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Florida child protection investigator arrested for lying in possible sex abuse case

A former child protection detective in Florida was arrested for lying in an ongoing investigation involving the possible sexual assault of a child, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Children and Families confirmed Monday.

According to court records, Brittanee Sharmayne Carter, 27, was taken into custody by agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) after a warrant was issued for her arrest.

She was charged with two felony counts of altering or destroying the records of a minor in study under custody, court documents confirmed.

DCF spokeswoman Jessica Sims said Carter was terminated from her position in February 2016.

“The actions of this individual were absolutely unacceptable, and the Department has no tolerance for any violation of the public trust,” Sims told FloridaPolitics.com by email. “When these allegations surfaced, an investigation was initiated by the DCF inspector general and law enforcement was notified during the course of the investigation. Allegations of falsification of records were reported to the DCF IG Feb. 2, 2016. Ms. Carter resigned Feb. 3, 2016.”

Carter fictitiously reported she had visited various elementary schools in the Tallahassee area in the course of an investigation regarding a child had been sexually assaulted, according to records.

She told investigators that it was difficult for her to keep up with her caseload at times and would confuse facts, The Associated Press reported.

“We appreciate FDLE’s assistance in holding this individual accountable,” Sims said. “When the IG investigation is complete, the full redacted IG report will be posted on our website.”

Carter was only in custody for a little more than an hour before posting bail on a $1,000 bond. It was not clear if she had yet retained a lawyer.

Attempts to contact her were unsuccessful before the publishing of this story.

 

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Aerial survey shows increasing manatee count

Florida manatees are thriving during this warm, sunny winter.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) count found the highest number of sea cows since 1991 and the third straight year of a minimum count greater than 6,000 during its annual flyover of popular manatee spots.

A team of 15 observers from 10 organizations counted 3,488 manatees on Florida’s east coast and 3,132 on the west coast of the state during the aerial survey. That top’s last year’s county by 370 manatees.

And while the Jan. 30 through Feb. 2 survey is not a population count, it’s a good indicator that Florida manatees are using the state’s springs, power plant discharge areas and warm water tributaries as their winter refuge.

The survey is done every winter following a cold front, said Holly Edwards, FWC biologist and assistant research scientist, who stressed that aerial counts are not accurate population counts because they can often miss manatees. Warm, sunny weather aided this year’s counts with low winds and good visibility.

“We did have every nice weather conditions this year, and it was cold enough to move the animals into our survey areas,” Edwards said. “This is not a record; this is a minimum count.”

Numbers vary depending on whether it is warm or cold, sunny or cloudy, calm or windy. Manatees are more easily counted a few days after a cold front when it is slightly warmer, clear and windless. A warming trend with sunny, windless conditions following cold weather increases the likelihood that manatees will be resting at the water’s surface, where they can easily be spotted. 

The survey is conducted to meet a Florida state statute, which requires an annual, impartial, scientific census of the manatee population. The counts have been made 31 times from 1991 through 2017.

“The relatively high counts we have seen for the past three years underscore the importance of warm-water habitat to manatees in Florida,” according to Gil McRae, FWC biologist and head of FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, in a statement released Monday.

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Kennedy Space Center back in launch business — this time for business

Kennedy Space Center is back in the rocket-launching business — and this time it’s really a business.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off into space from historic Launch Complex 39A Sunday morning, the first launch from Kennedy since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

This was a business launch in almost every sense, except in purpose. The Dragon capsule sent into orbit by the rocket is full of 5,500 pounds of equipment and goods for the International Space Station.

SpaceX is trucking the goods into space on a NASA contract, and it began the mission from a NASA-owned launchpad, but this is a private business that has leased the launchpad and which is hauling the goods entirely for business.

The rocket launch appeared perfect, blasting upward and into cloudy sky, disappearing 10 seconds after liftoff.

“And liftoff of the Falcon 9 to the space station, on the first commercial launch from Kennedy Space Center’s historic pad 39!” announcer George Diller declared.

Until now NASA’s launchpads were used only for government rockets, and the last one that went up was the one boosting the Space Shuttle Atlantis into space on its final mission in July 2011.

NASA and Kennedy officials decided the best — really only — use for its billions of dollars in launch infrastructure for most of the future might be to support all the emerging private space companies such as SpaceX. The California company won a bidding competition in 2013 and signed a 20-year lease for exclusive use of 39A, and a year later began rebuilding it to accommodate the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.

NASA still has 39A’s twin, Launch Complex 39B, which the space agency is rebuilding to accommodate its next generation big rocket, the Space Launch System.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the cost of the 39A rebuild is approaching $100 million and likely will top $100 million before it is fully outfitted to accommodate astronauts. Starting in probably 2019 SpaceX will be launching astronauts from there to the International Space Station.

So Saturday’s launch is the beginning of a new era.

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Florida man accused in plot to bomb Target stores

A Florida man is accused in a plot to blow up several Target stores along the East Coast in an attempt to acquire cheap stock if the company’s stock value plunged after the explosions.

Mark Charles Barnett, 48, was charged in a criminal complaint filed Thursday with possession of a firearm affecting commerce by a previously convicted felon, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Florida’s middle district. Barnett, a registered sex offender in Florida, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

A team of federal, state and local officials arrested Barnett Tuesday in a parking lot in Ocala. He was taken to the Marion County Jail, where he’s still being held. Jail records don’t say whether he’s hired a lawyer.

According to an affidavit, Barnett offered to pay another man $10,000 to place at least 10 “improvised explosive bombs” disguised in food-item packaging on store shelves from New York to Florida.

The criminal complaint said Barnett delivered the items to the other man Feb. 9. He also provided a bag of gloves, a mask and a license plate cover.

But the other man went to authorities. He handed over 10 food boxes — for breakfast bars, stuffing and pasta — that contained black powder bombs, according to the Ocala Star-Banner.

Special Agent Dewane L. Krueger of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told the newspaper that he and other ATF agents were told last month that Barnett wanted to recruit someone to deliver packages to multiple locations, including stores in Florida, Virginia and New York.

“The swift work of ATF special agents, explosives enforcement officers and other specialized violent crime resources foiled this individual’s plot that could have caused great harm to the public,” said Daryl McCrary, special agent in charge of the ATF Tampa Field Division.

The complaint said an explosives expert determined the bombs were capable of causing property damage, serious injury or death to anyone who was near the item if it exploded. Federal agents searched Barnett’s house in Ocala and found components consistent with those used to create the explosive devices.

ATF officials said Barnett made statements about the stock market and said that he planned to make money from his investments. They said his plan was to buy stock at lower prices and resell it at a profit once prices rebounded after the explosions.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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In mock court, UF law students argue case echoing infamous FSU ‘Jane Doe’ lawsuit

The black-robed justices who filed solemnly into a courtroom at the University of Florida law school Thursday morning were not the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, but they were announced as if they were.

“All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the court is now sitting,” a bailiff boomed out as students, law professors and attorneys with Holland & Knight — the law firm that sponsored the event — stood respectfully.

But when Florida’s chief justice, Jorge Labarga, took a seat behind the long desk at the front of the room, along with four of his colleagues from the state’s high court, and said, “I’m actually Justice Roberts” — referring to the chief justice of the nation’s high court — laughter and applause erupted throughout the room.

Ignoring the outburst, Labarga continued. “We’re here today to decide over … ah, the case of …” he flipped through a file before him, “Chilton State University and Jane Doe.”

Over the more than two hours that followed, two law students representing that fictional university and two students representing a fictional female student presented arguments explaining why the university had, or did not have, responsibility under the federal law known as Title IX to investigate her allegations that she was raped at an off-campus event by a male student who had a leadership role at the university that they both attended.

Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. The law also addresses sexual harassment and rape of students.

In the fictional case presented at UF’s 33rd Annual Raymer F. Maguire Appellate Advocacy Competition, events, characters, circumstances and questions of law — discussed by the students and the justices — sounded strikingly similar to a high-profile lawsuit that another “Jane Doe” brought in 2015 against Florida State University. That lawsuit was resolved last year, when FSU paid a historic Title IX settlement — $950,000 — after Erica Kinsman accused the university’s star quarterback at that time, Jameis Winston, of raping her at an off-campus location in 2012. (Kinsman eventually identified herself publicly in a documentary film, “The Hunting Ground,” about sexual assault on college campuses in the United States. According to the film, college administrations often fail to adequately address the assaults.)

In the fictional lawsuit used in the competition at UF, as well as in the lawsuit brought against FSU, the female student who said she was raped as a freshman withdrew from the school, complaining that the university had not adequately responded to her accusations.

In the case at FSU, Kinsman accused the university of hiding her complaint “to protect the football program.” A year after she identified Winston to police in Tallahassee, he won the Heisman Trophy and led the Seminoles to FSU’s third national championship. The state attorney’s office in Tallahassee investigated, and FSU held a disciplinary hearing, but no charges were brought against Winston.

In the fictional case — which the American Bar Association created last year for use in appellate advocacy competitions throughout the United States this year — the accused student was promoted to president of a fraternity following the rape accusations against him.

The case dealt with “topics that are very relevant to our age and time,” said Aaron Holman, a second-year law student from Winter Park. He said that, as his team prepared for the competition, representing fictional “Chilton State University,” the case at FSU “has come up in discussion as something very similar.”

The Chilton case is an appeal — to justices presumed to be sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court — and addresses the question of “duties of educational institutions to adjudicate allegations of student-on-student assault that occurs off-campus” and “whether Title IX allows a claim for relief against a university that refused to investigate an allegation of student-on-student harassment because it occurred purely off-campus and outside the context of any university program.”

At the competition at UF, Justice Barbara Pariente, referring to what she described as a “proliferation of sexual assaults on campus,” said “I’m sure fraternities are the breeding ground for many of these sexual assaults, when drinking takes place.”

But Seth Donahoe, a third-year law student from West Palm Beach, said that when a sexual assault is alleged to have occurred away from campus and outside of university-sponsored activities, for the university “to embark on an ad hoc, informal investigation would subject the school to potential different types of liability because they are not considering the due process rights of the accused.”

His teammate Sara Altes noted how “in 2001, the Department of Education went through formal rule-making procedures that set out how a school must go through allegations of sexual assault. This would provide and ensure safety for both the accused and those who experience sexual harassment.”

She added, “While it is incredibly unfortunate what happened to the respondent, Title IX is not the proper legal remedy.”

Steve Cline, a second-year law student from Virginia, represented the respondent, Doe, in the Chilton case, as did Brandon Cook, a second-year law student from New Smyrna Beach. Referring to the continuing effects suffered by Doe from the on-campus presence of the alleged perpetrator of an off-campus assault, Cline said the university should “look into the allegations to ensure that there is no continuing effect on campus.”

Cook agreed that educational institutions are obliged under Title IX to investigate after students allege an off-campus assault from another student, adding that “the university’s duty to respond to reports of sexual assault or harassment is independent of any duty of police enforcement.”

But Justice C. Alan Lawson noted, “You really are saying that each university in this country has to come up with means and mechanisms and personnel and resources to independently investigate sexual assaults between students, no matter where they occur.”

Justice Ricky Polston questioned how universities would ensure due process rights of accused students. Justice Charles Canady also judged the competition.

At the conclusion of the competition, Labarga announced the team representing the university as the winning team and Donahoe as the winning “oralist.”

After the competition, Donahoe said his challenge had been “reigning in a really complex, administrative law problem to very simple, deliverable points in oral argument. It’s not necessarily the law was or was not favorable. It’s just very nuanced.”

His teammate, Holman, agreed. “There are fair and strong arguments on both sides. There is no clear-cut answer.”

He described the competition as “a showcase for our school and a practice for the national tournament,” which is set for Chicago in April. Next month, the teams from the UF law school plan to attend a regional competition in Boston.

From left, Florida Supreme Court Justice C. Alan Lawson, with University of Florida law students — Seth Donahoe, Sara Altes, Steve Cline and Rachel Sheffield — at the conclusion of the annual appellate advocacy competition, Feb. 16, 2017. (Photo: Susan Washington)
Five justices of the Florida Supreme Court — front row, from left — C. Alan Lawson, Charles T. Canady, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, Barbara J. Pariente and Ricky Polston, at the University of Florida’s annual appellate advocacy competition, Feb. 16, 2017. (Photo: Susan Washington)
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White House taps billionaire to head intelligence review

The Trump administration asked the founder of a New York-based private equity firm to lead a review of the intelligence community as President Donald Trump vows to crack down on what he describes as “illegal leaks” of classified information.

A senior White House official said Thursday that Stephen Feinberg of Cerberus Capital Management has been asked to head the review of the various intelligence agencies and make recommendations on improvements to efficiency and coordination between the various intelligence agencies.

The official was not authorized to discuss private personnel matters and spoke on condition of anonymity. The official said that Feinberg’s role is not official until he completes an ethics review.

The president has vowed to crack down on leaks and add new oversight over intelligence. His moves have not been well received and look to many like retaliation against intelligence officials who are investigating his campaign aides’ ties to Russia.

Trump on Tuesday tweeted, “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by “intelligence” like candy. Very un-American!”

On Thursday, he accused Democrats of planting “fake news” stories on Russia in retaliation for their loss in the general election.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Sunshine State has another banner year for tourism

Florida had another record-setting year for tourism despite natural disasters, a virus outbreak and a tragic attack on an Orlando nightclub.

Gov. Rick Scott will announce Thursday at the Brevard Zoo that nearly 113 million tourists visited the state last year. This is the sixth year in a row that the numbers have climbed. Nearly 107 million tourists visited in 2015.

Scott will hail the continued growth during a time when the agency that promotes tourism is coming under fire. House Republicans are backing a proposal to shut down Visit Florida amid questionable contracts, such as one that paid rap star Pitbull $1 million to promote the state.

The governor in a statement noted that Florida still attracted record numbers despite the Zika virus outbreak, two hurricanes and the attack at the Pulse Nightclub that left 49 dead.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Florida Chamber hosting ‘International Days’ today

Today is the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s yearly International Days event, in which “policy experts and business leaders from here in Florida and around the world” talk about all things business.

The issues range from “economic diversification and foreign investment to overseas business expansion,” according to a Chamber press release.

Speakers include legendary businessman Chuck Cobb, who was U.S. Ambassador to Iceland under President George H. W. Bush; U.S. Chamber of Commerce Director of International Policy Christopher Wenk; Secretary of Commerce and Enterprise Florida President and CEO Chris Hart IV, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Cissy Proctor and state Sen. Bill Galvano, who is in line to become Senate President.

Some highlights: Hart and Proctor headline a 9 a.m. roundtable on “The Importance of International Trade to Florida’s Economy.”

At 10 a.m., Galvano – an attorney with Grimes Goebel Grimes Hawkins Gladfelter & Galvano – sits on a panel on “Expanding International Business Opportunities.”

At noon, a panel convenes on the “Future of U.S. Trade Policy” and its impact on Florida, leading off with a video message from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Syd Kitson, Chairman & CEO of Kitson & Partners and the Chairman of the Florida Chamber of Commerce will moderate, with Cobb and Eric Silagy, President & CEO of Florida Power & Light Company, as panelists.

“Trade has been at the forefront of not just the U.S. Presidential election but all around the world,” the program says. “This panel will explore what a Donald Trump presidency means for the future of trade.”

The full schedule is here. The event will be held at Florida State University’s Turnbull Center, 555 W. Pensacola St. in Tallahassee.

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Personnel note: John Kennedy now with FLORIDA Channel

More evidence that you can’t keep a good man down: Former Palm Beach Post capital correspondent John Kennedy is now The FLORIDA Channel‘s newest on-air reporter.

Kennedy (via Facebook)

“We are very pleased that John’s solid, well-tested reporting skills will continue to help Floridians understand the workings of state government and the decisions made in Tallahassee,” Beth Switzer, its executive director, said Tuesday. Kennedy started this week.

The New Haven, Connecticut native has been reporting in Tallahassee for decades; he also was the Orlando Sentinel’s Tallahassee bureau chief from 1998-2008.

“He is a very even-keeled, talented professional and a welcome addition to The FLORIDA Channel team,” Switzer added.

Kennedy had been let go by the Post just before Christmas last year as the newspaper shuttered its Tallahassee bureau in a refocusing on local coverage.

The FLORIDA Channel, based in the Capitol, “is a public affairs programming service funded by The Florida Legislature and produced and operated by WFSU-TV,” according to its website.

“It features programming covering all three branches of state government, and is Florida’s primary source for live, unedited coverage of the Governor and Cabinet, the Legislature and the Supreme Court.”

Kennedy, who was on deadline Tuesday and unavailable for an interview, will be a general assignment reporter.

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Personnel note: Public strategy firm Mercury hires Brian Swensen as senior VP

Global public strategy firm Mercury is adding noted Republican political adviser Brian Swensen to its Florida public affairs team as a senior vice president.

Swensen comes to the firm following his role as deputy campaign manager for the successful re-election of Sen. Marco Rubio, the latest in a series of key political victories in Florida and Louisiana. He his tenure with Mercury began Jan. 19, 2017.

In his new role, Swensen will bring extensive experience in the political arena to provide solutions and winning strategies for the firm’s clients. He will be based in Mercury’s Miami office.

Mercury Florida, now in its fourth year of operation, is led by partner Ashley Walker.

“We are thrilled to welcome Brian, who is one of the leading political operatives in the Southeast region,” Walker said in a statement Tuesday. “Mercury continues to assemble the state’s most talented team of public affairs professionals, and the addition of Brian underscores our commitment to building Mercury into the strongest bipartisan consultancy in the nation.”

“I am excited to work with the incredibly talented team of strategists at Mercury to help address some of the most pressing policy issues facing many organizations and corporations today,” Swensen said. “The Mercury Florida team brings together the state’s top political advisers across party lines.  Nowhere else can you find such deep, diverse skills and experience, and a winning track record to boot.”

“As someone who prides himself on having a great work ethic and outside the box thinking,” he added, “I look forward to unleashing my unique skill set to shape strategy, solve problems, and create wins for our clients.”

Before joining Mercury, Swensen served as deputy campaign manager for Rubio’s re-election campaign, during which he built a political operation that benefited numerous campaigns up and down the ballot, while training and empowering the next generation of political leaders.

Previously, Swensen managed the successful campaign of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, which helped set the tone for Florida Republicans in the 2016 cycle.

Additionally, Swensen was a part of the Bill Cassidy for U.S. Senate campaign, where he led the political and grassroots operation. He served as political director for the Republican Party of Florida, and was victory director for Gov. Rick Scott’s winning campaign in 2010.

Swensen got his start in the political process at The Leadership Institute, a conservative nonprofit based in Virginia, after graduating from Florida International University in Miami.

Mercury provides a suite of services including federal government relations, international affairs, digital influence, public opinion research, media strategy and a bipartisan grassroots mobilization network in all 50 states. With a global presence, Mercury has U.S. offices in Washington, DC, New York, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Tennessee, as well as international offices in London and Mexico City.

Mercury is a part of the Omnicom Public Relations Group.

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