City legal fees continue to grow in cases against terminated Marco cop
The city of Marco Island’s bills continue to rise as it remains engaged in legal action with a former Marco Island officer that was terminated for allegedly having sex on duty.
Through Nov. 1, the city had paid its outside legal firm, Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman, over $30,000 to review the latest internal affairs investigation and a civil suit filed by Officer Kevin Hennings, according to public records obtained by the Marco Eagle.
The legal bills associated with internal affairs case have cost taxpayers $10,158.50. The civil case in which Hennings alleged he was illegally Baker Acted by the police department has cost $20,559.33 through Nov. 1.
Hennings was fired from the department on Sept. 18, nearly five months after being placed on paid administrative leave, after an internal affairs investigation found allegations that he had engaged in sex on duty credible.
Hennings was the third officer — following Sgt. James Inlow and Neil Giansanti — found to have engaged in sex on duty with the same woman following the completion of internal affairs investigations. While Inlow and Giansanti resigned from the department prior to the completion of their investigations, an internal affairs investigator determined allegations against them were credible and in violation of multiple police policies.
Authorities discovered Hennings’ involvement after the woman’s father came forward in January with evidence that Inlow was sexting his daughter and soliciting Adderall from her.
While the Collier County Sheriff’s Officer performed a forensic download of her computer and mobile devices and found no criminal activity, photos, videos and messages implicated additional officers in violations of police policies.
In the case of Hennings, investigators were able to prove that he arranged meetups with the woman. Although there was a lack of physical evidence to directly prove sex occured on duty, the department said that it found the woman’s testimony to be credible.
Adding to the city’s legal woes, the woman involved with the three officers has filed a notice of claim with the city, alleging that she was harmed as a result of negligence in the hiring, retention and lack of supervision of these officers.
In Florida, a notice of claim is the first step before suing a governmental entity.
During Henning’s time on paid administrative leave, the city paid more than $34,000 in wages according to payroll records. This figure does not include the use and payment of accrued personal leave.
Although Hennings was fired in September, the case appeared to have been near completion near the beginning of August.
A public records request for communications between Hennings’ union attorney, Michael Braverman, and Milton Collins, a labor attorney with the city’s legal firm, produced emails where the city appears to have wanted to discuss resolving both the employment and civil cases.
“As I indicated, I wanted to broadly discuss the labor matter and the litigation implications thereof,” Collins wrote to Braverman on July 31.
One day prior, Braverman contacted the city for the internal affairs investigation files after a predetermination hearing was set for Aug. 3. In Collins’ email, he told Braverman that he had requested the files not be sent until they could discuss the employment and civil case.
Braverman did not respond to request for comment. The city declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.
Latest in civil case
Hennings and his wife, Molly, filed suit against the city and individual police officers in 2017 nearly four years after he was forcibly restrained and taken in SalusCare, Inc. in Fort Myers due to concerns over his well-being.
Officers submitted memos at the time after observing changes to Hennings’s behavior.
Under the Baker Act, it allows for involuntary institutionalization and evaluation of someone that may have a mental illness and present harm to him or herself and others.
In the Hennings’ lawsuit against the city, it alleges that the action was orchestrated including have police personnel submit memos “to aid that plan.”
Hennings, who was the subject of several internal affairs investigations over his career, also alleged that the department used demotion and threats of termination and criminal charges in order to force him to resign.
While a motion to add punitive damages to the case was denied last month, the Hennings’ lawyers did win a battle to depose witnesses about some other police matters not directly tied to his case.
The city had a filed a motion for a protective order after Hennings’s lawyers began asking questions not related to the Baker Act incident during depositions.
Under Collier County Circuit Court Judge Lauren Brodie’s order, she ruled that the Hennings and their attorneys could conduct discovery of Capt. Dave Baer’s demeanor and workplace environment, a 2015 noise complaint at Capistrano Court and the internal affairs investigation that led to Hennings’s termination.
The 2015 noise complaint refers to the incident where Giansanti said he was instructed to issue a citation by Police Chief Al Schettino when there wasn’t a violation.
Hennings had alleged that the police department scrubbed a police report filed by Giansanti, which noted that there was no violation, and forwarded a copy of the report to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
In deposing Officer Paul Keys, the Hennings’ attorneys introduced a secret audio recording of a conversation between Hennings and Keys in which some of the conversation revolved around changing reports.
Under Florida law, all parties must consent to the recording of a conversation unless there isn’t an expectation of privacy.