By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
A Broward Sheriff’s homicide detective who reported that Fort Lauderdale police unleashed a dog on a murder suspect who was in custody and no longer a threat should not be believed, according to a memo by local prosecutors closing the case.
“A violent, bloody, confused, quickly-developing, and unfortunate turn of events, but not improper action by the Fort Lauderdale Police Department officers and not a violation of Florida law,” concludes the 10-page memo signed by Timothy L. Donnelly, chief of the Broward State Attorney’s public corruption unit.
Jeffrey Kogan, a featured detective on the A&E channel’s police reality show The First 48, claims he was ostracized and demoted to road patrol in Pompano Beach for reporting what he saw. In July, he filed a whistleblower suit against Sheriff Scott Israel, claiming unlawful retaliation.
The state’s investigation began after a brief conversation between Kogan and homicide prosecutor Lanie Bandell three days after the April 4, 2013 arrest of murder suspect Walter Morris Hart. Bandell said Kogan had asked her whether the use of the dog would negatively affect the prosecution. When she asked why, Kogan said, “You know, they let the dog loose after we had him in custody.” Bandell alerted her colleagues in public corruption.
The inquiry that followed ended with the Feb. 26 close-out memo, written by Assistant State Attorney Nickolaus Hunter Davis, that castigates Deputy Kogan for giving sworn testimony that the memo says was “inconsistent” and “not credible.” Worse, the memo suggests Kogan deliberately lied – though prosecutors filed no criminal charge against him.
The recommendation to State Attorney Mike Satz: take no action against Robert Morris, the city K-9 officer on scene who unleashed his dog “Grief” on murder suspect Walter Morris Hart in the early morning hours of April 4, 2013. The memo also recommended no action be taken against Fort Lauderdale Officers Jason Marcus and Craig Sheehan, who were also present.
Still, the state’s investigation offers no satisfactory explanation for why Kogan, a veteran BSO detective with a history of superior performance evaluations, would make such an unfounded accusation against his fellow officers.
The memo asserts the lawsuit gave Kogan a reason to lie – “a direct financial motive to testify in a manner that makes Officers Morris, Marcus, and Sheehan’s conduct seem as outrageous as possible.”
Yet the lawsuit wasn’t filed until three months after Hart’s capture and a month after Kogan gave a pair of sworn statements to state investigators.
Moreover, Florida’s Whistleblower Act is not a path to a windfall. Employees who prevail under the act are only entitled to reinstatement to the same or an equivalent position with full seniority and benefits, compensation for any lost remuneration and attorney’s fees and costs.
Kogan’s demotion cost him $75 from his biweekly paycheck, according to his lawyer.
“He doesn’t have a financial motive. Does anyone really think he’s going to taint his career for $150 a month?” said attorney Tonja Haddad Coleman.
Both the state’s investigation, and the ongoing whistleblower lawsuit, arose from the April 3, 2013 fatal stabbing of 20-year-old Keema Gooding in a residence at 3024 NW Eighth Court in unincorporated Fort Lauderdale. Hart, who lived there, was identified as the prime suspect.
Hart, now 20, was soon determined to be hiding out at another home within Fort Lauderdale’s city limits. BSO deputies and Fort Lauderdale police arrived at 1701 NW 15th Place about 1 a.m. A short time later, Hart fled out the back door where city officers were waiting.
In his lawsuit, Kogan said that when he entered the backyard Hart was sitting on the ground with his hands behind his back and was not resisting or being combative. Then, the lawsuit said, the Fort Lauderdale K-9 officer “unnecessarily deployed his canine, who bit the suspect on his right arm.”
The memo says Hart’s injuries to his right arm later required “eight or nine stitches to close.”
Hart, who remains jailed while awaiting trial on charges of second-degree murder and resisting an officer with violence, refused to be interviewed by prosecutors, but gave a similar account to friends and relatives he telephoned from jail. The calls were tape-recorded by authorities, the memo says.
“I dropped on the ground and they still let the dog bite on me for five minutes…you know how city police is,” Hart said in one conversation on April 11, 2013, the memo says.
Prosecutors later dismissed Kogan’s testimony as “imprecise and impeachable.” Hart’s statements were discounted as coming from “a murderer.”
Instead, prosecutors credited the testimony of BSO Sgt. David Ellwood, Kogan’s supervisor and fellow star on The First 48, and BSO Sgt. Ian Sklar, a K-9 deputy who was on scene but kept his dog in his vehicle.
According to the memo, Ellwood stated under oath that he never entered the backyard and was thus unable to see how Hart was taken into custody. However, Ellwood testified that Kogan didn’t enter the backyard until after he heard Hart scream as the police dog was biting him.
“I’ve been a cop for 23 years. I know what that screaming sounds like. That is a person, a human being, being bit by a dog,” Ellwood said.
Sklar testified that he managed to “peek” over a six-foot wooden fence and saw Officers Marcus and Sheehan struggling with Hart on the ground while trying to handcuff him. As the struggle continued, Morris appeared with his dog. Marcus and Sheehan disengaged and then Morris released the dog.
Sklar said K-9 procedure is that a dog should not be removed until the suspect is handcuffed. He said, “they did not remove the dog until after the guy was handcuffed…that’s what [Kogan was] standing there witnessing.”
The memo concludes the testimony of Ellwood and Sklar “makes it seem very unlikely Kogan would have even had an opportunity to see whether Morris had cause to deploy the dog,”
A status conference in the homicide case is set for April 23 before Broward Circuit Judge Raag Singhal.