Officer sues city after Web porn accusation

Discussion in 'The Powder Keg' started by Doglips, Oct 2, 2002.

  1. Doglips

    Doglips Guest

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    2 of the nearby (within 30 miles of me) police departments made the news today....we have a lot of very small departments like this one (Melbourne Village) which has only 20 officers....it is basicly a large gated community within the "big" city of Melbourne Fl. To me these small agencies can not hire quality people...the small size make the office polatics unavoidable....and in the end these tinay departments make "real" cops look bad.



    Officer sues city after Web porn accusation

    By Brian Monroe
    FLORIDA TODAY

    MELBOURNE VILLAGE -- Sgt. Jennifer Coulter noticed something strange in the computers at the Melbourne Village police department in January 2001.

    While deleting temporary Internet files, she discovered pornographic images and evidence that someone was visiting adult Web sites on department computers.

    Coulter had no idea her diligence nearly would cost her job and ultimately lead to a lawsuit against her employer and others.

    Since her discovery, her own department and city accused Coulter of being featured in an adult movie on the pornographic Web site she first found. An outside investigator agreed it was her, and on May 9, 2002, she was notified of her impending dismissal.

    Her attorney, Greg Eisenmenger, quickly called an expert to show that Coulter didn't have the same teeth as the woman on the Web site. Further, the owners of the Web site confirmed Coulter never was on their pages.

    Coulter on July 26, 2002 notified the town, and the sheriff of Indian River County -- the department that performed the original internal investigation and made the original accusation against her -- of her intent to sue in circuit court for defamation. State law requires 180 days notice to sue a government agency.

    But the internal investigation that eventually found Coulter looked "by a preponderance of evidence" like the Internet woman wasn't first aimed at her. She originally asked her police chief to investigate who was accessing adult sites on city time.

    By checking computer files and interviewing officers, Chief David Syrkus found out that Sgt. Gene Hill had visited an adult Web site. Hill countered he was actually investigating his superior: Coulter.

    He said that a fellow officer, later found to be Officer Bill Wheeler, told him rumors were circulating that pictures of Coulter and a mini-movie of her performing a sex act were featured on a certain Web site. Hill and Wheeler visited the site together for five minutes on Jan. 2, 2001.

    A week later, Coulter filed a complaint.

    It was then that Syrkus said in court documents he called the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and asked for some outside help. An official recommended the Indian River County Sheriff's Office. Captain Paul Fafeita took the job.

    On Feb. 12, Fafeita played the video for Coulter, who hadn't seen the entire four-minute segment, and asked her if she was the woman. "No, absolutely not," Coulter said. Her only comment during the video, a sarcastic, "At least her teeth are straight."

    At the end, she again vehemently denied she was the woman in the video.

    During the next two months, Fafeita worked his way back to the source that said Coulter was on a porn site. His journey would take him to the nearby West Melbourne police department and one of Coulter's ex-boyfriends, officer James "Bo" Bryant.

    Bryant is Coulter's ex-boyfriend, Fafeita found out. The two lived together for two years in the mid 1990s. He admitted he started the rumor by mentioning it to a few West Melbourne police officers.

    Fafeitas conclusion in his investigation: "The largest problem discovered in this investigation was internal politics," he wrote in his report. "Needing only the preponderance of the evidence in an administrative investigation and based on the facts presented during this investigation, the above allegation is sustained."

    When Syrkus got the report pointing to Coulter as the woman, he sent a letter saying she would be terminated pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing. It is at that hearing that Eisenmenger presented experts and evidence clearing his client.

    "If we hadn't come in and destroyed this house of cards, she would have been fired," he said.

    Coulter has since gotten a letter saying no disciplinary action will be taken. She has never gotten a letter of apology or a retraction -- something her potential lawsuit would ask for.