Fort Myers, police department face civil rights lawsuit because of confidential informant's sexual contact
Two people who had their convictions overturned have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Fort Myers. The confidential informant used in their arrests violated procedures by performing a sex act during another arrest, a fact that was not disclosed to the defense.
Eugene Hunter was sentenced to five years on Nov. 28, 2016 and served a year in prison before a judge ordered his sentenced vacated.
Chania Ware spent a few nights in jail and was expected to serve a lengthy probation. Her sentence was also thrown out.
Attempts to reach Hunter and Ware were unsuccessful. Messages left with their attorney were not returned.
The suit alleges the city of Fort Myers "developed and maintained policies, procedures, customs and/or practices exhibiting deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of citizens."
A spokeswoman for the city declined to comment on the lawsuit. A spokesman for the Fort Myers Police Department did not return a request for comment.
Sex, lies and videotape:Why the Special Investigations Group of the Fort Myers Police Department was reorganized
According to the lawsuit filed Monday, Ware was arrested on April 22, 2016 for two narcotics purchases in 2015. She accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to to 12 months of community control followed by 36 months of probation. Ware spent two days in jail and 365 days under house arrest.
Hunter was arrested on March 11, 2016. He bonded out and was arrested five days later, charged with seven video-recorded narcotics purchases, according to the lawsuit. He pleaded no contest and was set to serve five years.
Ware and Hunter were accused of selling drugs to a woman who was a confidential informant for the Fort Myers Police Department.
The confidential informant was handled by then-Fort Myers police detective Donald Weathers, who was fired for not disclosing that the confidential informant had sexual contact with another man during a recorded drug buy.
Those named in the suit include Weathers, a former assistant state attorney, and a number of employees who were part of the Special Investigations Group, a unit that was investigated and reorganized by FMPD Chief Derrick Diggs.
All of those named in the suit have one thing in common: They were all interviewed and participated in the internal affairs investigation that discovered the video of the confidential informant's sexual conduct.
An internal affairs investigator requested that perjury charges be brought against Weathers for not disclosing his informant's behavior, but the state attorney's office said it would be too difficult to prove he lied. However, the memo stated: "there is a legitimate concern as to Det. Donald Weathers' judgment and truthfulness."
Capt. Jay Rodriguez, who is currently on leave stemming from an allegation of sexual misconduct recorded in a separate video of a massage parlor sting operation in 2013, is also named in the lawsuit.
According to the internal affairs report, an administrative assistant said she told Rodriguez about the video with the confidential informant, but in his interview Rodriguez denied knowing about it. He also denied that a second officer had mentioned it to him. And if they had, Rodriguez said, it was not "expressed to (him) the way it should have been."
Also named in the lawsuit is Richard Notaro, the sergeant who oversaw the work of the Special Investigations Group and resigned during an internal affairs investigation of the unit. Hanna Renna, an assistant state attorney who was involved in the operation, is also named in the suit. Also named are Matthew Schulze, Vincent Doyle, Jason Greene and Wolfgang Daniel, who were part of the Special Investigations Group.
Dennis Eads, who was acting chief during the time of this investigation, is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Eads, according to the internal affairs report, was told about the incident, but merely said "the SIG Group were 'idiots.'"
Eads denied knowing about the video to the internal affairs investigator.
How it happened
The woman became a confidential informant for Weathers in order to avoid being charged with prostitution, according to the internal affairs investigation.
She helped the police department conduct three drugs buys from a man named Frank Thomas all of which were recorded.
Thomas was prosecuted for two of the drugs buys. The internal affairs investigation found that during the third drug buy the woman performed a sexual act on Thomas as seen on a video. Also recorded is the woman leaving Thomas' home and getting in Weathers' car where she informed him and Assistant State Attorney Renna of the sexual interaction.
"Are you (expletive) serious," Renna said before the video ends.
The video and information about the sexual misconduct were never turned over to Thomas' attorneys or disclosed during any of the criminal cases where the woman was used.
Court records show that Thomas and at least two other men implicated in crimes in which the female informant was used had their cases vacated.
'Atmosphere of lawlessness'
The lawsuit questions the judgment and truthfulness of the defendants in the case and states they acted "maliciously" and in "reckless disregard of plaintiffs' federally protected constitutional rights."
"Fort Myers has created and tolerated an atmosphere of lawlessness, and has developed and maintained long-standing, department-wide customs, law enforcement related policies, procedures, customs, practices, and/or failed to properly train and/or supervise its officers in a manner amounting to deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of Plaintiffs and of the public," the lawsuit states.
Fort Myers councilman Johnny Streets said the city asked Fort Myers police Chief Derrick Diggs to come in and clean up the department and that is what he is doing.
"We need total reform just like the criminal justice system, it needs reform," Streets said. "When you start doing reform, you get what you are getting now," he said, referring to the uncovering of wrongdoing by the Special Investigations Group.
"It's going to cost us a lot of money, the professionalism of some officers," he said.
Council members Kevin Anderson, Fred Burson and Teresa Watkins Brown declined to comment. Councilwomen Gaile Anthony and Terolyn Watson did not return a request for comment. Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson did not return a request for comment.
This is the second lawsuit filed in as many months against the Fort Myers Police Department. In February a suit was filed against two officers who allegedly used their Taser on a man at a 7-Eleven at a shopping plaza on Lee Boulevard and State Road 82.