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Latest from Stephanie Brown

    Millions of dollars could soon be invested in to improvements at Jacksonville parks. As part of the City of Jacksonville’s annual budget process, Mayor Lenny Curry has put forward his proposed Capital Improvement Program, which lists the infrastructure investments he wants the City to make. WOKV has found nearly a dozen projects across Jacksonville which focus on the infrastructure at local parks, with a proposed investment of close to $13 million, mostly in borrowed funds. This is above and beyond standard park maintenance that’s budgeted for every year. FULL COVERAGE: Jacksonville Mayor’s nearly $1.4 billion budget proposal On the Southside, a $2.225 million expansion is planned for the Fort Family Regional Park off Baymeadows, near I-295. This project would add four baseball fields, a parking lot, and a concession stand to the site, with construction starting this fall and continuing through next fall. The City says the park would be able to remain open during this work, which is aimed at creating a more substantial sports complex for the densely populated area. The park currently has a tennis complex, soccer fields, a playground, pavilions, and restrooms. The majority of this project would be funded through borrowing. $600,000 in available funding is earmarked for lighting upgrades for the baseball complex at Baker Skinner Park, off Powers Avenue in the San Jose area of the Southside. The City of Jacksonville says lighting at four of the six fields will be addressed, with the two smaller t-ball fields excluded since they are not as affected because of earlier games. Replacing the lighting means demolishing the old system and installing new LED sports field lighting, poles, and controllers, but the City says the park will remain open during the work. Construction will begin this fall and wrap by Spring 2020, if the proposal is approved.  One of the biggest investments is near the Main Street Bridge on the Southbank of Downtown, in the St. Johns River Park and Friendship Fountain, which is on the park site. For the park itself, $950,000 was previously committed, and an additional $1.6 million is proposed for the upcoming fiscal year, with most of the funding coming through borrowing. This would fund improvements to walkways, picnic areas, landscaping, adaptive signage, a concession area, and restroom facilities. There is also a concept for a Ribault Landing-themed playground and a splashpark.  The City says this park will have to be closed during the construction, which is slated to start late this year or early 2020, and wrap in the end of 2020. The City says they’re working to identify any events and activities that would be affected by this closure, to provide alternate locations. In the park, Friendship Fountain itself is poised for a huge overhaul. The City has previously invested $1.3 million, and is proposing another $4.2 million now- mostly through borrowing- for some significant repairs. The project includes repairs to the concrete structure, speakers, lighting, pumps, wiring, and electronic and software equipment. Renderings from the City show two different perspectives, but the same concept, of what that work could look like. For William F. Sheffield Regional Park, off New Berlin Road on the Northside, this is poised to be the first year of a multi-year investment. The CIP proposes $1 million for the upcoming fiscal year and $3 million the following year, largely funded through borrowing. The money this year is for new multi-use fields, which would be able to accommodate soccer, football, and other sports, according to the City. This project would also involve an increase in the parking capacity, and while the exact number of spots is not clear, the City says capacity should double around the football fields. Construction here would begin this fall and conclude next fall, with no need to close the park. Another multi-year investment is proposed for a Winton Drive Recreation Facility, across from Ribault High School in Northwest Jacksonville. $500,000 was previously committed to this project, and now the CIP proposes $2.05 million in borrowing each of the next two years to round out the investment. A Boys & Girls Club facility is being built adjacent to this property, so this rec facility would be aimed at supporting that. The facility would consist of a range of fields and parking, as conceptualized in this rendering. The 103rd Street Sports Complex on the Westside could see $707,000 in renovations, funded through available cash. The proposal is to renovate the grandstand building where scoring is done and restrooms are housed, as well as the bleachers, lighting, and sidewalks. This project is expected to span from this fall through next summer, with the park staying open through that time. This park centers on a half-mile lighted Go-Kart track. Hanna Park in the Mayport area stands to see $14,093 in proposed improvements including fencing replacement, playground repairs, safety lighting, trail repairs, drainage improvements, and minor renovations to amenities. In addition to that, $240,000 is proposed to repair one of the beach access boardwalks, which the City says has deteriorated because of the harsh environment. The CIP notes Hanna Park has not seen any major capital improvements in recent years, so work like this will help it continue to generate revenue and stay competitive. All of this funding would come from available cash on hand. Another relatively small investment is for Carvill Park in the Norwood area of Northwest Jacksonville. Most of the proposed $150,000, which comes from available funding, would be used for the pool and pump house, although some of the money is also earmarked for security lighting around the park. These proposals are all included in the CIP, which is still pending vetting and approval by the Jacksonville City Council, as part of the annual budget process. A final vote will take place ahead of the start of the next fiscal year October 1st.
  • With the imminent demolition of the Jacksonville Landing and ongoing negotiations for a new contract to keep the Florida/Georgia game in Jacksonville, City leaders are looking to up the stakes for the fan experience around the annual event. The Jacksonville Landing has historically brought in thousands of fans through the weekend for daytime events, like school pep rallies, as well as the nightlife experience. By the time we reach this year’s game on November 2nd, that building will be completely vacant, with demolition in progress. While the City was not involved in programming the Landing in prior years since it was privately owned and operated, they’re now looking to address the entertainment hole that’s created by the demolition, to ensure fans still have a place to go to celebrate through the extended weekend. So they’re proposing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more than prior years, to create a destination in the heart of the Sports Complex. “All the way from RV City, through the [Daily’s Place] Flex Field, in to the parking lots next to the stadium, out to APR [A. Philip Randolph Blvd.], and incorporating the Baseball Grounds and some of the different things on APR, including private businesses that are in the food and entertainment business, to try to connect them all together in a way that offers that whole area of the Sports and Entertainment District as a location for multiple events,” says Jacksonville’s Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes. Hughes says the intention is to activate this area for several days leading up to the game for both family-friendly activities and nightlife, with everything from live music to street vendors. “We want to turn that area down there in to a place that has some of the same offerings that the Landing did, except we’re trying to do it in a way with sponsorship that we don’t have to block it off and charge people admission to get in to the space. That if they’re here for the weekend, that’s where they go and that’s where they entertain,” Hughes says. WOKV started asking about this enhanced fan experience, after seeing a boost in a special events subfund in Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s proposed $1.4 billion budget. While the City plans to do the same annual events it hosts every year, like the Hall of Fame luncheon, they’re proposing budgeting several hundred thousand dollars more than last year in order to execute this vision. The budget proposal includes an addition over last year of more than $440,000 for miscellaneous Florida/Georgia expenses relating to event services and $75,000 in equipment rentals corresponding with the increase in services, among other areas. The exact price tag for this is not yet available, as negotiations and planning on the details of this fan experience continue. Hughes would not provide many more specifics about what they’re planning, except to say it will use facilities like Daily’s Place and the Baseball Grounds in creative ways. They’re also planning for some transportation options between the Complex and some hotels. More details on these plans will be released in the coming months, he says. “We really want the whole area down there to be activated for the entire visit that these folks have,” Hughes says. There is also $121,000 in additional funding requested for advertising and promotions for this event. Hughes says it’s important to ensure that University of Florida and University of Georgia fans who do not follow Jacksonville news know about the changes with the Landing and this new experience they will make available, so the funding will be to both work with the schools and have information available once fans arrive. While the fan experience is the purpose of these plans, Hughes acknowledges it comes while the City is in a window to negotiate a new contract to keep the annual game in Jacksonville. “These types of extra events are also a demonstration to the schools that the City is committed to the tradition,” Hughes says. Per the game contract, all parties are currently in the first negotiation window, which goes up until a few days prior to this year’s game. The final game under this current contract is in 2021, but Hughes says all parties are having productive talks, and he hopes to be able to work out a deal that extends the game in Jacksonville for many years to come. “We anticipate getting to the finish line,” he says. The last contract extension was for five years and gave the teams a combined $2.75 million in payments and incentives over the course of the contract, including annual guaranteed payments, travel expenses, and more. There are limited direct revenue opportunities for the City, like through the operation of concessions and Daily’s Place. The direct costs to the City, meanwhile, have continued to climb over the years, with this new enhanced fan experience being the latest element- since Hughes says it is intended that this be an annual event. In addition to the price of running the stadium operations, the cost of tickets for the game has increased, and the City is obligated under the contract to buy 1,000 each year. The City is reimbursing the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair $80,000 this year relating to costs they will incur because they agreed to delay the opening of the Fair by a week to avoid a conflict with the game. Additionally, the City is paying the Jags nearly $380,000 to acknowledge revenue the team is losing because of the impact of the temporary seating construction on their available tickets to sell for their game the weekend prior to FL/GA. The cost of constructing temporary bleachers at TIAA Bank Field to meet the contractual seating obligation for the game is a little more than $2.4 million this year, with the Jaguars reimbursing about $310,000 relating to the construction in the Club Levels. That number varies some year to year, and could see an increase soon, as the contract with the current vendor expires and negotiations are ongoing in relation to an extension. Hughes says the cost of the event is well worth it, considering the impact on the city. “Jacksonville gets a lot of benefit from it. The economic impacts are real, we fill hotel rooms, we have people going to dinner for multiple nights while they’re here, we have people going out to the beach, we have people enjoying our public spaces around Jacksonville, in addition to having game day,” he says. And it’s also about the tradition. “Both UGA and the University of Florida have deep alumni networks here. It’s become a great tradition for a neutral site game, it’s one of the most famous neutral site games and rivalries in college football, and has been for decades,” he says. Now is the time the City wants to build on that tradition, not only through the enhanced fan experience, but the possible permanent changes for the Sports Complex. The Administration is in the process of putting the finishing touches on an economic development agreement that will reflect around $233.3 million in City incentives for the $450 million development of Lot J at the stadium in to a mixed-use site with entertainment, office, hotel, and residential space. While that deal is still pending approval by the Downtown Investment Authority and the City Council, another project that is moving forward is the removal of the Hart Bridge ramps by the stadium. All of this will mean construction likely affecting the next couple of games after the 2019 one, but Hughes says it will be worth the hassle. “Ultimately, a couple of years on the other side of it, I think people will be amazed at how well both Jaguars games and other events in that area and the Florida/Georgia tradition will kind of fit together down there very well,” he says. The Mayor’s budget proposal- and the included funding for this enhanced fan experience complex- is still pending the vetting and approval of the Jacksonville City Council. A final vote will take place ahead of the start of the Fiscal Year October 1st.
  • As a phased demolition of the Jacksonville Landing gets underway, the Mayor’s Administration is looking at what the next steps for the site will be. WOKV has confirmed they’re proposing a “starter fund” to get moving on a market study and early design and engineering, for what happens once the building is down. In March, the Jacksonville City Council approved an $18 million package to settle long-running disputes dealing with the Riverfront property. $15 million was used to bring an end to a lease dispute between the City, which owns the land, and Jacksonville Landing Investments on behalf of Sleiman Enterprises, which owned and operated the building itself- with the City buying out JLI and taking over ownership of the building. $1.5 million was for dealing with settling the leases and potentially aiding the relocation of the remaining tenants, and the remaining $1.5 million was set toward demolishing the building. The Capital Improvement Program put forward by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, as part of his annual budget proposal, earmarks $2.25 million for a “Riverfront Plaza”, which has the address of the Jacksonville Landing property. Seeing this, WOKV went to the Mayor’s Office to get more information on what this funding is for. GALLERY: Jacksonville Landing awaits demolition Curry’s Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes confirms the money deals with the Landing site. The CIP shows $250,000 in proposed borrowing in the upcoming fiscal year for “design and engineering”. Hughes says this is for a market study for the property, which will involve receiving public feedback as well. While he says they still intend to have two land pads for private development along with public green space, the market study is intended to show the best use within those parameters, including the best balance of residential, office, entertainment, and retail space in the private developments. “How much green, how much hardscape? Is it nodal, in that we have little areas that are grassy for dogs and little areas that are splash pads for kids, or do we have a more integrated, flowing piece that rolls next to the Performing Arts Center and really connects one way versus the other to the Riverwalk,” Hughes says. The CIP shows an additional $2 million split between Fiscal Year 20-21 and 21-22, to use for land acquisition and site prep. The City already owns the land, and part of the contract for the demolition of the building involves sodding the property. The $2 million, according to Hughes, is for the City to design and engineer those public, green spaces, as the developers are also putting their plans together for the private pads. “We expect a process that has development experts, our Parks and Rec folks, and Council members, and community stakeholders all to be weighing in together, so that the development feels like a single space, even though components of it will be privately owned and other components public,” Hughes says. He says the City will look at the possibility of food trucks, kiosks, splash pads, and other features in the public access space. The developers will also be expected to include ground-level dining and entertainment options to complement the St. Johns River and green space activation, although the market study will influence what exactly that ratio looks like. Hughes says setting aside the $2 million now will allow for a collaborative design and engineering process, and if there is any additional funding, they can use that to actually start some of the work relating to what the City’s obligation with the green space will be.  FULL COVERAGE: Inside the Mayor’s nearly $1.4 billion budget proposal We asked Hughes why this market study and engineering funding wasn’t included in the initial $18 million deal put in front of the City Council, which did include some non-settlement elements, like the demolition funding. He says the timeline was built to start rolling this out now, since they have now settled everything with tenants and are getting underway with that demolition. The final tenant is set to move out in October, and Hughes says they should have the market study going out at that point. If all goes according to plan, he hopes to see movement in terms of the development bids and design early next year. This proposed $2.25 million over three years is still subject to approval as part of the annual budget review process. The City Council will vet the proposal and vote ahead of the start of the next fiscal year, October 1st.
  • While three Clay County detention deputies were fired as a result of an internal investigation of alleged sexual misconduct at the jail, no criminal charges are being pursued at this time. Now, WOKV is learning more about that decision. For a year, we’ve been following this investigation, which first started with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office confirming some personnel had been reassigned pending an investigation of alleged sexual misconduct between inmates and detention deputies. Almost two weeks ago, CCSO announced three deputies had been terminated as a result of that investigation, and on Monday, WOKV brought you an in depth look at the allegations that were sustained by Internal Affairs, which included that three deputies would instruct female inmates to expose themselves, would have sexually explicit conversations with them, and more. With CCSO noting that no criminal charges are being pursued, WOKV asked the State Attorney’s Office why. An email we obtained from Assistant State Attorney Joseph Licandro to investigators earlier this year shows that he regarded the allegations as “very serious” and detailing “myriad administrative violations”, but he questioned if criminal charges could be supported. “Proving criminal charges stemming from these administrative violations- beyond and to the exclusion of a reasonable doubt- will be problematic due to witness concerns, insufficient proof that a crime occurred, and a lack of corroborating evidence,” the email says. Licandro says the decision not to pursue criminal charges could be reconsidered in the future, if new evidence is brought forward. In the meantime, he made it clear that action is expected of CCSO. “The State Attorney’s Office anticipates that any definitive conclusions reached from the internal investigation will result in appropriate administrative action against any potential offending parties and that critical corrective measures will be taken at the Clay County Detention Center to reduce the possibility of administrative misconduct from occurring again,” he said in the email. Three deputies were terminated as a result of this investigation- Marcus Beard, Kory Clarida, and Austin Hatcher- with all three found to have instructed or encouraged female inmates to display their breasts and genitalia, engaged in sexually explicit conversations with female inmates, brought personal cell phones in to the detention facility, used a personal cell phone to play music and games while on duty, and failed to log and/or report adverse inmate behavior. In addition to those five common charges, each had at least one additional allegation sustained against them. Ten of the 13 allegations against Clarida were sustained, which also included that he displayed genitalia to a female inmate, instructed or encouraged female inmates to masturbate, instructed or encouraged female inmates to write sexually explicit notes, provided miscellaneous items to a female inmate assigned to confinement and suicide watch, and slept while on duty. Six of ten allegations against Beard were sustained, which also included that he observed female inmates in the shower. Six of eight complaints against Hatcher were sustained, including that he instructed or encouraged female inmates to masturbate. In addition to the three terminations, we’ve now confirmed there were two other detention deputies that were disciplined. One deputy was found to have brought a personal cell phone in to the detention facility, used a personal cell phone to play music for inmates while on duty, and failed to log and/or report adverse inmate behavior. CCSO says that deputy was suspended for three days. The other deputy got a level one written reprimand for bringing a personal cell phone in to the detention facility. In regard to the jail itself, a CCSO spokesperson says they made immediate changes with male deputy operations in female housing areas. WOKV has asked for more information on those specific changes. CCSO also says male deputies are no longer allowed to escort female inmates. The Internal Affairs report on this matter says there have been two policy changes, although we are waiting for CCSO to confirm if those changes were in direct response to this investigation. Previously, two male detention deputies were allowed to escort a female inmate to the shower if no female deputy was available, but that is no longer the case, according to the report. Additionally, the report says it is now prohibited for male, female, and juvenile inmates to be housed in the same area, like in confinement. WOKV has again asked the Clay County Sheriff’s Office for an interview to discuss their response to this investigation and what specific changes have taken place to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again. CCSO has not indicated if they will make anyone available.
  • 28 years after an elderly man was killed while apparently interrupting a burglary at his home in Jacksonville, a suspect has been arrested. JSO says 84-year-old Joseph Back was found dead, after a welfare check on his home. Police believe he was killed the evening of July 12th, 1991, and while police are not confirming the manner of death, they say it was a violent attack. Investigators believe Back’s home was randomly targeted in the burglary, and Back did not know the suspect. Occasionally, JSO says they re-run latent prints from cold cases. That was done in Back’s case late last year, and the results led them to 69-year-old Eddie Rhiles. JSO says technology advancements led to results in this case that they hadn’t been able to get before. “Computer is a little faster, little smarter. So, those images, you can get more of the detail as we progress. And with the technology, it’s only going to get better. And there are more and more people who’s prints and whose DNA are in the system, so it’s only positive from here on out,” says JSO Assistant Chief Brian Kee. Rhiles’ listed address was a homeless shelter in Tallahassee. JSO partnered with Tallahassee Police to apprehend him there on August 2nd. Police say he was interviewed and arrested for the murder. He is still in Tallahassee, pending extradition to Jacksonville. Rhiles has served time in state prison and has an extensive criminal history that includes kidnapping, robbery, and battery on an elderly person, according to JSO. His prints did not immediately connect to any other cases, but JSO says they continue to investigate if he may have been involved in any other crimes over the years. “He’s obviously a very violent individual, I mean he’s got a history of incidents,” says Kee. JSO says Back’s family is pleased that an arrest has been made. Kee is vowing to continue working cold cases like this, in an effort to get results. “There’s always hope. We have dedicated detectives in Cold Case who do nothing but those kind of investigations,” he says. Kee says they even added a Detective to the unit about a month ago, and they consider these cases a high priority.
  • A company with around 1,200 existing jobs in Jacksonville is looking at adding 500 more and building a new headquarters and parking garage. A $29.9 million incentives package is now being considered by the City, in order to seal the deal. The package will go in front of the Downtown Investment Authority on Wednesday, and if it’s approved, it then needs final approval by the Jacksonville City Council before taking effect. The terms filed with the DIA show “Project Sharp” is proposing to add 500 new jobs and retain the existing 1,216 jobs in the City. It is also looking at building a new 300,000 square foot office building- which would serve as its corporate headquarters- and a parking garage, with that capital investment expected to be around $145 million. The building would go up in Downtown Jacksonville. To achieve this plan, the term sheet outlines $29.9 million in City and State incentives, with the majority of that carried by the City. The State’s portion would be through the Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund Program, which would pay $1,200 per job created for this project, for a total of $3 million. The City’s total share of that would be $600,000 and the State has the $2.4 million balance.  The City is also offering a City Closing Fund Grant of $3.5 million, which would be paid upon substantial completion of the construction portion of the project. The brunt of the funding is through Recapture Enhanced Value Grant funding, which is essentially a property tax break based on the growth generated by the project. This project would be eligible for a 75% grant over 20 years, totaling up to $23.4 million. The company behind “Project Sharp” is not named in the project documents filed with the DIA. Florida law allows confidentiality in these types of economic development agreements.
  • We’re gathering more information about a crash that caused big problems for your Tuesday morning commute. All lanes of Airport Road at Duval Road were closed for several hours, as the Florida Highway Patrol investigated a fatal crash. FHP now confirms the crash involved a pedestrian. Investigators say a 60-year-old man was crossing Airport Road outside of the designated crosswalk. A vehicle traveling east on that road was not able to avoid the pedestrian, according to FHP. The car hit the man while he was in a travel lane, and that pedestrian died. The crash report says alcohol is not believed to be a factor on the part of either the driver or pedestrian. FHP says their investigation of this crash continues.
  • A man has been arrested for allegedly shooting a man he knew in the back in a park in the Lincolnville area of St. Augustine. St. Augustine Police say the victim identified 64-year-old Derick Eubanks as the suspect in this shooting, which happened at Vickers Park on Riberia Street. What led up to the shooting is still unclear, but police say the two men know each other. The victim in this case was taken to the hospital and is in stable condition. Eubanks has been detained, with charges pending, according to police. 
  • Instructing and encouraging female inmates to expose themselves, engaging in sexually explicit conversations with female inmates, and failing to write up poor inmate behavior- they’re just some of the allegations which have led to the firing of three Clay County detention deputies. WOKV reported a year ago about allegations of sexual misconduct between inmates and deputies, which sparked an investigation. A little over a week ago, we confirmed three deputies had been fired as a result of the administrative investigation that took place, although no criminal charges are being filed. Now, we’ve obtained that full Internal Affairs report which, for the first time, details the nature of the allegations involved. The three deputies who were fired as as result of this investigation are Marcus Beard, Kory Clarida, and Austin Hatcher. The report sustained five allegations for all of them: instructing or encouraging female inmates to display their breasts and genitalia, engaging in sexually explicit conversation with female inmates, bringing a personal cellphone in to the detention facility, using a personal cellphone to play music and games while on duty, and failing to log and/or report adverse inmate behavior. Each deputy faced additional sustained complaints as well. The report sustained ten of the 13 allegations against Clarida. Beyond the five charges shared with the other deputies, he was also found to have displayed genitalia to a female inmate, instructed or encouraged female inmates to masturbate, instructing or encouraging female inmates to write sexually explicit notes, provide miscellaneous items to a female inmate assigned to confinement and suicide watch, and sleeping while on duty. Against Beard, six of ten complaints were sustained, which included observing female inmates while they showered, in addition to the above listed charges. Hatcher had six of eight complaints sustained, including the five shared allegations, as well as instructing or encouraging female inmates to masturbate. According to the Internal Affairs report, all three deny any wrongdoing on the charges that relate to sexual conduct. They admit to bringing their phones in, playing music and games, and not properly writing up some inmate conduct, although the report notes that many deputies described similar conduct across other personnel. In fact, multiple interviews with deputies showed that they described it as common for inmates to be partially clothed or nude, or to masturbate in their cells. The report says the deputies would correct the inmates in the moment and the inmates would comply, so there was generally no further action taken, including logging that behavior. The report shows several inmates gave investigators similar stories in regard to the more serious alleged misconduct, which happened between January and August 2018. One example is the use of a “pipe alley”, or maintenance corridor, for deputies to speak to inmates through the air vents and grates. Several inmates also said that if they engaged in the sexual behavior that the deputies instructed, they would be rewarded by extra food, coffee, or similar things. That allegedly came both at the direct request of the deputies, as well as if they danced and exposed themselves when the deputies played music over the intercom. Several inmates said the deputies would also use a flashlight or laser pointer to highlight parts of their body while they undressed, or indicate where the inmate should strip. At least one inmate told the investigator that she initially declined the advances of the deputies, but ultimately “felt forced” to comply because they wouldn’t leave her alone, according to the report. Some of the witness statements came from other detention deputies and Clay County Jail employees as well, including one deputy who told the IA investigator that she saw Clarida, Hatcher, and Beard playing games on their phones while on duty, but when she confronted them, an unnamed supervisor allegedly told her it wasn’t her place to tell them what to do. Another deputy witness statement claims the overall way rules are enforced with bad behavior by inmates has become “lackadaisical”. Another deputy testified admitting that she questioned a couple of inmates about the ongoing investigation and told them something to the effect of they shouldn’t involve “her boys” in this. Multiple points in this report reference apparent policy changes that have taken place at the Clay County Jail, and WOKV has asked the Clay County Sheriff’s Office if those changes are at all a result of the investigation. At the time of these alleged incidents, two male deputies were allowed to escort a female inmate to the shower, if a female deputy was not available. The report says current policy prohibits that. It is also currently prohibited to have male, female, and juvenile inmates housed in the same area- like in confinement- although that was not the case at the time of these allegations, according to the report. In all, seven detention deputies, one detention sergeant, and one then-maintenance technician were investigated as part of this probe. CCSO terminated Beard, Clarida, and Hatcher as a result of the administrative investigation. Two other deputies has sustained complaints dealing with their personal cell phones, with one of them also found to have failed to report or log adverse inmate behavior. WOKV is working to confirm what disciplinary action CCSO took in regard to these findings. The other people involved in the investigation had the allegations conclude as unfounded or not sustained. We have also asked the Sheriff’s Office what other changes have been made at the Jail to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again. We are waiting for a response.
  • The former owner of Riverside Chevrolet will not be able to sell cars again, under an agreement reached with the State to bring a close to a fraud investigation. “This was an example of motor fraud at its worst, where a car dealership was selling cars that still had liens and were not paying off the liens on those cars. And so, unwittingly, buyers were purchasing or trading in vehicles, getting new ones, and then were on the hook for two cars,” says Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. Moody says they were able to recover more than $1.2 million in restitution in this case, to resolve the liens. Court filings claim there were more than 71 vehicles involved in this fraud. “Often times this happened to our seniors, and in instances of military personnel, where it affected their security clearance,” Moody says. The dealership is now under new ownership, Beaver Chevrolet, and Moody says they have cooperated through the investigation and worked to make the affected customers whole. Between August 2017 and April 2018, Riverside Chevrolet allegedly took trade-in vehicles that had outstanding liens, but didn’t resolve them. That would mean the person who traded in the vehicle was still on the hook for the debt and could have their credit negatively affected if they didn’t pay those bills. Court records show there were also some cases where the lien-holder tried to repossess the vehicle, without knowing it had been traded in, because Riverside Chevrolet hadn’t settled everything. The State also alleged that Riverside Chevrolet failed to pay more than $400,000 in sales taxes, failed to pay employee salaries and withholding taxes, and failed to transfer vehicle titles on trade-ins in a proper and timely manner. Not transferring a title in the required 30-day period could make it difficult for the prior owner of the vehicle to get financing and insurance on their vehicles. Under the settlement, Riverside Chevrolet- as the entity that ran the dealership under Andrew Ferguson- and Ferguson himself cannot own, operate, or manage an auto or truck dealership in Florida again. The agreement also includes various fines and attorney fees.
  • Stephanie Brown

    Assistant News Director

    Stephanie Brown is the WOKV Assistant Director of News and Afternoon Reporter. She guides the direction of WOKV’s news content, frequently contributes to social and digital platforms, and is a leading voice on-air. Stephanie has been with the team full-time since May 2012, which is when she graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in telecommunication and political science. When she’s not enterprising story ideas or digging in to an investigation, she’s likely cooking or enjoying downtime with her dog.

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  • As the city prepares to demolish the Jacksonville Landing, a team is working to salvage some of the items inside. The biggest item Annie Murphy and her team at Eco Relics have salvaged so far from the building is the bar top from Hooters. It's for sale at their shop on Stockton Street.  'We're all about keeping stuff out of landfills, that's our mission,' Murphy said.  They expect to salvage up to 160 items from the iconic landmark before it is torn down, from doors and windows to artwork and lighting.  'It is really cool to see people recognizing certain things, longtime Jacksonville residents,' Murphy said.  She said they were able to salvage some items inside the buildings along the river earlier this month. They can't access the rest of the building until the last tenant moves out in October.  A city spokesperson said over the next couple of weeks, the contractor will be stripping out items not attached to the building structure and then heavy equipment will begin the demolition.  It's expected to be complete by June 2020.  Murphy said the pieces of Jacksonville history her team pulls from the building will be for sale as they're salvaged.
  • A North Carolina sheriff stands accused of urging the murder of a former deputy who had a recording of him using racially offensive language, authorities say. Granville County Sheriff Brindell Wilkins was indicted Monday on two counts of felony obstruction of justice, according to court records. Wilkins is accused of trying to get another man to kill former Deputy Joshua Freeman, who he believed was going to expose his racist talk. >> Read more trending news  Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, who is prosecuting the case, said Wilkins' Aug. 12, 2014, phone conversation with the 'well-known' man who threatened Joshua Freeman's life was caught on tape, according to The News & Observer in Raleigh. Lorrin Freeman and Joshua Freeman are not related. Joshua Freeman worked for the Sheriff's Office from November 2011 to August 2014 but was let go in the days leading up to Wilkins' alleged crimes, WRAL in Raleigh reported. Wilkins, who was reelected in 2018 for a third four-year term, is accused of advising the unnamed man to kill Joshua Freeman, 'whom the defendant knew to have expressed his intention to soon publicly reveal a purported audio recording of the sheriff using racially offensive language to authorities in Raleigh,' the indictment states. The court records do not detail what Wilkins is alleged to have said, or what ultimately happened to the recording of his words. The indictment against the sheriff alleges Wilkins encouraged the man to 'take care of it' and said, 'The only way you gonna stop him is kill him.' According to the indictment, Wilkins counseled the would-be gunman on how to kill Joshua Freeman in a way to avoid getting caught. He offered two tips, according to the document: Get rid of the murder weapon and keep quiet. 'You ain't got the weapon, you ain't got nothing to go on,' Wilkins allegedly told the man, the court records allege. 'The only way we find out these murder things is people talk. You can't tell nobody nothin', not a thing.' Wilkins and the individual discussed a time in which to kill Joshua Freeman and a location that would ensure it would be Wilkins' own Granville County Sheriff's Office investigators who would get the case, the indictment says. Wilkins assured the man he would not tell investigators of his prior knowledge of the crime. The indictment accuses Wilkins of failing to prevent harm to Joshua Freeman or warn him of the 'credible threat' to his life. It alleges the sheriff also failed to seize the gun the other man planned to use, despite the person showing him the weapon at one point. 'The defendant failed to properly execute his duties because of his personal animosity towards Joshua Freeman,' the indictment states. Joshua Freeman was never harmed, though the indictment offers no indication why the alleged plot failed. Wilkins went before a magistrate Monday and was released on $20,000 unsecured bond. Court records show he was ordered to have no contact with anyone named in the indictment. He was also ordered to surrender his passport, if he has one. Read the indictment against Granville County Sheriff Brindell Wilkins below.  Brindell Wilkins Indictment by National Content Desk on Scribd 'No one is above the law,' Lorrin Freeman said Monday, according to WRAL. 'It is always painful when someone who has the public trust faces these types of allegations for voters who put them in that place. 'Any time you have someone who is sworn to uphold the public trust, to protect their community, to investigate and report crimes, allegedly engage in this type of conduct, it is something that needs to be brought to justice, and so we will continue to follow the evidence in this case.' Several followers of Wilkins' public Facebook page offered support in the wake of the indictment. 'You will always have our support,' one woman wrote. 'Praying for you and your family.' 'Our friendship goes back 30 years or more and you have always been a great friend to me,' another woman wrote. 'You were there for me many times. I believe in you and you have my support, always.' Lorrin Freeman said Wake County is handling the case because Mike Waters, her counterpart in Granville County, could potentially become an important witness at trial. Waters, who addressed the case in a statement on his office's Facebook page, wrote to Lorrin Freeman in November to ask her to look into the case. Watch Wake County DA Lorrin Freeman discuss the case below, courtesy of the News & Observer. WRAL reported that Joshua Freeman, who Waters represented in 2014 while in private practice, gave the future prosecutor the tape recording of Wilkins' conversation with the man who talked of killing the former deputy. It was not clear Friday how Freeman obtained the recording. Waters said he immediately turned the tape over to the FBI. The Washington Post reported that Waters met with North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation agents about the recording in January 2017, but nothing happened. 'Quite frankly, it did not get to the top of their investigative list,' Lorrin Freeman told WRAL about SBI agents. Waters gave the recording to a different SBI agent in October 2018, but still, no investigation was initiated, the Post reported. That is when Waters turned to Lorrin Freeman to initiate a probe into the sheriff. She agreed. 'I have reviewed this recording,' Lorrin Freeman wrote to SBI agents, according to the Post. 'It contains a conversation between two individuals, one of whom appears to be the Granville County sheriff, about a former deputy sheriff and culminates in a discussion about committing a homicide.' In his Facebook statement, Waters expressed frustration at the amount of time it took to get an investigation going. 'At all times since (turning over the recording), I have provided assistance to investigators, and once Ms. Freeman opened a criminal investigation, have urged that this matter be given investigative priority,' Waters wrote. 'I understand it is a matter of great importance to the people of Granville County, and it has been a point of frustration that the investigative process has not been more expeditious.' He wrote that any allegations of wrongdoing by law enforcement are troubling, particularly when they involve a sheriff elected by the community. 'Over the next few months, my office will continue to lend assistance to the ongoing investigation as requested, while we continue to do our daily work of protecting victims, prosecuting those who violate the law and seeing that justice is administered,' Waters said. WRAL reported Lorrin Freeman said she worked to obtain obstruction charges against Wilkins because obstruction would be easier to prove in the five-year old case than solicitation of murder or conspiracy. The Granville County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday to discuss the indictment, but County Attorney Jim Wrenn said the board has no authority to remove Wilkins, an elected official, from office as his criminal case winds its way through the court system, WRAL reported. Lorrin Freeman confirmed that fact to the News & Observer. 'Technically, he can continue to serve if he chooses, until convicted,' Freeman told the newspaper. Spectrum News' Charlotte bureau reported that Wilkins has indicated he will not step down. Wrenn said he is considering trying to get Wilkins out of office through the courts but wants to hear the recording himself before making that decision. Gerry Cohen, former special counsel to the North Carolina General Assembly, said state law has a provision allowing a judge to suspend a sheriff and allow a county commission to appoint a temporary replacement pending the outcome of a criminal case. 'The statute is there to allow removal of sheriff,' Cohen told Spectrum News. 'One of six causes is, in fact, conviction of felony. Others are some of the things in his indictment, like willful misconduct, corruption, willful neglect or refusal to perform duties of his office. Some of them match the charges in his indictment.' The News & Observer reported that the probe into Wilkins' alleged actions against Joshua Freeman has led to investigations of the Granville County Sheriff's Office's accounting practices, as well as the operations of its drug unit. Freeman was a member of the drug unit when he was with the agency. 'Part of this investigation has centered on why this sort of conversation would have occurred, what the underlying motivation would have been,' Lorrin Freeman said Tuesday, according to the newspaper. 'Additional information has come to light regarding operations and accounting practices of the Granville County narcotics interdiction team.' Those investigations remain ongoing.
  • President Donald Trump called reports that a U.S. intelligence official filed a whistleblower complaint against him last month 'a ridiculous story' while speaking Friday to reporters in the Oval Office. >> Read more trending news  According to the Washington Post, the president made an unspecified 'promise' to an unidentified foreign leader that concerned the intelligence official. The official filed a complaint Aug. 12, two anonymous former U.S. officials told the newspaper, though lawmakers said Thursday they had yet to see the complaint. The intelligence community's inspector general, Michael Atkinson, appeared before the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors Thursday but declined, under administration orders, to reveal the substance of the complaint. Update 7:40 p.m. EDT Sept. 20: Former Vice President Joe Biden has released a statement on the whistleblower's complaint against President Trump. In it, Biden describes Trump's alleged behavior as 'abhorrent' and calls on him to release a full transcript of the call 'so that the American people can be judged for themselves.' The entire statement reads: Update 4:40 p.m. EDT Sept 20: The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the son of Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. The Journal reported Trump asked Zelensky to work with Rudy Giuliani to determine whether Biden 'worked to shield from investigation a Ukrainian gas company with ties to his son, Hunter Biden.'  Trump made the request about eight times during a phone call in July, according to the Journal. Trump was asked Friday if be brought up Biden in the call with Zelenskiy, and he answered, 'It doesn't matter what I discussed.' But then he used the moment to urge the media 'to look into' Biden's background with Ukraine. Trump and Zelenskiy are to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations next week. Update 1 p.m. EDT Sept. 20: President Donald Trump told reporters Friday that the person behind the complaint filed against him was a 'partisan whistleblower' who 'shouldn't even have information,' though he added that he did not know the person's identity. 'I don't even know exactly who you're talking about,' Trump said. 'I don't know the identity of the whistleblower. I just hear it's a partisan person, meaning it comes out from another party.' Trump said Friday that he's spoken with several world leaders and that his conversations with them were 'always appropriate.' Details surrounding the complaint remained unclear Friday afternoon, though The Washington Post and The New York Times reported at least some of the allegations centered on Ukraine. Both newspapers cited unidentified sources. Asked if he knew if the whistleblower's complaint centered on a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, the president responded 'I really don't know' but continued to insist any phone call he made with a head of state was 'perfectly fine and respectful.' Update 9:50 p.m. EDT Sept. 19: The whistleblower complaint against Donald Trump centers around Ukraine, two anonymous sources confirmed to The Washington Post Thursday evening. The New York Times and ABC News are also citing anonymous sources, saying the complaint involves Ukraine. It's not clear exactly how Ukraine fits into the allegations. However, Trump spoke on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky two and a half weeks before the complaint was filed, the Post reported. That call was already under investigation by House Democrats, who are looking into whether Trump and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, tried to manipulate the Ukrainian government into helping with Trump's re-election campaign, according to The Post. Update 1:45 p.m. EDT Sept. 19:  The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee suggested Thursday that lawmakers could ask a judge to compel White House officials to share with Congress a whistleblower complaint allegedly filed last month against Trump. The complaint was filed Aug. 12 and involved an undisclosed 'promise' made by the president to an unidentified foreign leader, CNN reported Atkinson declined to share details of the complaint during a closed meeting of the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday, citing a lack of authorization. 'We do know that the Department of Justice has been involved in the decision to withhold that information from Congress,' Schiff told reporters Thursday. 'We do not know -- because we cannot get an answer to the question -- about whether the White House is also involved in preventing this information from coming to Congress.' He said lawmakers had yet to see the complaint by Thursday afternoon. 'We do not know whether press reports are accurate or inaccurate about the contents of the complaint,' he said. Earlier Thursday, the president denied having done anything inappropriate. Update 1 p.m. EDT Sept. 19: Trump on Thursday denied any wrongdoing after reports claimed a whistleblower had come forward with a complaint about the president making an unspecified promise to a foreign leader. 'Another Fake News story out there - it never ends!' Trump wrote Thursday in a tweet. 'Virtually anytime I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself. 'Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially 'heavily populated' call. I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!' Original report: The promise occurred during a phone conversation with the leader, one source told the Post. Details about the alleged pledge and the leader's identity was not immediately available. Although Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community's inspector general, believed that the whistleblower complaint warranted 'urgent concern,' acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire so far has declined to provide information about the communication to the House Intelligence Committee, the Post reported. A closed hearing with Atkinson is slated for Thursday, the committee said. Maguire is expected to testify publicly Sept. 26, according to the committee's chairman, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • A Massachusetts man in his 70s has died after contracting Eastern equine encephalitis, or EEE, state health officials said Friday. >> Read more trending news  Authorities said the man was a resident of Freetown, a town about 50 miles south of Boston, according to WFXT. 'Our most sincere sympathy, thoughts and prayers go out to the victim, to their family and their loved ones,' town officials said in a news release. The man was identified as having the 10th confirmed human case of EEE in the state. Officials said eight other cases of EEE have been confirmed in animals, including seven horses and a goat. The man's death was the second reported in the state from EEE. At least two other EEE-related deaths have been reported in recent weeks in Rhode Island and Michigan. 'We continue to emphasize the need for people to protect themselves from mosquito bites,' Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said Friday in a news release. “The unusually warm weather expected this weekend will increase outdoor activity among people and mosquitoes. It is absolutely essential that people take steps to avoid being bitten by a mosquito.” Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said several cases of EEE are reported each year, most often in states along the Gulf Coast. The mosquito-borne virus is rare, but serious, and can affect people of all ages, Massachusetts health officials said. Boston25News.com contributed to this report.
  • Here is a look at what impeachment is and why it doesn’t necessarily mean removal from office. How does impeachment work? Impeachment was established by the framers of the Constitution as a way to accuse a president of a crime and to hold a trial to determine if he is guilty of that crime. The Constitution lays out two specific actions, treason and bribery, that could lead to impeachment and removal of a president from office. The system also allows for a broader category to accuse a president of crime, although that category is more vague. A president can also be charged with and found guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” What exactly constitutes high crimes and misdemeanors is not defined in the Constitution, making impeachment on that basis more difficult. By design, it is not easy to get rid of a president. Here are the steps in the process for impeaching a president: First, an impeachment resolution must be introduced by a member of the House of Representatives. The speaker of the House must then direct the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary (or a special committee) to hold a hearing on the resolution to decide whether to put the measure to a vote by the full chamber and when to hold such a vote. A simple majority of the Judiciary Committee must approve the resolution. If the Judiciary Committee approves the resolution, it moves to a full vote on the House floor. If a simple majority of the those present and voting in the House approve an article of impeachment, then the president is impeached. The procedure then moves to the Senate where a “trial” is held to determine if the president committed a crime. There is no set procedure for the trial. How it is conducted would be set by the Senate leadership. Members of the House serve as “managers” in the Senate trial. Managers serve a similar role as prosecutors do in a criminal trial, they present evidence during the procedure. The president would have counsel to represent him at the Senate process. The chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court presides over the trial. Senators listen to the evidence presented, including closing arguments from each side and retire to deliberate. Senators then reconvene and vote on whether the president is guilty or not guilty of the crimes he is accused of. It takes a two-thirds vote of the Senate to convict. If the president is found guilty, he is removed from office and the vice president is sworn-in as president. The hearing in the Senate, along with a charge in the House that the president has committed a crime is not a legal one. No penalty, other than removal from office, is brought against a president in an impeachment hearing. Impeachment trials have been held twice in the country’s history -- for President Andrew Johnson and for President Bill Clinton -- and both ended in acquittals: meaning the presidents were impeached by the House, but not convicted and removed from office by the Senate. One vote kept Johnson from being convicted of firing the secretary of war in 1868, which went against a tenure act. In 1999, the Senate was 22 votes shy of convicting Clinton of perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by Paula Jones.

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