Police officer who had video of FMPD captain went from Brady List to Hendry County Sheriff's Office
This is a six-month review of the most-read crime stories in Lee County on news-press.com from March 2019 to August 2019. Vonna Keomanyvong, email@example.com; 239-213-5380
Donald Weathers is the former Fort Myers detective who held onto the 6-year-old video that resulted in the arrest of Capt. Jay Rodriguez on prostitution, perjury and official misconduct charges.
He also holds the dishonor of being among the 14 officers banned from testifying in criminal proceedings by the local state attorney’s office due to concerns over credibility.
The "Brady List" stems from the Supreme Court's 1963 decision in the case Brady v. Maryland, which established that prosecutors were required to disclose any exculpatory evidence, including evidence that would impeach a witness.
Weathers’ misdeeds included untruthfulness and failing to deactivate and disclose a video drug-buy in which a criminal informant performed a sex act on a man later arrested on different drug charges.
This sabotaged several drug prosecutions, including the vacation of a man’s 5-year sentence from a conviction for the sale of heroin, and spawned a civil rights lawsuit from others who had their sentences overturned.
Although he was terminated in 2017, the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office inexplicably hired Weathers, who previously cut his teeth at the department, one year after the state attorney’s office and Department of Law Enforcement felt a perjury charge was too difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Hendry County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to request for comment as to why it hired Weathers given his checkered past.
Weathers’ credibility issues stem from a video drug buy on Feb. 26, 2016, that he failed to disclose.
Weathers, another detective and assistant state attorney Hanna Renna and were lying in wait as their criminal informant, Vicki Neese, purchased heroin from Frank Thomas, records .
During the purchase, Neese performed a sex act on Thomas. Thomas would be successfully prosecuted for another drug buy but his incident was omitted from an informant activity log, and he never faced charges for the actions that took place that day.
Weathers also omitted this drug buy during a deposition and failed to deactivate Neese for what transpired, constituting a violation of department policy.
The police department uncovered the exculpatory evidence in 2017 after Police Chief Derrick Diggs instructed Lt. Brian O’Reilly to conduct an audit of the Special Investigations Group’s expenditure reports and informant files.
An internal affairs investigation ensued and sustained charges of untruthfulness in an official proceeding, criteria for deactivating informants and informant files.
Weathers had maintained that Renna said he could charge Thomas with two other drug buys and was not required to disclose the Feb. 26, 2016, incident.
Among those interviewed as part of the investigation was Rodriguez, then a lieutenant as part of the Special Investigations Group.
Rodriguez said he was never shown the video and could not recall ever being told about the actions depicted in it. Rodriguez said if he had known of it, he would have deactivated the informant immediately and should have been disclosed as part of any prosecution.
Jill Newhouse, a staff assistant with the department, and another detective told O’Reilly that Rodriguez was made aware of the video but did not know if any actions were taken.
The state attorney’s office declined to prosecute Weathers for perjury in official proceedings, a third-degree felony, because he qualified many of his statements with “I think.”
Sex, lies and videotape: Why the Special Investigations Group of the Fort Myers Police Department was reorganized
Assistant state attorney Anthony Kunasek wrote in a memo that the language Weathers used made it “extremely difficult, if not impossible, to show the necessary criminal intent required by law.”
Nonetheless, his credibility was tarnished.
“However, based upon the review of the information submitted in its entirety, there is legitimate concern as to Detective Donald Weathers’ judgment and truthfulness,” Kunasek wrote. “This concern significantly impacts the confidence of the State Attorney’s Office and its ability to utilize him as a witness in current and future cases.”
Weathers appealed his termination, but an arbitrator upheld the decision, according to records from the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission.
An investigator for the commission also no-caused its investigation into Weathers on whether he committed a moral character violation, which could have resulted in his decertification.
An investigator agreed that Weather’s language would prevent it from proving any charges beyond a reasonable doubt and also noted that Weather’s admitted to not being prepared when he misstated informant payment information.
“The arbitrator stated the video and buy should have been disclosed, but only referred to an appearance of dishonesty. The perjury charge was not addressed. Staff recommends no cause based on the state’s attorney's position and lack of evidence to prove the charge, and legal concurs.”
Records from the commission show Weathers was hired by the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office as the commission’s investigation was wrapping up.
Shortly thereafter, Weathers provided the video a woman performing a sex act on Rodriguez during an operation to former officer O'Neil Kerr, who filed a complaint against Rodriguez.
Weathers began his Florida career at the Hendry Correctional Institution in the late 1980s before making the jump to full-time law enforcement duties in the early 1990s.
Among those sharing the same do-not-subpoena status in the 20th Judicial Circuit are:
- Former Hendry County Sheriff’s Office deputies Germain Garcia and Robert Archer
- Former Marco Island police officer Tige Thompson
- Former Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office deputies William Saxer and Eric Ireland
- Former Collier County Sheriff’s Office deputies Robbie Lewis and Charles Smith
- Former Lee County Sheriff’s Office deputies Raymond Gallagher and Selena Lee
- Former Cape Coral police officers Toni Palermo, Joshua Phelps and Kordelle McKissack
- Former Fort Myers police officer Matthew Vagi