Jump to the present, Venice Florida City Hall, August 28, 2009, where the computer system has never lost a report
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
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
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
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
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
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....
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.
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
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.