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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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  • FBI toxicology reports ruled out foul play in the deaths of at least three U.S. tourists to the Dominican Republic, the State Department said Friday. >> Read more trending news  The bureau assisted with the toxicology tests of three of at least nine Americans who fell ill and died while visiting the Caribbean destination earlier this year, CNN reported.  Specifically, the FBI determined Nathaniel Holmes, Cynthia Day and Miranda Schaup-Werner each died of natural causes, findings consistent with those of Dominican Republic authorities, USA Today reported. Schaup-Werner, 41, of Pennsylvania, died in May at the Grand Bahia Principe in La Romana, with Dominican authorities attributing her death to a heart attack. Meanwhile, Holmes, 63, and Day, 49, were found dead in their shared hotel room at the Playa Nueva Romana resort. In that case, Dominican authorities ruled the Maryland couple died of respiratory failure and pulmonary edema, USA Today reported. A State Department official confirmed to CNN that relatives of the deceased have been notified of the FBI results and issued the following statement: “Our condolences and sympathy go out to the families during this difficult time.” USA Today reportedThe test results have also been shared with Dominican authorities and ruled out several potential causes of death for the Maryland couple, including methanol poisoning from tainted alcohol, USA Today reported. 
  • Colorado authorities have arrested a man in connection with the gruesome Thursday morning discovery of an unidentified woman’s body inside a suitcase in a dumpster. >> Read more trending news  Pueblo Police Sgt. Frank Ortega confirmed to KKTV Anthony Cuevas was taken into custody Friday evening and is expected to face a charge of first-degree murder. According to a news release issued by the Pueblo Police Department, Cuevas, 36, also faces a warrant for violating his parole. His wife, Melanie Ann Cuevas, also 36, was arrested on a criminal impersonation warrant. KKTV reported a suspect police now believe was Cuevas was caught on surveillance footage in the area of the dumpster about three hours before the woman’s body was found. In the video, the suspect can be seen taking the suitcase out of the car’s trunk and tossing it into the dumpster. Although the woman’s identity has not been made public, police have confirmed she had a very distinctive clown tattoo and was found wearing a U.S. Air Force T-shirt and M&M candy shorts, KMGH reported. Read more here and here.
  • A suspect is in custody following an early-morning shooting on the Grambling State University campus Friday that left two people, including a police officer, wounded. >> Read more trending news  Princeston Andre Adams, 19, is charged with two counts of attempted second-degree murder. Louisiana state troopers arrested the former Grambling student and Shreveport, Louisiana, resident Friday morning, KSLA reported. Louisiana State Police Trooper Michael Reichardt told KNOE the shooting happened at a party outside of the Frederick C. Hobdy Assembly Center. Reichardt also confirmed the wounded officer was shot in the leg, but his injuries are considered non-life-threatening. The second victim – identified only as a non-student – was shot twice in the torso and remains at North Louisiana Medical Center in Shreveport for treatment of life-threatening injuries, the station reported. Grambling State University President Rick Gallot issued the following statement: “Our goal at Grambling State University is to provide a safe, enjoyable environment for our students. To help in this effort, we will work with our student life and campus safety teams to grow our policies and procedures to better accommodate our student body. Our hearts and prayers go out to those impacted by last night’s events both directly and indirectly. I encourage all of our campus and community to support Louisiana State Police in their investigation by calling (318) 274-2222 with any related information.” Adams’ bond has been set at $1 million, KSLA reported. Original report: Authorities are investigating an early-morning shooting on the Grambling State University campus that left two people injured, including a police officer, KTBS reported. According to a safety update issued by university officials, campus authorities responded around 1:30 a.m. to an indoor firearm discharge at the Frederick C. Hobdy Assembly Center. Two individuals – including the officer and a non-student – were transported to North Louisiana Medical Center for treatment of injuries. The severity of the injuries suffered was not immediately available. According to KTBS, witnesses told officers on the scene a suspect fled campus following the shooting, and the Louisiana State Police Department will continue investigating. Anyone with any details related to the incident is encouraged to call (318) 274-2222. 
  • Police in Indiana charged a 24-year-old woman with reckless homicide after a crash at a school bus stop in Rochester left three children dead and one severely injured in October 2018. >> Read more trending news Update 9:04 p.m. EDT Oct. 18: Alyssa Shepherd was found guilty Friday of felony reckless homicide in the Oct. 30, 2018 car accident that left Alivia Stahl, 9, and her twin 6-year-old brothers Mason and Xzavier dead and Maverik Lowe severely injured, WNDU reported.  Original report: The children were crossing the street to get to their Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation bus around 7:15 a.m. Tuesday when they were struck by a 2017 Toyota Tacoma driven by Alyssa Shepherd, according to Indiana State Police. Police said that at the time of the crash, the school bus was stopped in front of a mobile home park with its stop arm down and lights flashing. Three Mentone Elementary School students, identified as 6-year-old twins Xzavier Ingle and Mason Ingle and their sister Alivia Stahl, 9, died at the scene. A fourth child, identified as 11-year-old Tippecanoe Valley Middle School student Maverik Lowe, was airlifted to a hospital with multiple broken bones and internal injuries, police said. He was last listed in serious condition. >> 3 children killed, 1 injured while boarding school bus in Indiana “It’s everybody’s responsibility to make sure our children get to and from school safely, and when it doesn’t happen, which it did not in this case, it’s heartbreaking,” Indiana State Police Sgt. Tony Slocum told WSBT. “I haven’t seen troopers cry in a long time, but I saw that today.” Xzavier, Mason and Alivia’s uncle, Elgin Ingle, told WNDU that his family is grappling with the magnitude of their loss. “(My brother) didn’t lose one kid. He lost all of his kids,” Ingle said. “What do you tell your little brother? How do you tell your little brother it's going to get better? You can't.' He described his nephews to WRTV as 'shy at first' but, 'Once you got past the shyness, the two boys were a life spark. They were nonstop, happy, go-fast, jumpy boys.' He said Alivia was a go-getter and 'the kindest child you'll ever meet.' 'My two nephews and my niece were taken from me because somebody didn't pay attention,' Ingle told WRTV. 'How could you look away from the road? Everybody knows buses stop at this time of day.'  Authorities charged Shepherd with three counts of reckless homicide and one count of passing a school bus with the stop arm extended, causing injury. She was booked into Fulton County Jail Tuesday. Police continue to investigate.
  • A Kansas City man has been arrested in the killing Monday of a transgender woman, the second to die in the city so far this year and at least the 20th across the nation, authorities said. The Associated Press reported that Brianna “BB” Hill, 30, also of Kansas City, was shot around 11:30 a.m. Monday. Hill, who went by Breonna Be’Be Hill on Facebook, was dead when officers arrived at the scene. >> Read more trending news Kansas City police Capt. Tim Hernandez told the AP that the alleged shooter, whose name has not been released, remained at the scene and was taken into custody. As of Wednesday, no charges had been filed, the news service said. Hernandez said he could not discuss the motive for the shooting but said it was not related to Hill’s status as a transgender woman, the AP reported. Hill is the second transgender woman killed so far this year in Kansas City, records show. According to the Human Rights Campaign, she is the 21st transgender woman or gender nonconforming person to die by violence across the country in 2019. The Advocate puts the nationwide number of slain transgender women at 20, however, noting some confusion about the gender identity of one victim, Jamagio Jamar Berryman. “Transgender Americans are facing an epidemic of violence,” the Advocate reported, citing 24 known killings of transgender Americans in 2018. The magazine said the number could be higher “as, undoubtedly, some victims were misgendered by police or media, or their deaths not reported at all.” “The majority of victims in any year tracked by The Advocate have been women of color,” the magazine stated. Click here to see a report by the Advocate on all the transgender people killed so far in 2019. Hill, who was black, was killed the day before jury selection was set to begin in Dallas for Edward Dominic Thomas, 29, who is accused of beating another black, transgender woman, Muhlaysia Booker, in April following a fender bender outside an apartment complex in the Oak Cliff section of the city. Booker, whose beating was caught on video, spoke publicly at a rally the week after the assault to call for justice in her case, the AP reported. The 23-year-old was found shot to death May 18 on a Dallas street. Kendrell Lavar Lyles, 33, is charged with murder in the killing and is a suspect in the homicides of two additional women. >> Related story: Suspect arrested in death of transgender Dallas woman and 2 others, police say The Dallas Morning News reported Wednesday that Thomas’ defense is arguing that Booker, who his attorneys call by her birth name and describe with male pronouns, brought the fight upon herself. Transgender actress and activist Laverne Cox spoke to Buzzfeed earlier this year about the rash of violence against the transgender community. “Your attraction to me as a trans woman is not a reason to kill me,” Cox said in an interview on BuzzFeed News’ Twitter morning show, “AM to DM.” “There’s this whole sort of myth that trans women are out there tricking people, that they deserve to be murdered, and that’s not the case.” Berryman, who also went by Ja’leyah-Jamar Berryman, was killed last month just across the Missouri state line in Kansas City, Kansas. Though area activists initially identified Berryman as a transgender woman, Berryman’s family released a video on social media clarifying that he identified as a gender nonconforming man. Berryman was found shot in the street around 2:30 p.m. Sept. 13 near 60th Street and Leavenworth Road, according to the Kansas City (Kansas) Police Department. Berryman died a short time later at an area hospital. Two days later, investigators released images of a person of interest and a white 2006 Pontiac G6 connected to the case. KMBC reported that the car was found abandoned in Kansas City, Missouri, three days after Berryman was slain. The person of interest, believed to be an ex-boyfriend of Berryman’s, has not been identified by police, the Advocate said. No arrests have been reported in Berryman’s death. Berryman’s cousin posted about his death on Facebook. “Ja’leyah-Jamar didn’t ask for this life,” Adriana Sanders wrote, according to the magazine. “No one can control who they love. God made us to live and love and to grow. It’s not our fault as a transgender woman or a homosexual man to want to live a normal life, wanting to be in love have a family, build your own legacy. “Because a man could not accept who he was as himself and individual, he felt the need to take my cousin’s life.” Berryman’s obituary said he “loved the artistry of designing hair, playing his game, playing with his nieces and nephews, nagging his siblings and spending quality time with his daughter, Ja’mya (Berryman).” Ja’mya was 5 years old when she lost her parent, KSHB in Kansas City reported. “She keeps, like (saying), ‘I want my daddy, where my daddy at?’ And it’s just, like, how do you answer that question to a 5-year-old?' Ronnie Gates, a friend and former longtime boyfriend of Berryman’s, told the news station. Berryman’s mother, along with other family members and friends, mourned Berryman by releasing red and black balloons in his honor three days after his killing. They gathered at the intersection where he was found. His young daughter was pictured sitting quietly on the sidewalk, wearing a backpack and gazing at the balloons near the curb. “That’s Jamar’s baby. She is now without a father,” a family member captioned the photo. “I’ll never be the same,” Berryman’s mother, Jennifer Gibson, told KSHB. “I’ll never be the same.” The Human Rights Campaign, which touts itself as the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, issued a statement following Berryman’s slaying. “This epidemic of violence that disproportionately targets trans people of color -- particularly black trans women -- must cease,” read a post on the organization’s Twitter feed. Likewise, HRC officials spoke out this week about Hill’s killing. “Hill, like all of us, had hopes, dreams, aspirations and plans for the future,” HRC spokesperson Elliott Kozuch told Newsweek. “She had family and friends who are mourning this senseless loss, a loss that is part of a larger epidemic of violence against the transgender community in this country, spurred by a toxic mix of transphobia, racism, misogyny and unchecked gun violence.” Kozuch said while the transgender community has protections in employment, housing and public accommodations in Kansas City, there are no state nondiscrimination protections for the marginalized community. Transgender people are also not among the groups covered by Missouri’s hate crimes legislation. According to HRC data, all but five states across the country have laws addressing hate crimes, but the laws vary greatly in who they protect. Fifteen states do not address sexual orientation or gender identity in their hate crime laws, the HRC shows. See the Human Rights Campaign's map of hate crime laws in the U.S. below. Members of the LGBTQ community mourned Hill’s death on social media. “Rest in power, beloved,” one woman wrote on Facebook, adding a broken heart emoji. “Brianna Hill. #SayHerName.” Transgender actress, singer, teacher and activist Alexandra Billings also spoke out about Hill and every other transgender woman who has been killed or faces violence for who they are. “My sisters, I see you,” Billings wrote on Facebook. “I am with you because I am one of you, and we will survive this. Our government will not continue to ignore us, and our allies will speak up. We will revolt and we will rise. We are made of sturdy stuff. We have lived through the centuries and it will take more than a few violent men to eradicate us from the human experience. “We are part of this world and we deserve to be here. We will not let this stand.” Besides the death of Berryman, Hill’s slaying in Kansas City also comes on the heels of the June 25 killing of Brooklyn Lindsey, 32, who was found dead on the porch of an abandoned home on Spruce Avenue, court records show. She died of multiple gunshot wounds. Neighbors, who didn’t identify themselves out of fear of retaliation, told KCTV Lindsey had been badly beaten before they heard the gunshots that killed her. According to court records, investigators recovered five shell casings from around Lindsey’s body and tested the casings for DNA evidence. A profile was obtained and entered into CODIS, the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, which matched the genetic material to Marcus S. Lewis. Investigators learned that Lewis was in a relationship with the owner of a black Chevy Impala. The car was spotted by license plate readers driving in the area of the shooting around the time that the Kansas City Police Department received a report of shots fired about four blocks from where Lindsey’s body was found. Read the probable cause statement in the Brooklyn Lindsey slaying below. Charging Document in Brooklyn Lindsey Homicide by National Content Desk on Scribd Lewis, 41, was arrested in July and indicted last month on charges of second-degree murder, armed criminal action and unlawful possession of a firearm, court records show. Court records, which identify Lindsey as male and by her given name instead of her chosen one, show that Lewis told detectives he shot Lindsey after she propositioned him, “attempting to solicit a date,” and would not leave him alone after he declined her advances. He said he sold the gun, which he had bought earlier in the day, to an unknown person after the homicide. “l believe that Marcus Lewis poses a danger to the community or to any other persons because he is a habitual unregistered sex offender,” Detective Ryan Taylor wrote in a probable cause statement. “He is under investigation for aggravated domestic violence involving a firearm and an armed business robbery involving a firearm.” Court records indicate Lewis has also been indicted in that case. He remained in the Jackson County Jail Friday, awaiting trial. The unlawful firearm possession charge stems from Lewis’ April 1998 conviction of first-degree statutory rape, a felony in Missouri. As a convicted felon, he is not permitted to have a firearm. Lindsey was described by friends as an activist who worked with organizations like the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project. The organization spoke out last month after Berryman’s death. “As we hold space to remember and uplift Ja’Leyah, we must also recognize the factors at play that contribute to the dramatically increased risk of violence that trans women of color, especially black trans women, face every day,” a post on the group’s Facebook page read. “Restrictions on basic needs and services like housing, employment, safe streets, healthcare and protection under the law are just some barriers that put our sisters in harm’s way daily. “The discriminatory and violent systems that perpetuate violence against transgender women of color are a direct result of bias from within and outside our own communities. Ja’leyah’s light shone to a select few, but we will let her light shine on all of us today.” Kris Wade, with the Justice Project Kansas City, told CNN she knew Lindsey well and had helped her for more than a decade. She described Lindsey as a “sweetheart,” and an intelligent woman who did not come from the streets, but sometimes ended up there. “She felt that she had not lost her humanity out there,” Wade told CNN. Wade said Lindsey, who had been brutally beaten and hospitalized just weeks before her death, needed to get off the street, but Justice Project was unable to find her a bed. “We didn’t have any money to put her up,” Wade said. Lindsey died at the same intersection where a Hispanic transgender woman, Tamara Dominguez, 36, was run over and killed Aug. 15, 2015. The driver of the truck, Luis Sanchez, ran over Dominguez repeatedly, according to witnesses. Members of the LGBTQ community condemned the “atrocious” act in the days after Dominguez’s death. “There’s this horrible dark underbelly of hatred that goes on and on and on and on and it must stop,” Caroline Gibbs, director of the Transgender Institute of Kansas City, told KCTV at the time. Dominguez’s brother, Alberto Dominguez, spoke to the news station through a friend, Juan Rendon, who translated his Spanish to English. “He just want to say to the person that did that to her, that he (Alberto) would forgive them for what he did to her,” Rendon translated as Dominguez started to cry, the news station reported. “We are not here to judge nobody, and he (Alberto) hopes that person really feels bad for what he did.” Sanchez, who was initially charged with murder, was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in December 2018 and sentenced to 18 years in prison. Now 31, he is serving his sentence at the Jefferson City Correctional Center, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections. Tamara Dominguez was loved, her brother told KCTV. “He doesn’t know she has family. She had her mom. She had her nephews, brothers and sisters. That person didn’t think about what he did,” Rendon translated.

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