by Irvin Muchnick
The very professional Cole Copertino, assistant city attorney for Fort Lauderdale, responded comprehensively to our requests for the specific claims of statutory exemptions in each redaction of the 19-page release of public records given to us last Friday.
With this new information, Tim Joyce and I are ready to share with readers the three most important pages from the new documents. We also want to explain why we believe the redactions themselves – with or without further appeals seeking more complete disclosure – might very well confirm the most devastating possible portrait of police cover-up of and shameful inaction on allegations of sexual abuse against Alex Pussieldi.
At http://muchnick.net/lauderdaledocs2.pdf, you can view a two-page police report dated February 14, 2004, along with an email exchange involving Stu Marvin (manager of the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex), Ernest Burkeen (director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department), and Alan Silva (acting city manager).
According to assistant city attorney Copertino, the first page of the police report has some redacted narrative “pursuant to 119.071(j)(1), 119.071(2)(h).” These are parts of the Florida Public Records Act. The 119.071(j)(1) subsection is also cited in the redaction of “names and narrative” on the second page of the police report. (The city clarified that the report ends with the word “unfounded”; the blank space below that is not a redaction.)
On the Marvin-Burkeen-Silva emails, we are told, only the “victim name” is redacted, “pursuant to 119.071(j)(1), 119.071(2)(h)(1)(a)&(b).”
The text of the statute is densely punctuated and difficult to untangle. Tim and I, non-lawyers both, are 90 percent sure that this is the language corresponding to 119.071(j)(1):
Any document that reveals the identity, home or employment telephone number, home or employment address, or personal assets of the victim of a crime and identifies that person as the victim of a crime, which document is received by any agency that regularly receives information from or concerning the victims of crime, is exempt from s. 119.07(1) and s. 24(a), Art. I of the State Constitution. Any information not otherwise held confidential or exempt from s.119.07(1) which reveals the home or employment telephone number, home or employment address, or personal assets of a person who has been the victim of sexual battery, aggravated child abuse, aggravated stalking, harassment, aggravated battery, or domestic violence is exempt from s. 119.07(1) and s. 24(a), Art. I of the State Constitution, upon written request by the victim, which must include official verification that an applicable crime has occurred. Such information shall cease to be exempt 5 years after the receipt of the written request. Any state or federal agency that is authorized to have access to such documents by any provision of law shall be granted such access in the furtherance of such agency’s statutory duties, notwithstanding this section.
And we are equally confident that this is the language corresponding to 119.071(2)(h)(1)a)&(b):
If an alleged victim chooses not to file a complaint and requests that records of the complaint remain confidential, all records relating to an allegation of employment discrimination are confidential and exempt from s. 119.07(1) and s. 24(a), Art. I of the State Constitution.
(h)1.The following criminal intelligence information or criminal investigative information is confidential and exempt from s. 119.07(1) and s. 24(a), Art. I of the State Constitution:
a.Any information, including the photograph, name, address, or other fact, which reveals the identity of the victim of the crime of child abuse as defined by chapter 827.
b.Any information which may reveal the identity of a person who is a victim of any sexual offense, including a sexual offense proscribed in chapter 794, chapter 796, chapter 800, chapter 827, or chapter 847.
We are emailing this post to Copertino and asking him to correct us if we have not cited the right passages in the city’s exemption claims.
Tim and I also will be consulting with Florida public information experts to determine if there are grounds for appeal of the redactions. What occurs to us is that the statutory language seems to cover only personal identifying aspects of the documents: name, contact information, assets. Couldn’t the city block such material while keeping the narrative intact?
To the extent that that narrative is exempted, the redactions appear to be subject to “written request by the victim, which must include official verification that an applicable crime has occurred. Such information shall cease to be exempt 5 years after the receipt of the written request.”
If such a provision would apply here, we consider it highly unlikely that the victim – the Mexican swimmer who had the physical altercation with Pussieldi on the pool deck – would have filed a written request in 2009 or later. Much likelier, such a request would have been lodged in 2004, at the time of the incident (if it was made at all), and would have long ago expired.
So those are possible appeal avenues on first read.
But perhaps more important than a projected appeal is what can be inferred from the redacted documents as they stand.
For if the reason the city is claiming redactions is that the report language involves sex crimes, then the very reason for the exemptions casts the decisions of the Fort Lauderdale police in February-March 2004 in an extraordinarily unflattering light.
We have already criticized Sergeant Richard Herbert for disposing of the physical assault complaint against Pussieldi as “unfounded” with the side — and snide — comment that “The ‘victim’ … is an adult now.” See https://concussioninc.net/?p=8867. This gratuitous observation omits the inconvenient fact that the 20-year-old “adult” was actually between 16 and 18 years old – that is to say, a minor – at the time of the alleged secret videotaping by Pussieldi.
And the police officer’s clear bias here is compounded by his failure to add a highly relevant piece of information found in the swimmer’s account to the police: Pussieldi was his legal guardian.
Even if the pool deck fight itself had testimony and evidence ambiguous enough to warrant dismissal of the swimmer’s complaint of assault and battery by Pussieldi, the police exercised very deliberate, very calculated discretion not to pursue the additional information that Pussieldi had taken Peeping Tom videos of his ward.
Not turning this information over to the sex crimes unit betrayed an attitude – evident throughout the city bureaucracy as well as local law enforcement – that the institutional and commercial interests of the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex and the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team easily trumped the safety and welfare of Fort Lauderdale children.