Lee deputy under investigation submits letter of resignation

FORT MYERS, Fla. — A Lee County Sheriff’s Office deputy under investigation for Facebook posts that may have violated sheriff’s office policy has submitted a letter of resignation, a law enforcement source told WINK News on Thursday.

The sheriff’s office launched an internal affairs investigation this week into since-deleted posts from the account of deputy Chuck Quackenbush, who serves as the vice chair of the Lee County Republican Executive Committee. It’s the latest brush with controversy for Quackenbush, who resigned as California’s insurance commissioner in 2000 under threat of impeachment amid questions about his handling of funds.

He was also suspended from the sheriff’s office for accepting free food in 2007 and placed on paid leave after he shot a suspect during a 2008 Lehigh Acres arrest.’

This time, it’s a series of posts involving memes that seem to have a political bent. One shows a person who appears to be making off with an armful of items from a store with the caption, “Looting: When free food, housing, phones, health care and education aren’t enough.” Another juxtaposes an image of a starving man with street protesters, with a cartoon speech bubble coming from the starving man’s mouth that asks, “How do your poor and oppressed get to be so fat?”

Almost everyone in the memes is black.

The posts came to the sheriff’s office attention via a tip from Dr. Judith Piesco, who told WINK News she’s “absolutely appalled” and “very upset by what was being posted,” calling it all “extremely racist.”

Piesco was a candidate for Lee County school board in 2004. Quackenbush’s wife Chris, who’s currently running for a seat on the board, said the controversy is politically motivated, but Piesco denied that was the case.

Chris Quackenbush defended her husband in a letter she sent to supporters, insisting that he is not a racist.

“Sharing a few conservative Facebook posts others in the department also shared does not make him one,” she wrote. “This hit against him is a completely bogus setup to end my campaign.”

Sheriff’s Office no stranger to Facebook scandal

It’s not the first time that the sheriff’s office has been involved with racially charged depictions that went viral.

The office cited improper conduct when it fired clerk Shelly Bechtol in May 2015 after she was linked to a Facebook video that showed a drawing of then-North Fort Myers High School baseball coach Tavaris Gary with a noose around his neck. The video shows Bechtol’s husband, who preceded Gary as the school’s coach, taking a sledgehammer to the drawing of Gary, the first black baseball coach in the school’s history.

A Civil Service Board reinstated Bechtol in September 2015 after it determined the sheriff’s office had no grounds for her termination. She admitted to drawing the picture of Gary but said someone else added the noose.

Sheriff Mike Scott cited the Bechtol affair in a Facebook posting to the sheriff’s office account Tuesday. Scott, without referencing Quackenbush by name, writes that he was “made aware of possible inappropriate social media messages” and announces the launch of the investigation.

Controversy in Quackenbush’s past

Quackenbush’s 2007 suspension came after the sheriff’s office determined he violated its policy on taking gifts and discounts when accepted $4.44 in food from Taco Bell. The next year, he went on standard paid leave during an independent investigation into what happened when he opened fire on a suspect who tried to use Quackenbush’s taser against him.

Quackenbush, who’s spent the last 11 years with the sheriff’s office, was ultimately reinstated.

He drew significantly more attention during his time as California insurance commissioner. According to a report by the California State Assembly Committee on Insurance, which along with the California Office of the Attorney General investigated Quackenbush and his office, Quackenbush’s officials attempted to cover up their improprieties and misconduct, mislead the public and insurers, and avoid responsibility for their actions.

Quackenbush set up a foundation that he said was to educate the public about insurance issues. That foundation received approximately $11.6 million in donations from insurance companies, according to the Los Angeles Times and other California media reports.

Part of that money was used to pay off a $456,000 mortgage that Quackenbush and his wife took out on their home to fund Chris’s unsuccessful 1998 run for California state Senate, the reports said. The California Attorney General investigated and eventually ruled that neither of the Quackenbushes did anything illegal.

Chris Quackenbush wrote WINK News insisting that her husband is a private citizen and pointed to his website, where Quackenbush gives his own version of what happened in California.

“The tide had turned from red state to deep blue and Chuck was in the way,” Chris Quackenbush wrote in an email to WINK News. “He was extremely popular having won 13 elections and reducing insurance costs by 25% during his tenure as Insurance Commissioner. Al Gore was looking for a running mate and two were from CA, Diane Feinstein and Gray Davis. They did Field Polls to look at what that would mean to California. Chuck would have easily won either and they had to get rid of him. Media cooperated on destroying him and all sorts of claims were made. None of them was true. … He has been serving the public here in Ft Myers for 11 years in a tough and dangerous job.”

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