State attorney used Hendry County officer as witness despite him being on a noncredible list
This is a six-month review of the most-read crime stories in Collier County on naplesnews.com from March 2019 to August 2019. Naples Daily News
An officer fired from the Fort Myers Police Department and linked to its prostitution scandal is not the first "Brady cop" the Hendry County Sheriff's Office has hired.
Capt. Donald 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, his internal affairs report stated.
But before Weathers was hired, the Sheriff's Office hired Lt. Michael Rowan, another "Brady cop" or officer whose credibility is so tarnished that a state attorney's office has said he will not be used as a witness in criminal proceedings.
The Brady nomer stems from the Supreme Court's 1963 decision in the Brady v. Maryland case, which established that prosecutors were required to disclose any exculpatory evidence, including evidence that would impeach a witness.
The State Attorney's Office of the 10th Judicial Circuit disqualified Rowan in 2011 while he was chief of police for the Avon Park Police Department.
Despite questions about his credibility, his law enforcement career did not end there. Nor did his appearances in court.
Hendry County court records show Rowan has been called as a witness in criminal proceedings by the State Attorney's Office for the 20th Judicial District, including during a recent jury trial of Carlton Rush on felony drug charges.
Rowan, who was a lieutenant with the Clewiston Police Department at the time of the arrest, participated in a 2017 undercover operation that yielded six drug charges against Rush.
The State Attorney's Office for the 20th Judicial Circuit did not respond to questions about honoring Brady letters, which outline credibility issues, from other offices or the decision to use Rowan as a witness.
Communications Director Samantha Syoen said her office requested Rowan's letter from the 10th Judicial Circuit after the Naples Daily News inquired about his use as a witness. She did not respond whether the state attorney's office was unaware of Rowan's past before the Daily News provided a copy of the letter it received through a public records request.
While Syoen did not respond as to whether Rowan's credibility issues, which constitute Brady material, were disclosed during discovery, Rush's attorney, Adam Oosterbaan, said he was unaware. Discovery is the process in which both legal sides must disclose evidence or information that will be introduced into the case.
"This is very pertinent information in the Rush case, as this officer was the foremost cause of conviction," Oosterbaan wrote to the Daily News. "Thank you for informing me of this and I intend to act on this information immediately."
Prosecutors are required to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense, including knowing of information that could be used to impeach a witness.
Oosterbaan said he would be reaching out to the state attorney's office and, depending on its response, would file a motion for a mistrial.
John Chambliss, communications coordinator for the 10th Judicial Circuit, said Rowan's Brady letter is still in effect. He declined to discuss Rowan's use, stating it would be inappropriate to comment on a prosecution of a case in another circuit.
Questions about Rowan's credibility rose in April 2011, according to a letter from then-Interim City Manager Julian Deleon outlining four reasons for disciplinary action.
Rowan was accused of making "inappropriate recordings" and when asked if he had any involving city officials or employees, Deleon stated Rowan's responses were "untruthful and insubordinate."
Deleon wrote Rowan had expressed his displeasure about the City Council's decision to revisit his employment contract, which included threats about having "nine inches of paperwork" and recordings that "would lock everyone up."
Rowan did file a complaint against elected officials, including allegations of the open meetings law violations and falsifying documents, but an investigator from the state attorney's office found no wrongdoing.
After Deleon provided Rowan with a memo outlining employment expectations, he wrote Rowan ordered a police employee to wipe his computer's hard drive. The destruction of data was discovered by the Polk County Sheriff's Office's computer forensic staff.
Then-State Attorney Jerry Hill issued his letter to Rowan on Aug. 25, 2011.
"During the course of that investigation, we discovered a pattern of conduct on your part that I find troubling," Hill wrote. "Standing in isolation the incidents that Investigator (Michael) Ivancevich details would be a cause for concern. Taken in their totality, they rise to a level that this office cannot ignore."
Rowan was fired in October 2011 and was unsuccessful in appealing his termination.
While Avon Park submitted an affidavit of separation to the Florida's Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission, the reason for his departure was coded as administrative termination not involving misconduct.
Six months after Rowan was terminated, he landed at the Clewiston Police Department, where he was employed for nearly five years before his position was axed because of budget constraints, records show.
Two weeks later, he joined the Hendry County Sheriff's Office.
Rowan joins Weathers as a "Brady cop" currently employed by the Hendry County Sheriff's Office in supervisory positions.
Weathers was hired last year after investigators at the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission determined it could not act on allegations of perjury while he was employed as a detective with the Fort Myers Police Department.
His failure to disclose the information resulted in the vacation of a 5-year sentence handed out as part of a heroin sale conviction and impacted several other cases.
In the past three years, the Hendry County Sheriff's Office has also seen two now-former deputies disqualified from testifying.
Robert Archer received his letter after being charged with perjury and contempt of court in response to filing an untruthful probable cause affidavit, according to records from the state attorney's office. While he received a favorable verdict on the perjury charge, Archer was convicted of contempt of court and sentenced to six months probation.
Germain Garcia was added to the list of discredited cops earlier this year after he claimed to have made an arrest when it was done so by a bail bondsman impersonating an officer, records from the state attorney's office show.
An internal affairs investigation sustained five policy violations including:
- untruthfulness in proceedings or reports
- falsification of official documents
- perjury in official proceedings
- conduct unbecoming.
Garcia pleaded guilty to criminal charges and received three years of state probation, according to Hendry County court records.