Docs: ASO Duplicates Services to Circumvent ICAC
Alachua County, FL -- The investigations into former Alachua County Sheriff’s Captain Keith Vermillion have revealed a tense side of the relationship between the Sheriff’s Office and the Gainesville Police Department rarely seen publically.
One investigation in particular tells a tale of how the Sheriff’s Office used federal grant money to duplicate a service provided by a unit under GPD’s control—against the grant’s terms and conditions.
The tension between the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office and the Gainesville Police Department came to a head early last July during “Operation Pegasus.” It seemed like just another sexual predator sting, but this one was different: The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office was kept out.
Officer John Madsen, the head of GPD's Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, said it had to do with the way ASO wished to publicize these sorts of operations.
“Um, but specifically given the type of operation we were doing and the, um -- the announcement to the media ahead of time previously and the type of relationship, um -- um, that the media -- or that appeared to be had, um, all led to, um, a decision to not include ASO in Pegasus,” said Officer John Madsen, Head of the GPD ICAC.
Documents from an internal investigation into former ASO Captain Keith Vermillion contain a directive from the captain to prioritize high-profile cases of "media interest."
But Madsen said his unit likes to avoid this because predators in small towns will see arrests of sexual predators on the news and stop responding to undercover detectives. These differences in opinion led ASO to create its own sexual predator task force aside from ICAC, according to Detective Mike Hanson's testimony.
Hanson said he thought that was a duplication of services, but that compaint fell on deaf ears at the Sheriff's Office.
"I was told that, um, that's not the direction that the Sheriff wanted to go and, um, that we would be moving forward with creating our own unit that we could have control over, um, because the Gainesville Police Department had control of ICAC," said Hanson.
Detective Bella Blizzard even said in testimony the ICAC Detectives, particularly Madsen, distinctly didn't trust Vermillion.
"They had a distrust of Captain Vermillion in general. Um, they did not have a good relationship with him," she said.
According to County Commission records, the Sheriff's Office created their own child sexual predator task force with a grant from the Department of Justice.
The grant's terms and conditions explicitly state a law enforcement agency cannot duplicate what ICAC is doing, and ASO child porn investigation case files show they did just that.
ASO did not reapply for the grant in 2013.
Their Child Sexual Predator Unit is now funded by the County Commission with a budget of $113,408.
Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson Art Forgey categorically denies the agency violated the terms of the grant.
In an email, he said that Detective Hanson’s testimony on the subject was out of touch with “reality.”
“Mike Hanson was not privy to writing the grant or what its details were. He was only charged with supervising the unit,” he wrote in an email.
Hanson was not the only detective to testify that ASO’s Child Sexual Predator Task Force violated the terms of the grant that funded it.
Detectives Tom Witherington, Bella Blizzard and April McCray—ASO’s representative on the North Central Florida ICAC Task Force—also testified that the agency was not abiding by the terms of the grant.
“I advised that I thought the money should be used to supplement the ICAC Task Force—that we have joint agency between Alachua County Sheriff's Office and the Gainesville Police Department—instead of creating an entirely new unit that, from what we were told, was not going to be allowed to work with ICAC,” said McCray.
McCray’s advice, like Hanson’s, fell on deaf ears because Vermillion wanted a unit that he could “control what exactly went on,” according to her testimony.
Though the Sheriff’s Office provided a letter of support of the Child Sexual Predator unit—signed by Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones and written before the grant was disbursed—no GPD official has voiced any issue with this report.
Forgey told TV20 that neither he nor the Sheriff had reached out to Jones for his position regarding the unit—or our report.
The Alachua County Sheriff's Office and the Gainesville Police Department jointly released a statement saying their relationship is a healthy one, despite what "recent local media coverage" may lead readers to believe.
The statement does not deny a duplication of services.
Here's a copy of the release:
- ASO Major to be demoted for failure to supervise
- Vermillion Files: ASO Now Open To Lawsuits
- ASO Captain Keith Vermillion terminated amidst agency turmoil
- Vermillion Investigation Reveals Tensions Between ASO and GPD
- Sheriff Darnell Responds to Mike Fellows Investigation
- Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell: Full Interview
- Sheriff Sadie Darnell Responds to Keith Vermillion Resignation
- Fellows Retires, Sheriff Discusses Deputies Perception of Vermillion
- Major Fellows' Investigation Released
- New Grant Funds ASO's Child Sexual Predator Task Force