On June 1, Mount Dora Police Chief Brett Meade abruptly quit, leaving residents and city leaders stunned and saddened. Last month, the City’s police department received media scrutiny due to a use-of-force incident that occurred in September 2021 and was captured on an officer’s body camera footage. The incident received no internal investigation last year and the Department took no disciplinary actions, according to the City.
Due to a Channel 9 television reporter’s request for the body camera footage on May 9, the City Manager, Mayor and council members became aware of the seven-month-old incident. According to documents, City Manager Patrick Comiskey, who was hired in October 2021 as the City’s top administrator who supervises the Chief of Police and other City departments, wanted an independent third-party investigation. Independent reviews can be done when there is conflict of interest if the investigation is done internally, according the Florida statute. In this case, a perceived conflict of interest could derive from the lack of an internal investigation over the six months preceding the media exposing the incident. City documents show Meade repeatedly sought for the belated investigation to be handled internally.
Here is a brief timeline of events that preceded Meade's resignation on June 1. The timeline is taken from public records.
SEPTEMBER 21, 2021: Mount Dora Police body camera captured a use-of-force incident that appears to show an officer forcefully ram a non-violent man’s head into a police car. The incident happened in the Dollar Store parking lot on U.S. 441.
MAY 9, 2022: A reporter from Channel 9 News made a public record request for the body camera footage of the incident. That request is how the Mount Dora City Manager, Mayor and City Council became aware of the incident that occurred over six months prior. (see body cam video and news story here) MAY 9, 2022, evening: According to an email, Comiskey spoke with Deputy Chief Mike Gibson to advise that an outside agency should review the use-of-force incident, as well as perform any resulting internal investigations their review might deem necessary.
MAY 11, 9:53 a.m.: Comiskey, who was hired by Mount Dora's previous Mayor and City Council, instructed Meade to seek an outside review of the case from State law enforcement and expressed it was imperative this case be reviewed by an outside agency. The email also directed Meade to set up a training class on the use of force and de-escalation and have each officer participate in it over the next 90 days, as well as set up a multi-day use-of-force and de-escalation training program for each officer to go through on an annual basis beginning next fiscal year. Gibson had advised Comiskey that other law enforcement agencies do this, according to the email. Comiskey also sought cost estimates from Meade for that training and the cost for officers to undertake the annual State-required training for annual certification.
MAY 11, 9:38pm: Mount Dora City Attorney Sherry Sutphen advised Comiskey that she reviewed new 2020 legislation regarding Florida Statutes, Section 112.533(1)(b) and provided her legal interpretation.
MAY 12: An internal investigation was opened and pending a request for an independent external review.
In a memo, Sutphen advised Comiskey that he had the legal authority to authorize the outside investigation pursuant to City of Mount Dora City Charter, Article V, Section 19. which states "the City Manager is the Chief Administrative Officer of the City of Mount Dora and shall be responsible to the City Council for the administration of all City affairs placed in his charge."
Sutphen wrote, "The City of Mount Dora Police Department is a department within the City which has been placed under the charge of the City Manager. The position of Police Chief is not a separate Charter office within the City. As such, the City Manager is considered the head of the agency for purposes of Florida Statutes, Section 112.533, as well as for any and all other matters related to the Police Department."
MAY 16 morning: Sutphen spoke to the City of Kissimmee City Attorney and later reported to Comiskey via email that they were interested in entering into an agreement with the City of Mount Dora to conduct reciprocal internal investigations under Florida statute in the event of conflict of interest. She advised the City Manager that he had signature authority under Resolution 2017-150.
MAY 18: In a letter to Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Comiskey sought their assistance to determine if the use-of-force incident should involve an internal affairs investigation on the officer; and if so, requested their investigator perform the investigation and provide the City with findings. “It is my opinion the content of the video should be reviewed from an outside party trained in police investigations and level of conduct. I also want the investigator to review the action or inaction of Corporal (name withheld by Mount Dora Buzz), who was also on the scene; and if he/she deem warranted, perform an internal investigation on him. It may appear the city has a conflict in reviewing the case since it was aired on the regional news and warrants the review of an outside agency,” Comiskey also stated in the letter.
MAY 19, 5:39 p.m.: Comiskey advised Meade that he was working on securing an outside agency to perform a review of the September 21 event which was aired on Channel 9 in May.
MAY 19, 6:06 p.m.: In an email to Comiskey, Meade re-stated his opinion that an external administrative investigation was not a legal option and asked for a meeting with Comiskey and whomever was advising him.
The City Manager, Mayor, City Council members, and members of City staff rely on the City Attorney Sutphen for legal opinions who is the person hired to provide them.
MAY 25, 6:22 p.m. Sutphen advised Comiskey that the City of Kissimmee Police Chief had no concerns with the concept of an agreement to conduct an independent investigation in conflict situations.
MAY 26, 3:11 p.m.: In an email, Comiskey reiterated to Meade that the City Manager was working on securing an outside agency to review the use of force in two cases.
MAY 27: In a memo to Comiskey, Meade provided his interpretation of the Florida statute relevant to the matter. Meade stated that the investigation would be conducted internally, rather than the independent investigation sought by Comiskey.
MAY 31, 8:45 a.m.: Via email, Meade sent his position statement and opinion regarding the investigation to Comiskey. Meade interpreted the Florida statute and a 1997 Attorney General Opinion (AGO) to mean that the investigation must be done internally under him. Meade stated he was proceeding with the internal probe and would inform the City Manager of its findings.
The AGO supplied was written prior to a 2020 change in the statute and Mount Dora City Attorney’s legal opinion differed from Meade’s. Comiskey, the Chief's superior, relies on the legal opinions and interpretations of the City Attorney, who is hired to provide them.
MAY 31, 7:45 p.m.: In a response email, Comiskey stated. "I appreciate the attached information you provided. If you have any additional support documentation for your position, please bring it by and I will review it. However, under no circumstances are you to begin an IA investigation regarding Officers (names withheld by Mount Dora Buzz). I am working on securing an outside investigator to review the events of the night in question and to determine if an IA is needed; and if so, to conduct it. The outside agency will also review the results of the other IA’s your staff is currently conducting. As I have advised you, this is being done for the good of the agency, yourself, and the officers in question." Comiskey also informs Meade that if he disregards that directive, he will be subject to termination.
JUNE 1, morning: Four individuals (two residents and two City employees) informed Comiskey that Meade was discussing internal personnel matters of Mount Dora Police Department and City government with residents and business operators, according to the City's Public Information Officer.
JUNE 1, 11:10 a.m.: Comiskey emailed Meade to cease and desist the behavior or face disciplinary action, including possible termination.
Mount Dora Buzz asked the City to provide the specific policy that Meade’s behavior violated, but that information was never provided.
JUNE 1, 11:31 a.m.: In an email, Meade responded that he was writing his letter of resignation and would have it to Comiskey by that afternoon, which he did.
JUNE 2: In an email to Sutphen and members of City staff, Comiskey advised of the acceptance of Meade’s resignation and expressed appreciation for his service. He also stated, “We are in the process of trying to secure an outside agency to review the events from the Dollar Store parking lot of last September and advise what, if any, actions should occur and if any internal affairs investigations are recommended. We are also asking the same agency to review the results of a case currently in process and advise if they concur with the findings and the way in which it was conducted. Said reviews and possible investigations may present information, findings, or recommendations that make us uncomfortable; however, we have to do what is best for the community, as well as fair to city workers.”
JUNE 3: A reciprocal internal investigation agreement was formed between the City of Mount Dora and the City of Kissimmee.
Mount Dora Buzz requested additional public records, but they were not provided. Mount Dora Buzz opted to withhold the names of the Mount Dora Police Officer and Corporal from the September 21, 2022 incident pending the outcome of the outside investigation. However, that information is public record.