Fort Myers Police Chief Derrick Diggs cleared of ethics complaint
The State Ethics Commission voted unanimously on Friday to dismiss the ethics charges against Fort Myers Police Chief Derick Diggs, claiming his use of a city acquisition card for lunches and other items was not the product of “corrupt intent”.
The commission attorney, who acts as a prosecutor in ethics commission cases, told panel members that the police chief’s actions could not be considered inappropriate.
“In this case, the evidence shows that public resources were used for the public good,” Deputy Attorney General Melody Hadley said. “The evidence gathered during the discovery phase of the case shows a lack of evidence of the elements to prove the intention of corruption.”
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Hadley argued that Diggs had not violated any city policy in effect at the time the acquisition card fees, or P-card, were piling up and had no official notice that his actions were inconsistent with his public responsibilities.
“My office determined that the major problem that we had to prove was the element regarding corrupt intent,” Hadley said.
Last summer, the commission found that there were probable reasons to believe that Diggs had violated the state’s ethical laws.
The panel voted to send the case to the State Department for Administrative Hearings, or DOAH, for trial. But Hadley convinced the administrative judge to send the case back to the commission because she concluded there was not enough evidence to send the case to justice.
Hadley took depositions from then-city manager Saeed Kazemi, deputy city budget manager Christine Tenney, and a third employee.
“Director Tenney reviewed the P card charges that were involved and qualified the policies that were in effect at the time the charges were incurred,” Hadley said. “The Respondent (Diggs) did not violate the policy in effect at the time the charges were laid.”
This policy was changed in December 2019, after charges against Diggs were filed with the commission by local political activist Anthony Thomas.
Lawyer George Levesque, representing Diggs, who was at Friday’s hearing in Tallahassee, told the commission that the chief “is taking this matter very seriously” and believes he is doing “the right thing” by organizing lunches and dinners.
“Unlike a meeting where things don’t go well – people can just go out – it doesn’t happen as often with a meal. Meetings with law enforcement and community leaders have taken place around it. dining table, law enforcement agencies as well as community leaders.
“Fort Myers was in trouble before Chief Diggs came in,” said Levesque. “When you talk about the type of bridge building going on, that is precisely what is happening.”
In addition to showing that the commissioners may have used the wrong policy in sending the case to the administrative judge, Hadley made statements made by Kazemi that the spending was good for the city.
“Director Kazemi insisted that the use of the P card was for city business,” she said. “The Respondent’s actions cannot be attributed to unlawful intent.”
Comments from a commissioner at the meeting suggested that the panel’s findings were based on an existing P card usage policy in effect when Diggs picked up restaurant vouchers, bought uniform boots, and paid a subscription to satellite radio service.
Levesque told the commission that the boots are part of the chief’s uniform, which the city pays for, and that satellite radio helps it stay on top of national news that could spark local protests or even violence.
Commissioner John Grant asked Hadley to explain how the matter “got out of hand”.
The lawyer responded that she usually tried to get an accused official to make a finding, but when that failed in the Diggs case, she was brought forward to the DOAH for a formal trial.
Marking the case for trial meant Hadley had to do more investigations than he did to move the case forward to formal proceedings.
She told commissioners that a trial means more investigations and depositions from city workers, including Kazemi.
“These are all meetings with other law enforcement agencies to achieve this reduction in crime and get to the city called the first destination by the city manager,” Hadley said.
“It wasn’t ‘let’s go have lunch and chat’,” the prosecutor said.