by Watchdog.org’s Gina Edwards
November 17, 2016
The Naples Police Department’s firing case against a 17-year veteran officer began to crumble when one Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent refused to answer a subpoena and testify on behalf of the City last week, and the testimony of another FDLE agent raised questions about whether the fired Naples Police officer was targeted by fellow officers as a whistleblower and disparaged for his Christian religion.
The arbitrator weighing evidence in Naples Police Officer Russell Ayers’ grievance to get his job back warned the city that its termination case against Ayers was wearing thin — with reliance on second-hand hearsay and a key witness missing, one of them an FDLE agent who refused a subpoena to provide sworn testimony on behalf of the city.
“The next time we convene, it’s fish or cut bait,” arbitrator Kenneth Starr told the city’s lawyer, Wayne Helsby, at a hearing in Naples City Hall on Nov. 8. He warned the city needed to produce its key witness, FDLE Agent Bryan Waid, who conducted a polygraph of Ayers.
Naples Lt. Robert “Bobby” Young accused Ayers of stealing his 9 mm glock pistol, his duty weapon, from inside an unlocked cabinet in an office in the Naples Police Department telling FDLE agents that he believes Ayers suffers from a “mental disorder” that manifests “in the form of Ayers’ public persona of being a very religious person.” An estimated 30 people had access to where Young says he left his gun and FDLE found no probable cause that Ayers stole it. But Naples Police fired Ayers in February saying he acted deceptively during a polygraph exam during the investigation of the missing gun.
Although 30 people had access to where Naples Lt. Bobby Young left his 9 mm glock pistol in an unlocked cabinet,
Young told FDLE he suspected only Ayers of stealing it saying he has a “mental disorder” that “manifests itself in a number of behaviors. One example is Ayers’ very public persona of being a very religious person. He wears a crucifix on his uniform and has become critical of most things around him, using his religious beliefs to justify his criticisms.”
Young told FDLE that Ayers was opposing his efforts to get his ex-wife, Sgt. Amy Young, back on the Naples Police force.
Ayers has testified about misconduct involving fellow officers, and documents and testimony raise questions as to whether he was targeted as a whistleblower.
Ayers denies taking the gun and FDLE found no probable cause that any specific person stole it.
FDLE does not have audio or video recordings of the polygraph. The city hasn’t provided polygraph charts or evidence to Ayers’ attorney.
“If they really took a polygraph, where are the results?” Ayers’ attorney Robert Buschel said in the hearing. “How is this just?” he added.
And FDLE agent Waid, who authored a summary saying Ayers used heavy breathing and tensing to throw off the polygraph, refused to cooperate and appear last week to testify under oath in response to a subpoena from the City’s attorney. Waid scored the polygraph “Deception indicated with the use of countermeasures.”
A spokeswoman for FDLE said Waid resigned from the agency in 2015. “We do not have information on why he is not responding to the subpoena,” FDLE spokeswoman Molly Best said. “We do not have audio or video for the polygraph of Russell Ayers.”
Ayers filed a complaint to get his job back in March saying he was unjustly terminated by Naples Police Chief Tom Weschler. Besides the polygraph allegations, Naples Police say Ayers made false and malicious statements to a community member about fellow officer, Lt. Bobby Young.
“This is a half-baked case,” Ayers’ attorney Buschel told the arbitrator. “There is no case.”
Chief Weschler declined to comment through a spokesperson saying the hearing was still open. A continuance, where the City will finish its evidence and Ayers will be allowed to present his side, was continued to Jan. 9.
Investigation or Intimidation
Documents obtained by Naples City Desk and testimony in the case raise questions as to whether Lt. Young accused Officer Ayers of stealing his gun from an unlocked cabinet in his office to exact payback.
Ayers was questioned by Lee County Sheriff’s investigators about his past testimony in an internal affairs investigation about Naples Police Sgt. Amy Young, Bobby Young’s ex-wife, following the dramatic cop-on-cop shooting tragedy that rocked the Naples PD and grabbed headlines in July 2014.
Ayers’ statements to Lee investigators went public when NBC-2 published investigative documents. Two weeks later, Naples Police Lt. Bobby Young, Amy Young’s ex-husband, accused Ayers of stealing his 9mm glock pistol. Lt. Bobby Young sent an email to other police supervisors asking if anyone had “borrowed” his gun, his duty weapon. Young said he left his gun in the night sergeant’s office he shared in an unlocked cabinet for the weekend days he was off. Naples Police issued a press release about the missing gun and asked FDLE to investigate.
Electronic key entry data and video established there were 30 people who had access to where Young says he left his gun from 5 a.m. Friday, Nov. 14, 2014 to 9 p.m. Monday, Nov. 17, 2014.
Lt. Bobby Young, a Sergeant at the time, told FLDE agents that he suspected “only one” person of stealing his gun – Ayers. “Young explained that in his opinion Ayers underwent a dramatic personality change some years back and Young honestly believes that Ayers suffers from some sort of mental disorder,” FDLE Agent Shedlock wrote.
“Young said that the mental disorder manifests itself in a number of behaviors. One example is Ayers’ very public persona of being a very religious person. He wears a crucifix on his uniform and has become critical of most things around him, using his religious beliefs to justify his criticisms,” FDLE Agent Carl Shedlock wrote in his Nov. 24, 2015 interview summary.
Shedlock wrote that Young gave two examples, saying Ayers has taken a vocal and negative view of the Naples Police Department. Young said he saw Ayers making a copy of an anonymous letter criticizing the police department. In addition, Young told FDLE Agent Shedlock that he, as union president, was trying to get his former wife, Sgt. Amy Young reinstated to the force, but that Ayers was vocally opposed to it.
Sgt. Amy Young was shot in an attempted murder suicide by her live-in boyfriend and subordinate, Naples Police Officer David Monroig, who then killed himself. Eventually, Sgt. Amy Young dropped attempts to get her Naples police job back, saying her injuries would permanently prevent her from police work. The City agreed to pay her $140,000 and allow her to draw her annual pension early. The City also agreed to forgo taking any employment actions against Amy Young, although witnesses said she drove home drunk the night of the shooting after a night out on Fifth Avenue with fellow officer Jennifer Casciano, and she drew her gun first on Monroig in the escalating domestic violence tragedy.
At the arbitration hearing last week, FDLE Agent Shedlock testified that Ayers laughed and “cackled” and gave an inappropriate response during his Nov. 24, 2015 interview. Shedlock said Ayers wanted to linger and tell him what a “good guy” he was and that he was religious.
Shedlock said he focused his investigation of the missing gun only on Ayers because he was the only one who gave an inappropriate interview response.
That focus came even though other officers interviewed were in the night sergeant’s office and some testified the door was typically locked.
…FDLE did not respond to written questions posed by Naples City Desk about Shedlock’s investigation and his sworn testimony.
In an interview after his testimony, Shedlock defended his investigation saying “We exhausted all investigative leads.” [READ MORE]