‘The right direction’ or ‘secret stuff’? NFL player, former chief react to FMPD audit
FORT MYERS, Fla. Nate Allen believes an audit highly critical of the Fort Myers Police Department should serve as a community wake-up call.
Dennis Eads believes the report is a mix of truths, opinions and “sour apples.”
Both men, one whose false arrest led to the other becoming police chief, are uniquely tied to the audit, which detailed deep-seated issues within the police department.
The report, which comprised of more than 200 interviews with current and former employees, detailed cronyism, ineffective leadership, corruption and limited resources that damaged the agency’s reputation and hindered its ability to solve crimes.
“The interviewees described a culture of failure and defeatism and believed that key stakeholders have often resorted to blaming external forces, like the State Attorney’s Office and the minority community, rather than looking critically within the department in an honest effort to identify solutions,” the audit said.
The report was done at the request of City Manager Saeed Kazemi and completed by Freeh Group International Solutions Inc.
“There’s a lot more in that report that’s more important than just my case,” Allen said. “Stuff that was a lot bigger than me and I think we are heading in the right direction with it all. I think there’s a lot more that needs to be done.”
Eads believes the report should be read with some grains of salt.
“If there is facts to support a change, absolutely, anything that can be done to move things forward, absolutely,” he said. “But if it is just something based on speculation, that is very dangerous and very, very soft ground.”
‘We need to do this, like now’
Allen’s arrest was featured in the report under a section detailing examples of questionable internal investigations.
The Cape Coral native was falsely accused of masturbating in front of a 16-year-old girl in 2015.
Although the crime was a misdemeanor, which doesn’t require an arrest, officers were instructed by a supervisor to hold Allen for detectives, the report said.
“When the then chief initiated internal affairs investigations against several of the individuals involved in the incident, he did not initiate an investigation of the supervisor,” the report said. “This example was cited also by numerous interviewees as a case in which discipline was not administered in a fair and consistent manner.”
Per department policy, only the police chief can initiate internal affairs investigations, which the report said created a “clear conflict of interest.”
Then-Police Chief Douglas Baker was fired for lying during the internal investigation, claiming he told a captain to release Allen. The call never happened, officials determined.
“This case demonstrated the need for a policy that addresses the fact that only the chief can initiate an investigation,” the report said.
A lawsuit filed by Allen in 2016, claiming the department violated his fourth and fourteenth amendment rights, said Fort Myers police “created a policy and practice of encouraging its officers to use racial profiling” in making arrests, that officers were not properly trained to investigate crimes and were encouraged to “cover up” wrongful arrests.
The report, Allen said, helped him become more aware of alleged police misconduct.
“As I’ve been involved in this whole process, it’s like the cover was taken off my eyes,” he said. “It was just like, wow, like there’s really corruption going on, like right here in our city. And now that this has happened to me, I kind of notice it more now and I’m like ‘wow, there goes another scenario, man, there’s another one.'”
Allen said he also thinks about what would’ve happened if things went the other way.
“Thank the lord that I did have the resources to fight it because who knows if I didn’t, I might be shot, I might’ve been, had a felony or who knows what would’ve happened,” he said. “Who knows what I would’ve had pinned on me or what would’ve gotten changed or what would’ve been planted or who knows what would have happened.”
While his incident was featured in the report, Allen sees the audit as something bigger than him.
“I would hope that the city leaders would be biting at the bit to get stuff changed where it needs to be changed,” he said. “I mean, I can’t emphasize that enough. If there was not another investigation done, I don’t, this right here, this investigation, to me, is enough to say, ‘hey, we need to do this like now. This stuff needs to happen ASAP.'”
Here’s more from WINK News reporter Michelle Kingston’s exclusive interview with Allen:
‘A lot of opinion…secret stuff’
Eads, who became interim police chief following Baker’s firing, started as a patrol officer in 1986 and advanced through the ranks. He was captain of the department’s professional standards bureau before being promoted to interim chief.
Both remain unsolved.
He described the report as one with inaccuracies, more opinions than facts and that it doesn’t reflect the department in the right way.
“A lot of opinion, a lot of secret stuff. There is no one’s names in there,” said Eads, who retired in October 2016 after 30 years with the department. “That is one of the biggest. I don’t want to say I have an issue with it, but if I had an issue that would be it.”
The report was approved by city leaders around same time the Department of Justice offered to do a similar study – something Eads said he wanted.
“I think DOJ would have been a fact finding thing where if you are going to make a blanket statement about someone, especially career issues, then you should put your name behind it,” he said.
Eads disputed some of the report’s examples of questionable internal affairs investigations. In one case, an officer was fired, although the report said otherwise, he said.
The report also criticized the department’s ability to solve cases, which Eads said shouldn’t be solely blamed on the department.
“At 3 o’clock in the morning when a group of individuals are out doing no good, there are no good people hanging around to be witnesses,” he said, adding that such is the result of society as a whole.
Eads agreed with the report’s narrative that the department changed for the worse following the city’s 2008 budget shortfall, which led to many experienced officers accepting buyouts.
“The idea that so many people would leave was not reality to some people,” he said. “They said that many people would never leave. You are looking at a handful, 7 to 10 people will leave. Not 41. It was a sweetheart deal. A golden goose. It was a lot of experience that walked out the door overnight.”
It also impacted the department’s ability to operate, he said.
“What we tried to do, what is impossible to do, is try to do more with less,” he said. “Way less. Not just a couple people less. A lot less. We were not just trying to sustain what we were doing, we tried to add more on to it. That is not efficiency.”
Here’s more from WINK News anchor Corey Lazar’s exclusive interview with Eads:
This story is the latest in a continuing series about the FMPD audit.