Hendry County hired Clewiston officers who were never investigated for alleged sex with informant
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
A confidential informant provided Clewiston police with multiple sworn statements in 2017 that she had sexual relations with two of its officers, once in exchange for money and the other while on duty.
Despite her assertions, which she also recently made under oath in open court, and corroborating evidence, no investigation ensued. Police continued to use her as an informant, paying her nearly $3,000 the month after she alleged the sexual contact, police records show.
After Clewiston police did not launch an official investigation in 2017, the officers involved — the two accused and the three officers who took the sworn statements — left and found a common home: the Hendry County Sheriff's Office.
The Naples Daily News and The News-Press are reporting this story now to shed light on the Sheriff's Office's recent decisions to hire officers with documented credibility issues.
The informant's first report came on Feb. 2, 2017, when she told Lt. Michael Rowan and Det. Darrin McNeil during a discussion about a traffic fine that she had sex with Sgt. Matthew Beatty, according to records obtained by the Naples Daily News and The News-Press.
A second recorded statement was taken by Sgt. Curtis Clay the following month.
The amorous encounter with Beatty began over Facebook messenger, she said, where Beatty first brought up the possibility of sex. She told him she wanted $40-$45, which he agreed to pay.
They met at W.C. "Bo" Pelham Jr. Park on Evercane Road. He handed her a 50 dollar bill, which she took to a nearby convenience store to buy condoms and kept the change, she said.
Records show her recollection of events was supported by messages she exchanged with Beatty that were provided to the Clewiston Police Department.
It was over Facebook that she arranged a sexual encounter with another officer, James Hester, she said in her interview with Clay.
This encounter was consensual and took place around 3:30 a.m. in the parking lot of a doctor's office on Deane Duff Avenue.
He arrived in his patrol car and was in his full uniform, she said, before she performed a sex act on him in the front seat.
No action was taken, according to records. Rowan told Clay that he reported the incident to then-Police Chief Don Gutshall and alleged Gutshall's response was "wait and see what happens."
With no investigation in sight, the police department kept her on as an informant.
One day after the traffic violation conversation and disclosure about Beatty, the police department paid her $252 to cover the traffic fine, according to informant payment records.
Over the course of the next month and up until she gave her second statement to Clay, informant records show the department paid her $2,995.13 for her use as an informant, much of which was used to rent hotel rooms and provide food. These payments were made while she was providing information about drug cases that led to arrests later in the month. In one of those cases, she was called as a witness and testified about her sexual relations under oath.
Meanwhile, Rowan and Gutshall left the department at the beginning of March 2017due to budgetary constraints and retirement, respectively.
The department still had not taken any action on the allegations by June, causing Clay to bring concerns to Police Chief Aaron Angell's attention about completing an investigation in time. .
The Officers' Bill of Rights gives agencies a 180-day window to impose discipline in instances of alleged misconduct.
Clay noted the sequence of events in a July 7, 2017, memo he prepared for Angell and stated the department had two options: "stand by the action that Chief Gutshall took, (no action) or we can open up and complete our own investigation into the accusations made by (the confidential informant)."
With approximately 23 days left before the close of the 180-day window, they chose to take no action.
Assistant Chief of Police Marci VanD'Huynslager said the current administration joined the department after the events occurred so it was unknown why no investigation took place.
"Things that don't have documentation such as the decisions to not move forward with an investigation simply are not accessible to us," VanD'Huynslager said. "I would only be speculating as to why it didn't happen."
VanD'Huynslager also did not know why the informant was continuing to be used after making the allegations.
Police departments, including the Clewiston police department, have policies that govern the conduct of informants and when to deactivate them.
"In my professional opinion, I would have not worked with this individual again," she said.
A similar case occurred a few years ago at the Fort Myers Police Department when then-Det. Donald Weathers continued to use an informant after she performed a sex act during a drug buy. Weathers was fired after an internal affairs investigation confirmed department policy violations of untruthfulness and failing to deactivate the informant. He was hired last year at the Hendry County Sheriff's Office where he has since been promoted to captain.
Shortly after the discipline period lapsed, Beatty left the department for the Hendry County Sheriff's Office. Hester followed suit a year later.
The sheriff's office did not respond to request for comment as to whether it was aware of the allegations against the officers and if so, what its rationale was for hiring the two officers.
If the sexual acts occurred as alleged, they would be grounds for potential revocation of their law enforcement certifications, according to guidelines set by Florida's Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission.
The commission is tasked with ensuring law enforcement officers are properly trained and ethical, holding the power to discipline officers for moral character violations.
Engaging in prostitution can lead to penalties of suspension and probation with counseling up to revocation of a law enforcement officer's certification, according to the commission. Sex on duty by Florida law enforcement personnel carries potential penalties ranging from suspension to revocation of the officer's certification.
Even if Sheriff Steve Whidden did not know of the misconduct, at least three members of his staff did because the three then-Clewiston officers who took the sworn statements from the informant were also hired by Hendry County.
Six months before Beatty was hired, Rowan joined the sheriff's office. McNeil and Clay joined the sheriff's office three weeks before Hester.
VanD'Huynslager said all five officers left the Clewiston Police Department voluntarily.
She could not say whether Clewiston police directly informed the sheriff's office about the two officers but offered that the information would have been disclosed if a standard background check was performed.
"Under proper circumstances, a background check would have included reviewing these personnel files," VanD'Huynslager said.