By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Florida’s ethics commission today found probable cause to believe Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony provided false information about himself to Gov. Ron DeSantis before the governor appointed him as sheriff in January 2019.
Specifically, Tony omitted mention of his “drug use history and an arrest for homicide,” the commission said.
The commission’s broad finding of apparently serious wrongdoing by Tony is a potentially devastating blow to his career as sheriff. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appointed Tony in 2019 while declining to await the results of a full background check, is rumored to be considering removing and replacing him.
Florida Bulldog first reported on May 2, 2020 that when Tony was 14 and living in a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia he shot and killed a young man named Hector Rodriguez. Tony was charged with murder, but was later acquitted at trial in juvenile court. All court records of the case are sealed, or have been expunged.
Tony has said he killed Rodriguez in self-defense. Rodriguez’s girlfriend at the time disputed that account, saying Rodriguez was unarmed and that the shooting was prompted by an argument.
OTHER APPARENT VIOLATIONS
The Tallahassee Police Department rejected Tony for a job as an officer in 2004 after he acknowledged once using LSD. He later concealed that fact.
The commission also found probable cause to believe that Tony violated Florida Statute 112.313(6) in several other instances:
- During the hiring process when he became a Coral Springs police officer he did not disclose information “concerning his traffic citation history, his drug use history, his arrest history and whether he had previously applied for a law enforcement position” in Tallahassee.
- While sheriff, he completed, signed and had notarized a Florida Department of Law Enforcement certification form indicating he had never had a criminal record sealed or expunged.
- While sheriff in February 2019, and also while he was a police officer in October 2005, August 2007 and December 2013 he falsely indicated in applications to renew or replace his driver’s license that his driving privileges had never been revoked, suspended or denied in any state. But Pennsylvania had suspended Tony’s license multiple times.
The probable cause order, signed today by chairman John Grant, was unusually strong for a commission that has long been had the reputation as something of a weak sister. It specifically rejected the recommendations of Commission Advocate – and assistant attorney general – Melody Hadley to let Tony walk. Hadley had recommended in an 11-page report that the commission find no probable cause against Tony.
“The commission rejected the recommendation of its Advocate and found probable cause to believe Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony misused his public position,” a commission press release said.
During the commission’s closed hearing last week, Commissioner Willie Meggs, a former Leon County State Attorney, expressed puzzlement at Hadley’s recommendation, and support it drew from Commissioner Michelle Anchors of Fort Walton Beach.
“It just boggles my mind that we sit here as an ethics commission and we have someone who has basically committed criminal acts by omitting and commiting perjury in an application and we can’t find an ethics violation?…I don’t get it,” said Meggs.
Anchors later called Tony’s behavior “despicable,” but nevertheless was the lone vote against finding probable cause. The nine-member commission voted 8-1 against Tony.
Tony was represented at last week’s closed hearing by Tallahassee lawyer Steven G. Webster, who issued this statement, “The Florida Commission on Ethics Advocate’s report clearly outlined that no violation had occurred and recommended the Commission find no probable cause. The Commission’s disregard of its own advocate’s findings and recommendation is unprecedented.
“While disappointed in the Commission’s action, my client looks forward to a swift finding of innocence,” Webster said.
The decision, finding sweeping misconduct by Tony, is even stronger than the June findings of the state Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission, which has the power to strip Tony of his license to be a police officer. The CJSTC merely found probable cause that Tony repeatedly lied about his past driving record to obtain driver’s licenses in Florida.
The ethics commission’s findings would seem to clear the way for Gov. DeSantis to remove Tony if he’s so inclined. Florida Bulldog reported in late August that, by law, DeSantis acquired the power to replace Tony once Tony had less than 28 months to serve in his four-year term. That date was passed on September 6.
At the end of last week’s hearing, Commission Chairman Grant urged Webster and Tony to begin discussions with commission staff about settling the case. Otherwise, the case will now head for a trial before a judge in the the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH).
“A trial with all the evidence coming out and…the press reports on a daily or hourly basis would be something that a sitting sheriff would want to avoid if at all possible. That would be punishment in and of itself,” said Commissioner Don Gaetz, a former state senate president.
The ethics commission’s case began after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement filed its 20-page report about Tony, completed in July 2021. FDLE had recommended that Tony be charged with felony perjury, but prosecutors in Fort Myers overseeing the matter declined.
The ethics commission conducted a preliminary investigation of its own and the matter was turned over to Hadley for her review and recommendation to the commission.
At last week’s closed-door hearing, Tony’s attorney was allowed to make a presentation. A tape recording of the meeting showed that attorney Webster mainly relied on and agreed with Hadley’s recommendations that no probable cause should be found.
It is not known if Tony attended.