said Banks is happy to be back at work. His dad died in the line of duty, so serving as a deputy is his life ambition. McLeod said Banks is ready for this ordeal to be over, but wants some answers first.

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