ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH, FL – Police Chief Richard Hedges had the full attention of the City Commission’s Tuesday, even though he didn’t say a word.
The board placed Hedges on administrative leave with pay.
In addition, the commission voted to ask the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate a long list of violations of ethics, law and police procedures members of his department allege to have committed.
Lastly, the commission has asked St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar to assign an interim chief from ranking members of his staff. Sheriff’s Department spokesman Chuck Mulligan said Shoar will name a district commander or regional chief to the post.
Hedges was not permitted to make comments or ask questions during the commission’s tightly controlled, 35-minute special meeting. None of the allegations were addressed.
Mayor Gary Snodgrass said the FDLE investigation would deal with the allegations.
said later that this is far from over.
“The chief is disappointed that this happened and is comfortable with having FDLE investigate,” said Patrick Canan, Hedges’ attorney. “His ultimate goal is to have his name cleared.”
Before the meeting, Hedges supporters waved signs outside the commission meeting room calling for the FDLE probe.
Another sign said, “Say No To Unions.”
The Coastal Florida Police Benevolent Association, which represents a number of city officers, has been locked into a contract negotiation with the city for two years. Its spokesman, Michael Scudiero, attended this meeting.
Many of the complaining officers, some with families, attended also.
Also in attendance was former Assistant Chief Joni Mathis, fired by Hedges in 2009 for violating departmental personnel rules. Mathis has since filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination for that firing.
“I’m not behind this whole thing,” she said. “I did not write the document, but I support the officers behind it. These have been issues for a long time. I have told the commission about those issues, but they have not responded or taken any action. All the officers want is an unbiased investigation.”
Snodgrass said these officers had “potentially committed a violation of law” by releasing confidential police records without authorization.
Commissioner Undine Pawlowski predicted the investigation should take two to three weeks.
Commissioner Andrea Samuels said the commission will be “specifically forbidden” to interfere with the department.
“We¹ll have to walk a very fine tightrope here,” she said.
Hedges drew strong support from many people who mentioned his honesty and grace.
Beach resident Connie Mista said she’s known Hedges since he worked in Ormond Beach.
“He has more integrity than anyone I¹ve ever known,” she said.
That emotion was seconded by Steve Cupolo, who owns Premier Realty on the Beach. He said this controversy is not about Hedges at all.
“It¹s about the ongoing feud going on within the City Commission,” he said.