Say you wanted to check up on the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation, Central Florida's multi-agency vice squad. Not that you'd need to, of course; the MBI is an upstanding agency that would never employ questionable tactics to achieve dubious outcomes. Evidence to the contrary — that Rachel's Gentlemen's Club thing, and that Cleo's thing, and that Jerry's General Store thing — is just bellyaching.
But you're dogged, and you want to do some digging because you have a right to see public records. Of course the MBI is going to howl like a hog-caller at the county fair because they never do anything wrong, and who are you anyway?
Until last week, you could go down to the courthouse, file a lawsuit and ask a judge to order the MBI to turn over documents. But that was then. On April 24, Judge Cynthia Mackinnon decided that you can't do that anymore.
The case stems from the MBI's November 2004 bust at Cleo's nightclub on South Orange Blossom Trail (see "Operation Overexposed," Sept. 22). The MBI made arrests on drug and lewdness charges, but neither the agency nor Orange County succeeded in shutting the place down. Cleo's asked the MBI for videotapes its agents made while inside the club. These tapes might be important because the club's dancers accused MBI agents of doing naughty things in the course of the investigation, including fondling dancers and whipping out their own units. The MBI released some records, but refused to allow Cleo's attorney, Steve Mason, access to the original tapes.
Mason sued. The MBI then asked the judge to throw out the lawsuit, arguing that it couldn't be sued because it isn't liable for damages resulting from any of its agents' misdeeds. At question is whether or not multi-governmental agencies — the MBI is an amalgamation of 13 local police organizations — can be held liable for the actions of individual agents. In the Cleo's case, the two cops accused of behaving badly are both employed by the Orlando Police Department.
Mason argued that Florida's broad public records law covers multi-government agencies. But Judge Mackinnon ruled otherwise. "It stunned me," Mason says of the ruling. "It has incredibly broad ramifications."
Thank God we're dealing with the fine, honorable, courageous folks at the MBI, or this might be something to fret about.
Ocoee residents awoke early this week to new signs on North Lakewood Avenue beseeching them — in two languages — to hold their fire. "No Shooting/No Dispara" signs lined the road, making many honest, decent folk wonder just what hellish shooting gallery Ocoee had become anyway.
A visit to the Ocoee Police Department netted us a bilingual flier with some fun facts about discharging your weapon straight up, which is apparently a popular way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. For example, "Shooting a gun into the air is a crime. You will spend up to one year in prison if you are caught." And here's another: "If a stray bullet from your gun should kill someone, you will be arrested and charged with murder."
The weird thing is no one in Ocoee could give us a straight answer about who put up the signs; cops said it was the city, the city said it was the cops. And when Ocoeeites started complaining about advertising their fair city's gun-happy nature May 2, TV news crews showed up and the signs suddenly disappeared.
Not that they weren't needed. "The areas the signs were put are the same areas we get service calls from about shots fired," notes Lt. James Como of the Ocoee Police Department. Hit the dirt.
Best website we've seen all week: www.sorrycharlie.com, an animated site that stops just short of calling Republican gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist a flamin' homo. Game on!
See, bachelor Charlie has a "secret," according to the site, and if he isn't careful, the press will leak it! By day he dons Republican garb, but by night he's a "liberal superstar," one of the more interesting euphemisms for being a Mary we've heard lately. Why, he's even been seen consorting with Janet Reno.
Who would spread such a scandalous rumor, especially during election season? That's a tough one. The responsible party has taken pains to keep his/her identity a secret. The domain name is registered to Domains by Proxy, Inc., an Arizona company that specializes in obfuscating Internet identities. So you can speculate that it was Tom Gallagher, Crist's Republican primary opponent, all you want, but his spokesman has already officially denied having anything to do with it to the Tampa Tribune.
We're accustomed to oddball story pitches. But the truth is that nine times out of 10, your conference/new medical treatment story is boring. So here's a hint: Work the words "pet detective" into your press release.
That's what Kat Albrecht did. She's a former police detective who runs a California company called Pet Hunters International, which uses forensic science to find your lost critter. And her name is Kat.
From May 5-8, Albrecht's company will be training pet detectives. Here's the pitch: "Would you like to earn money working as a pet detective? Are you looking for a new adventure? Are you a fan of mystery shows like CSI or New Detectives? Now you can become an investigative PET DETECTIVE!"
As if that weren't irresistible enough, the entry fee is only $650. You can learn to be a pooch sleuth at the Quality Suites Universal hotel on Canada Avenue near Universal Orlando Resort. Albrecht says that 13 people have signed up so far; you could be lucky No. 14. And if you are, you'll learn valuable skills like using DNA from a cat's whisker to find Fluffy. Did we mention you'll be taught by a woman named Kat?
This week's report by Jeffrey C. Billman, Issac Stolzenbach and Bob Whitby
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