by Naja and Arnaud Girard
Old Man Chapman
What became of Old Man Chapman – the one man lighted parade – who goes up and down Duval Street on his musical tricycle? Thousands of people read our story of how Mr. Chapman was seemingly conned out of his family home [the home his father had built with his own hands] and was about to become homeless. Locals organized fundraisers, Key Westers and tourists from as far as Japan sent in their donations. Over $35,000 was collected to help Mr. Chapman and his family relocate. Most of his family moved to a trailer on Stock Island. Mr. Chapman’s famous tricycle still parks next door to his old house on Chapman Lane and people are still smiling and dancing behind Ol’ Man Chap as he rides off spilling thunderous soul music into the night.
Captain Tilly was another Internet sensation. He’d been abandoned at sea by an unscrupulous marina manager who was tired of hearing the anarchist prophesies the old man would dish out from the top deck of his rusty 80 foot tug boat, the “Tilly”. The video of his rescue was almost immediately followed by another – the underwater footage of the enormous tug resting on the bottom of the ocean three miles south of Key West.
But what happened to him next could not have happened to anyone else. While taking a pee behind a palm tree, “Captain Tilly” was struck by lightning. No, we’re not making this up. There’s even a photograph of a Harry Potter like lightening mark burned onto his chest. Captain Tilly is alive and well.
We are told there are two types of prophets. The false prophet, reduced to ashes when lightening strikes and the one who survives and who may actually have been chosen by God. What does that mean about the vengeful lawsuit Captain Tilly promises to lay on the marina owners? Only time will tell.
Last Tuesday we were sitting in the visitation parlor at the Monroe County jail. On the other side of the glass was a man we had reported about last year – Johnny Taylor. He’d been picked up in Bahama Village for interfering with KWPD officers’ tasing and arrest of another black man named Ricky Cartwright who had ran through a stop sign on his bicycle.
We realize now that the fact that this took place eight months ago is a story in itself. Last year it was the literary quality of the police report that caught our attention. Two KWPD officers reported being under siege on Emma Street in Bahama Village. In a few minutes [wrote Officer Siracuse] a hostile crowd of about 50 people had gathered around them. They were getting “closer and closer” despite orders to stay back. The officers called in the Calvary – literally – The first to come to their rescue was an officer on a horse. The officers then made a strategic retreat toward the north of Emma Street and left after arresting two people.
Our investigation made us wonder whether some officers’ may have an altered sense of reality. We managed to gather three videos that show quite a different story. Officer Siracuse was indeed tasing a black man who was screaming in pain in the middle of the sidewalk. A group of mostly middle-aged black women did gather around but their actions were limited to stubbornly filming every moment with their smart phones. One man was boisterous in his criticism of the police but never came within twenty feet of the arresting officers. That was Johnny Taylor the man arrested for “obstructing” the police. That was eight months ago. Needless to say that’s not the end of the story.
At the beginning of the year, Key West received some bad news about the water quality in Key West Harbor. The official explanation immediately targeted the 100 or so boaters living in the anchorage. Some City Commissioners promised swift and draconian measures. The Blue Paper investigated. We found compelling evidence that Key West sewage makes its way into the storm drain system. First we found that the intake of wastewater doubles or even triples in volume at the sewage treatment plant during periods of heavy rainfall. Then we found that the sewer salinity content in the downtown lift stations is consistent with heavy saltwater infiltration. Finally, we found that only those areas in the harbor where storm water outfalls are located were contaminated. In a separate article we revealed that 20,000 homes in Monroe County, outside of Key West, are still not connected to central sewer and we found sewer outfalls on Stock Island that led directly into the mangroves and septic tanks that were clearly changing level, going up and down with the tide. Perhaps this year, once the scapegoats are cleared away, the City will look into its sewer system issues a little more comprehensively.
Monroe County Schools: Resegregation
While discussing the local school system, a black mother in Bahama Village told us she’d made sure her son would go to the “white school.” Say what? What “white school?” We realized that Key West elementary schools have a significantly disproportionate racial mix and that even though black and white students achieve similar FCAT scores at the Elementary School level, only 40% of black students graduated from high school with their class in 2013 compared with 83% rate for white students. Digging into the issue, we discovered a system that patently disfavors minority students. Monroe County has 485 white teachers and only 5 black teachers. No matter a student’s talent, the system is designed to favor students whose parents intervene directly in choice of curriculum decisions. Admittedly something minority parents are less likely to do. Even when parents are involved, we found direct proof that a black student with an academic history identical to that of a white student and who had registered with the same guidance counselor was forced into remedial classes while the white student was placed in honors classes. Through insidious tracking, bussing, and chartering, our school system ends up derailing minority students at an alarming rate. But, apparently this issue will need some real artillery before it gets the school board’s attention. Stay tuned.
When we first asked KWPD about a man named Charles Eimers we were told that he had run away from the police on South Beach and collapsed suddenly of a heart attack. By the time we caught up with some measure of truth – his body was about to be cremated before autopsy. The rest is history. We published a video of the police holding the man facedown in the sand. Witnesses called it “legalized murder on the beach.” The story went viral. CBS News reported on the tourist’s ‘Death in Paradise.’ Week after week it became more painfully clear that a cover-up had been orchestrated at the highest levels.
Where is this story going? The conflict of interest suspected to have tainted FDLE Special Agent Kathy Smith’s investigative report was brought to an entirely new level when she was forced to take administrative leave in November while facing allegations of perjury and mortgage fraud, crimes she may have committed along with her ex husband. He’s no other than Captain Scott Smith, who was the direct supervisor of the officers Kathy Smith was meant to investigate in the death of Charles Eimers. The accusations against Agent Smith stem from two pieces of paper: One affidavit in which the Smiths swear to a mortgage lender that they are married and another document showing that, at that time, they’d in fact been divorced for over four months. The big question for 2015 is how long will it take FDLE to conduct a full investigation of two sheets of paper?
There is also the civil trial filed by Eimers’ family against the individual officers and the City of Key West. One of the main obstacles the Plaintiffs face in their suit against the City is the inherent difficulty of demonstrating that Eimers’ death was the result of a City policy or custom, which is the only way to legally tie the City to liability for the excessive force claim.
Finally, the Civilian Review Board was taken out of hibernation by board members Tom Milone and Joe Pais last year. The board unanimously decided in December to call in the Department of Justice to investigate not only the death of Charles Eimers, but the FDLE, the State Attorney and KWPD in relation to their roles in an alleged cover-up of Eimers’ death.
Matthew Shaun Murphy
Two weeks after we reported on Charles Eimers’ death a man stopped us in the street. He said the police had tased a young man he’d had an argument with. He believed the man had died as a result. It should have been easy to find the victim whose death would have been the object of an FDLE investigation. But Matthew Murphy was nowhere to be found. It took nearly five months to discover that he had not died. In fact the young father had been left in a vegetative state in a Miami hospital and was still there over three years later. Last week it was reported that a law firm specializing in Taser injuries has signed on with Murphy’s family to pursue monetary damages against the City.
The battle for Wisteria Island is still raging. Roger Bernstein has been trying to develop the last desert island in Key West harbor since 2007. Following a lead on a title defect, we travelled to the National Archives in Washington DC and unearthed a 1924 Executive Order signed by President Calvin Coolidge reserving Wisteria Island for exclusive use by the US Navy. The article that followed woke up what has since become known as the ‘Navy’s claim to Wisteria Island.’ In July, Roger Bernstein’s $900/hour lawyers were in federal Judge Jose Martinez’ courtroom on Simonton Street trying to convince the Judge to deny the Government’s claim. That decision is still pending.
On another front, Bernstein has spared no effort lobbying the County to increase development potential for offshore islands like Wisteria. In October there was a controversial County Commission meeting where one of Bernstein’s’ attorneys was caught red-handed purporting to represent another famous offshore island owner, David Wolkowski. Stock Island Attorney Barton Smith, a high-powered developers’ attorney, brandished a letter he claimed was written by his “client” David Wolkowski that echoed Bernstein’s pleas for more development rights for offshore islands. But when we went over to Mr. Wolkowski’s home to conduct a video interview of the 96 year old he appeared unaware of the contents of the letter. Smith later admitted that he had not been retained by Mr. Wolkowski to appear before the Commission on his behalf.
Some have speculated that the move was in keeping with previous Wisteria Island development scandals such as the wining and dining of City Commissioners on Sunset Key on the eve of a final vote to annex Wisteria to Key West back in 2007 and more recently the hiring of the infamous “Dirty Joke Dennis” to spy on “Keep Wisteria Natural” citizen activists. Dennis was a convicted felon whose back and forth correspondence with Bernstein was discovered on his sinking boat after he was arrested for attempting to murder a 22-year old Key West woman.
Balfour Beatty/Southeast Housing
Finally, the Monroe County Property Appraiser is still waiting for the results of its appeal of now retired Judge Audlin’s decision to spare Balfour Beatty/SEH from having to pay the $11.3 Million the PA says it owes in property taxes.
Balfour Beatty is a private military housing contractor, a huge conglomerate based in England, which had, in 2007, discretely become the owner of all of the Navy’s family housing in Key West. Until it was revealed by The Blue Paper that the Naval housing was no longer situated in a federal enclave, Balfour had never been asked to pay property taxes. Most of the $11.3 Millions in back taxes would have gone to the Monroe County School District.
Help us continue to bring you local investigative journalism… Click on the image to make a donation [NOT tax deductible].