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Venice Florida! dot com

The firing of Michael Frassetti, act III
City Attorney Bob Anderson and Police Chief Julie Williams team up to accuse a police officer of willful destruction of electronic police records; problem: the proof doesn't add up, although Anderson's legal bills do
-- John Patten, 10/08/09
--
jpatten.venice@gmail.com

Got a comment? Make it here.

SUPPORTING DOCUMENTATION AND RELATED LINKS:
  The firing of Michael Frassetti, act I
  The firing of Michael Frassetti, act II


FARK:
  The Farking of Michael Frassetti, part 1
  The Farking of Michael Frassetti, part 2


ARBITRATION FINAL SUMMATIONS:
City Attorney Bob Anderson accuses Frassetti of destroying electronic police records and lying about it, while defending the city's computer system as (cough, cough) flawless
(part 2 of this video can be found here
)
PLUS:
The Farking of Michael Frassetti, part 3

National news aggregator Fark picks up on this story
Flashback: Brooklyn NY, September 2003
     Residents in the SRO [single room occupancy boarding house] saw [Leonard] Ludwigsen arrive at 11:30 pm on Sept. 5, and heard the couple screaming. Neighbor Derek Stone, 46, told police he grew suspicious when he saw Ludwigsen padlock [Patricia] Lyons’ door before leaving at 2:30 am.
     When Stone climbed up to peer through the transom above the door, he saw Lyons lying motionless [she was, by this time, dead], facedown in her bed. He called 911. Police say she had a sock stuffed in her mouth.
     Officers Michael Frassetti and Abdo Almasmary, from Bay Ridge's 68th Precinct, arrived on the scene and found a witness who said he had a cell phone number for Ludwigsen.
     Frassetti and Almasmary convinced the witness to call Ludwigsen and tell him to come back to the SRO because Lyons was banging on the door, trying to get out of her room.
     The ploy worked and police nabbed Ludwigsen when he pedaled back to the SRO on his bicycle. Ludwigsen was taken back to the 68th Precinct where he confessed to the crime.
     "The officers had great instincts," Pontillo said [i.e., Deputy Inspector Matthew Pontillo, then-commanding officer of the NYPD 68th Precinct, Brooklyn].

-- excerpted from "Woman beaten to death at SRO" by Deborah Kolben; The Brooklyn Papers, September 15, 2003 (full article on page 3)
 Two months later ---> November, 2003
     Two officers were commended for the capture of a drug-addicted man whose rap sheet stretched longer than that of the ex-girlfriend he allegedly beat and strangled to death in a Sunset Park boarding house.
     Officers Michael Frassetti and Abdo Almasmary were recognized by the 68th Precinct Community Council last month as Cops of the Month, a first for both officers....
     ...The woman, whose own criminal history included drug and theft charges, was often locked in the boarding house by Ludwigsen, who used a padlock to keep her from escaping, police said.

-- excerpted from "Cops honored for their actions" by Jotham Sederstrom; The Brooklyn Papers, November 17, 2003 (full article on page 2)

Jump to the present, Venice Florida City Hall, August 28, 2009, where the computer system has never lost a report
It was now Day 2 of the Frassetti arbitration hearing.

On the first day of the hearing, which was nearly a month prior, the city's IT department gave what Police Chief Julie Williams believed was an overwhelming amount of evidence showing that Michael Frassetti had never filed a complete report on the Harpster Incident (see acts I and II, linked to above, if you are already lost trying to figure this article out). Instead, as city IT employee Mike Deneweth had testified, then-Police Officer Michael Frassetti had started a report but he later wiped it out manually. Using the server logs, Deneweth testified that Frassetti was the only person who could have deleted the report.

In the original internal affairs investigation report on Frassetti, Police Lieutenant Mike Rose writes, "Deneweth states during his tenure, our agency has never lost a report."

In an interview with this writer prior to the beginning of the hearings, Deneweth confirmed that he had said exactly that to Rose. Deneweth went on to state that not only had the department never lost a report during the four years he had been maintaining their computers, they had never lost any data at all. On the first day of the hearings, Deneweth, backed up by an employee of the department's software vendor, SunGard (formerly HTE), repeated the statement that the police had never lost a report.

Now on Day 2, Frassetti's attorney, Nevin Weiner, was calling his subpoenaed witnesses to rebut Deneweth's testimony. He didn't have to look far. Six police officers, including one whose job is to train other officers on how to use the department's laptops that are installed in the patrol cars, all came forward to testify about their negative experiences with the department's glitchy and seemingly psychotic report writing software.

 

The street cops tell a very different tale
First up was Officer Bill Long. Long testified that he had encountered "several problems" in the course of his use of SunGard's Report Manager software. Long testified that shortly before Frassetti was investigated for deleting the Harpster report, an entire report that Long had written, including a lengthy narrative, had been mysteriously deleted by the system. Long stated he was in the process of finalizing and sending the electronic document from his patrol car to the department's server when the report simply disappeared. Long testified that he immediately notified his superior, but that nobody had documented the problem then or since.

Officer Long dropped one other bomb into Williams and City Attorney Bob Anderson's laps, a big one that apparently caught Anderson by surprise: that numerous officers and supervisors knew each others' user names and passwords. Long's testimony was to the effect that not only were other people's user names and passwords common knowledge, so was the knowledge that the department's password protection security was virtually non-existent.

Next up on the witness stand was Officer Paul Freeman, a nine-year veteran of the department. When asked if the system had ever lost any of his reports, Freeman said "It has only happened to me a couple of times." Freeman testified about a traffic crash report that had been finalized and sent to the server, but that somehow the server had deleted whole portions of the report. Freeman testified that on another occasion, an offense report had vanished entirely sometime after he had sent it to the server.

 

The computer system's field training officer saw reports disappear
Officer Robert Palmieri's testimony continued in this pattern with one interesting addition. Palmieri is the department's field training officer on the report writing software -- he is certified to teach all of the other officers on how to use the computer system. Palmieri testified that he saw the same exact glitch of the disappearing report that Frassetti claimed had happened, but Palmieri saw it happen in front of his eyes with a trainee that Palmieri was working with -- a report was written and sent to the server only to disappear entirely after the fact. Palmieri stated he reported this to the department but that nobody seemed to care.

Palmieri testified about one other glitch that he had seen on a number of occasions: that the system would sometimes generate multiple case numbers for the same reported incident.

Only months before the Harpster incident, Palmieri had field-trained Frassetti in the use of the system. According to Palmieri's notations in Frassetti's training report, Frassetti passed the report writing training with flying colors. Palmieri noted at the time in writing that Frassetti was a "seasoned officer" with "no observable deficiencies" when it came to writing and finishing standard police reports. 

Palmieri went on to testify about how he returned from a recent vacation and was questioned by his supervisor about a DUI report that was missing, one that Palmieri had supposedly written and submitted last July. Palmieri stated that since this happened after Frassetti was fired, the questions put him into quite a bit of a panicked state. Palmieri testified that because of Frassetti, he had gotten into the habit of printing and saving hard copies of his own reports and, thankfully, he had saved a hard copy of this missing DUI arrest report.

 

A warning about retaliation for testifying for Frassetti
Officers Betty Camp, Pete Sorrentino, and Demitri Serianni all testified to further similar glitches in the computer system, all ending the same way: police  reports, sometimes in part, sometimes in total, had a habit of disappearing once the send button was hit. As noted in act I of this series, Camp noticed that an entire narrative she had written for one report was mysteriously replaced with narrative taken seemingly at random from another officer's arrest report.

Sorrentino also testified that he had been warned against testifying by his supervisor. According to Sorrentino's testimony, which was backed up by subsequent testimony of Officer Serianni, the pair of them had been warned by their supervisor that if they testified in support of Frassetti, their careers as cops with the Venice Police Department would be seriously jeopardized. "You better dot all your I's and cross all your T's correctly from here on out because the chief will be out to get you."

Sorrentino was concerned about the basic unfairness that the situation placed him in, and rightfully so -- he was subpoenaed to testify, so his appearance was compulsory. If he lied to save his job, he would be committing a crime and if he told the truth, he was headed for a rocky road.

Serianni's testimony was particularly enlightening. According to Serianni, who is the current vice-president of the local FOP, in the last three years, there have been over 100 internal affairs investigations. That's an astounding number. That's a "why the hell would you even want to think about working there?" number. That's just paranoid nuttiness that contributes to stress, mistakes, serious health issues, and the ever-dreaded cop suicide death rates. I've worked either in or around law enforcement for most of my adult life, and for the size of the Venice Police Department, that number is nothing short of sheer insanity.

 

Mogensen to enter the battle -- oh, now, this is gonna be very interesting
Oh, and by the way, Serianni is currently under an internal affairs investigation for insubordination, this due to standing up to the chief in the capacity of being a union rep. Chief Williams is reportedly out to fire him as well. At my suggestion (and I had to beg her to take him on as she usually goes after cops rather than defend them), he hired Andrea Mogensen to defend himself against the chief. Unless the chief backs down, this promises to get real interesting real fast. Williams learned that that Mogensen had entered this affray when the Sunshine Law attorney showed up at the first preliminary hearing in the matter. That hearing was then delayed for a bit so that Williams could get Anderson into the hearing to face Mogensen. One other bit of unprecedented and insulting oddness intended purely for psych bullshit reasons: when the hearing resumed, Serianni, still on the job, had his gun taken away from him for the hearing. All other cops attended the hearing wearing their sidearms. Presumably the Chief thought that Serianni and Mogensen were there to take hostages. Well, good on her, then, she foiled that bit of impending tragedy.

What's really funny: this article, then, will be the first time that anyone on city council will become officially aware that Mogensen is preparing to possibly sue the city again, this time on behalf of a police officer. Surprise!!!!

Hi, council. Glad to see you have joined us. Why don't you have a seat right over there. Sorry you had to learn this from me instead of learning it from, say, the city attorney or the city manager. What can I say? You just can't get good help these days (unofficially: I already spoke with a couple of council members, who learned this bit of news from me verbally).

NOTE: For the uninitiated from outside of our area, criminal defense attorney Andrea Mogensen is just finishing off suing the crap out of the City of Venice and various public officials for violation of open government and public records laws (numerous links). Mogensen is now reportedly going after the Sarasota County Government for exactly the same thing, so having this fearsome attorney, who has become the local equivalent of F. Lee Bailey, enter into this police war is a wonderful case of just desserts. For council to learn here for the first time that Mogensen and Anderson have been going at it again, and that council has been paying for it, is the equivalent of me shitting in each of the elected officials' bowls of morning corn flakes. What can I say??? -- I love my job.

 

Speaking of sheer insanity, Chief Williams has an idea to turn this loser back into a winner: a Chinese fire drill
It was during Camp's testimony that Chief Williams hit upon a brilliant and hilarious idea on how to turn this now-losing case around -- accuse myself and a couple of officers of witness contamination and witness tampering. It stopped the hearing dead in its tracks for a few minutes before both attorneys and the arbitrator, Edwin Ford, determined that Williams was blowing smoke up their collective asses.

Here's how this incident played out.

During Camp's testimony, I became seriously confused as to how the cops were transferring data from the patrol car laptops to the server. I couldn't utter a word in the hearing as that would disrupt the proceedings, so I quietly got up and left. Four cops were standing outside in the hallway. Some had already testified but were not yet cleared to leave the hearing. The cops were discussing an illness in one of the cop's family. Without talking about anything that was being testified to inside the hearing (which I already knew would be a court violation subject to severe penalties), I simply asked how data was transmitted from the car laptops to the department server. One officer immediately responded, "By radio transmission."

That, then, was the entire discussion, as I thanked the officer and then turned around to go back into the hearing. What I didn't know was that Williams had followed me out of the meeting and had been watching me. As I turned around to return, I nearly bumped into her as she was trying to pass by close enough to hear the conversation. I was in my mind trying to sort out some information, so I paid little attention to her.

Less than a minute later, we were both back in the hearing, Williams seated at the table, myself seated in a chair uncomfortably stuffed into a corner of the cramped conference room. Williams passed a note to Anderson, who was then still cross-examining Officer Betty Camp. Anderson stopped dead after reading the note and then announced that he had just learned that officers outside the hearing were comparing their testimonies, a clear violation of court and hearing rules, sometimes criminally prosecutable as witness tampering. It's a serious accusation, a felony in fact. Then Anderson looked at me as I was sitting in the corner: "And Mr. Patten, you were part of these discussions? I believe you know better..."

I went from normal to instantly furious to controlled and calm appearing but internally fuming, all within a second and a half. I was pissed. Every eye in the room was accusatorily looking at me, including two attorneys, a hearing arbitrator with most of the powers of a judge, and a handful of cops. This was definitively not my happy place.

"I can't answer anything as I am not under oath," I stated.

Arbitrator Edwin Ford immediately interjected to cut me off so that he could tell me that I couldn't say anything because I was not under oath.

Which is what I had just said.

Was I mad or had the whole world just become infinitely goofier?

 

Smokin' in the boys room... smokin' in the boys room... teacher don'cha fill me up with your rules....
The hearing was adjourned so that the attorney's could sort this new mess out. One by one, Weiner and Anderson dragged each cop into the city hall men's room to question them about what was being discussed in the hall.

I was having a flashback to high school, where the assistant principal would sometimes frisk us in the men's room when he caught us smoking. The frisking eventually stopped when some kids complained to their parents that the school administrator could get a bit gropey.

Anderson emerged from the men's room after this bout of intense lavatory questioning and I immediately cornered him to angrily tell him that I had asked one simple question and that it was technical in nature, not even close to witness tampering. Anderson replied that he knew I had asked a technical question about data transmission and that he had no problem with that.

Oh. Well. OK then. I guess.

Back in the hearing, Anderson apologized to Ford and referred to his and Williams' actions as a "false alarm."

Neither of them have apologized to me or the officers involved for wrongly accusing us of witness tampering (did I mention that witness tampering is a felony?). I later confronted Williams about the incident, and she accused me of falsely accusing her of falsely accusing me. I admit that I get a bit paranoid, but it's shit like this that has happened to me repeatedly over the years from dumbass city officials that has given me that paranoia. So, if the chief is reading this, I just want to let her know that at the end of part 2 of this series of articles, I didn't really accuse her of being ethically challenged. Well, OK, yeah, I did. But if I'm asked, I'll accuse her of falsely accusing me of accusing her of... something. This is, after all, Venice, and even I try to keep up with community standards.

On the upside, Anderson didn't drag me into the men's room. There is a God and He apparently still loves me, although I have no idea why.

 

Back to the hearing.
City IT guru Mike Deneweth was dragged back to the stand to try to save the day for the city. He again hammered home that the file had been deleted manually and that only Frassetti could have done it.

Well, what about all those passwords floating around? That question was posed by Frassetti's attorney.

That is when Deneweth fell on his sword -- he abruptly changed his story from 'it could only have been deleted by Frassetti' to 'it could only have been deleted by someone using Frassetti's user name and password.' This, Deneweth was now admitting to for the first time, meant virtually anyone in the department could have deleted it -- a sharp contrast to earlier definitive accusations made repeatedly by Deneweth that the electronic vandalism had definitely happened and only Frassetti could have possibly made it happen. Giving himself even less credibility, if that were now possible, Deneweth was still stating that there was no way the server could have lost the report, that whatever happened, it was done deliberately. Despite numerous testimonies that the department's computer system was utterly craptastic, Deneweth was sticking with the official party line that the system was incapable of losing any data.

Playing in the background of everyone's mind was the fact that the city had just been sued over public records violations, and it had been front page news over the past year. One of the big problems that came out in court in that case was that the city's IT department had never figured out a way to successfully back up and archive public records emails, so they had dumped the responsibility onto public officials, who were even more clueless. As a result, the IT department lost years worth of emails and had to go through a court-ordered forensic computer search to recover at least some of the lost data. Meanwhile, here in the Frassetti case, we were expected to believe that somehow the IT department had uncharacteristically and miraculously figured out how to successfully create and maintain an archived backup.

I knew right then that if Ford was a fair man and if he understood all of the techno-babble that had been thrown at him, he'd have to rule in favor of Frassetti. Deneweth's turnabout admission was nothing short of astounding as, for the first time, he was partially admitted what everyone else in the room already knew -- this case had turned into a total crock of dingo droppings.

Before banging the gavel though, Ford had to wade through a number of Anderson's objections that still needed to be ruled on. Anderson had objected to every cop that had testified about computer malfunctions on the grounds that their testimonies were irrelevant, immaterial, and repetitive. Ford overruled these objections, stating that the testimonies were highly relevant and material, and that while the testimonies were repetitious, the repetition itself showed how how faulty and flawed the police department computer system truly is.

Anderson also objected to the testimony of Officers Serianni and Sorrentino to the effect that they stated that they felt threatened by repercussions from the department for their testimonies. Probably due to the fact that Ford already knew that he was going to rule in Frassetti's favor and he didn't want to give grounds for a later appeal, Ford agreed to exclude that testimony.

In the end, Ford's ruling to reinstate Frassetti, handed down nearly a month later, was a well-deserved slap in the face to Anderson, Williams, and Mike Rose.


So how much did this fiasco cost? Looks like right around $150,000, and we got absolutely nothing for it except a whole lot of ill will
Well lessee. Anderson charged the city just under $19,000 for doing what appeared to be damned little on this case (and he didn't even have to ask council to approve his actions -- that's some nice work if you can get it). We had to pay for the payroll of all of the many, many officers involved, from the internal investigation through the FDLE hearings in Orlando, and a lot of this was overtime, which gets very expensive very fast. Then there are other ancillary police department resources that went into creating this mess, plus Alan Bullock and his crew in Human Resources were dragged into a support function. There's the cost to bring in a so-called expert from SunGard, the software vendor, for both days of this case, plus to investigate the matter, so there's a small fortune in travel, hotel, and technical support costs. Then there's the 14 months back pay that has to be paid to Frassetti (for which we received no police services in return, which means we had to pay another officer simultaneously to do the same job), plus the fact that his wife gave birth to their first child last November (a boy -- congrats, Mike and Mrs. Mike!), they had no insurance, and the city has to retroactively reinstate his family health benefits.

Adding all that up, my calculator puts all this at around $150,000 minimum. Not bad, considering it ruined the lives of two police officers, Mike Rose and Mike Frassetti, and tore a hole through the police department that further alienated the managed from their management. While the Venice Police Department has had a quiet civil war raging for some time, Frassetti has now emboldened everyone on all sides. It is now a zone of open warfare - take no prisoners.

The troops are saying that retaliation against the testifying officers started immediately. In the days following their testimony, a number of officers have been dragged in to supervisors' offices to be warned about their "stats" -- i.e., the number of traffic tickets that they were supposed to write.  Ticket quotas are illegal under Florida law, but for some reason if you rename the concept as stats, well, sheriffs and police chiefs across the state seem to think that's alright then.

The Sarasota Sheriff's Office deputies are complaining about the same thing online on their message board. All involved there seem to know that it is quotas that are being bandied about with a whitewashed name of "stats".

As to the VPD, look for some new internal investigations to be launched very soon, as the catchall "lack of stats" charge is a highly fluid little bugger of a phrase.

 

postscript
This has been one of the toughest articles I have ever had to write. I have agonized over nearly every single sentence to make sure that I was being accurate and truthful in even the small details. For example -- it took over a week of asking, begging, and finally harassing city hall to find out one small detail -- the amount that Anderson billed the city for his involvement in the Frassetti case. Many other details were equally hard to obtain from official sources. City Hall and the management of the Venice Police Department made it very clear -- they did not want this story told.

My thanks go out to the many good and honest officers of the Venice Police Department, many of whom have risked their careers to point me to information in order that this story could be told. It is due to their bravery and their hopefully deserved trust in me, in the face of a very real and scary internal political machine, that I have been able to tell this tale.


John Patten (pictured) is the head of Web Operations for Creative Pages, and has worked in broadcasting for over 12 years. He can also be incredibly rude at times.
 


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