The Broward Sheriff’s Office is conducting an internal investigation to determine what, if any, involvement two of its deputies may have had in removing dozens of Barack Obama campaign signs from their neighbors’ yards.
The signs were stolen in an upscale neighborhood near Coral Springs.
Neighbors have alleged to BSO and Coral Springs police that deputies Christopher Kapish and Lance Morgan, who are assigned to patrol Oakland Park and Lauderdale Lakes, respectively, worked together to steal the signs. The thieves, whoever they are, left signs in favor of Sen. John McCain’s presidential bid standing.
“We are doing an internal investigation,” said Jim Leljedal, director of media relations for BSO. “Our Internal Affairs people decided the prudent thing to do is to investigate after you [South Florida Times] brought this to our attention.’’
The inquiry began after a home security system recorded a man on Friday, Oct. 24, around 10 p.m., taking signs from yards in the Turtle Run Community Development District (TRCDD).
SPECIAL TAXING DISTRICT
The TRCDD is a special taxing district that contracts with a private firm and the city of Coral Springs to handle municipal services. Most of the services in the taxing district are contracted out to the city, which provides police protection. A neighborhood that elects to participate in a special taxing district like this one is considered one step away from becoming its own city.
Neither Kapish nor Morgan returned calls seeking comment, and did not respond to messages left with staff at the offices of Government Management Service, South Florida, Inc., the firm that manages the TRCDD’s day-to-day operations.
At the same time the home security system recorded the sign thefts, a marked BSO squad car with Lauderdale Lakes decals on its sides could be seen driving by several times. The squad car’s headlights were turned off during one of the passes.
Several residents contacted BSO and Coral Springs police to report the thefts. The Coral Springs Police Department, not BSO, provides police protection under contract with the taxing district in that area.
The South Florida Times contacted BSO after obtaining a copy of the video. Several residents told Coral Springs police and BSO that they believe the person in the video is Kapish, their neighbor.
“Everyone knows who [Morgan] that car belongs to and that it’s the same deputy [Kapish] who lives across the street from me, in the video taking our signs,” said Karen Robinson, a Turtle Run resident who worked on the Obama campaign and filed reports with the police.
The Internal Affairs probe centers on whether the person seen in the video is in fact Kapish. He lives in the area and serves as an elected official on the Turtle Run Community Development District’s board.
There are also questions about the BSO squad car and why it was there at that hour. Then, there is the question of why the person driving the BSO squad car did not intervene to question the person taking the signs.
Some residents contend that the squad car is assigned to Morgan; who is also an elected official on the Turtle Run Community Development District’s board. He lives in the neighborhood, also.
The video is hazy and dark, but affected residents say they want it enhanced in an effort to determine exactly who is taking their signs.
The issue first came to light in the last weeks leading up to the Nov. 4 Election Day, when Obama yard signs in the upper-middle class community were swiped, leaving only McCain-Palin signs standing in the area.
After watching the video, other residents who spoke on the condition of anonymity and requested that their names not be published acknowledged that they, too, have filed police reports.
Leljedal confirmed that BSO has a copy of the video, but declined comment due to the ongoing investigation.
“Please be advised that a preliminary inquiry has been initiated relative to information you provided to this office,” wrote Lt. Gregory S. Gordon, Operations Supervisor for the Broward Sheriff’s Office Division of Internal Affairs in a Nov. 7 letter mailed to one resident after that person, who did not wish to be identified, lodged complaints with the agency about the possible involvement of the deputies.
RESIDENTS WANT ANSWERS
The Obama campaign charged $8 each for the signs as a means of raising donations and recouping costs. Victims of the thefts say they believe they were taken in an effort to impact the outcome of the presidential election.
Robinson said she spent weeks distributing an undetermined number of signs to residents throughout the community, and she expects the issue to be addressed.
“People were calling me about it, and I told them my signs were taken too,” she said. “I had to keep going back to the campaign office to buy more signs.”
“After I was sent the video, I called the police and reported them stolen. I told them I know who that BSO [squad] car belongs to, and where the guy lives who is seen stealing the signs,” Robinson recalled.
Official records from the Coral Springs Police Department show Robinson did report her signs stolen on Nov. 3, the day before the election. According to those documents, she alleged to police and a dispatcher that it was a “BSO deputy” who “went through the entire community and took all the Obama signs.”
NO CRIME REPORTED?
Even though the acts are caught on video, and several people reported the thefts, police officials say none of the residents wanted to pursue the case criminally, as the victims, so they can’t move forward with a criminal investigation. Police instead have handed the matter over to BSO to conduct an internal investigation, which usually seeks to determine if an officer may have violated any rules, policies, or department procedures, and not necessarily whether an officer committed any crimes.
“We need a complainant, and it was my impression that the gentleman whose signs were stolen did not want to proceed as the victim of a crime, so we forwarded what we had to the sheriff’s office,” explained Sgt. Bob Behan, spokesperson for Coral Springs police.
Nonetheless, Robinson and at least one other person who filed police reports dispute this notion, and are now demanding a formal criminal investigation by Coral Springs police, in addition to BSO’s Internal Affairs probe.
“This is a cover up and I have contacted the mayor. I called the police and reported a crime. They were given the video with the man stealing the signs,” said an outraged Robinson. “I gave them statements and told them where the deputies live, so what else am I supposed to do?”
Other residents whose signs were taken say they became concerned after watching the video and thought police were investigating as well.
“I’m not surprised. But it was a futile act to take the signs anyway, because Obama has been elected,” explained Curtis Powlette, whose security system recorded the culprit taking the signs. “It was upsetting to see him come in my yard and take what we paid for.”
Powlette provided a copy of the video to local Obama campaign officials and distributed them among his neighbors. One such person was Darwin Phillips, who lives across the street from Powlette. The video shows the person taking signs from his yard as well, on that Oct. 24 night.
“We purchased a number of signs from the campaign in Miami, I think for around $5 to $8 a piece, and gave them out to neighbors,” Phillips said. “We had some stolen before and two on that night, which the video shows. I figured it was just kids pulling a prank, but when I saw the video, I was irritated because it’s bad to see people who are paid to serve, doing things like this.”
Phillips put the video on a website, www.vimeo.com/2155009, and said he too is considering contacting BSO and filing a police report.
“I was thinking about calling their supervisors or something, but now I know I’ll do it,” he said. “It’s not like it’s a big deal, but it shouldn’t be swept under the rug, either.”
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff: Karen Robinson