A Pinella’s County Elementary School Teacher was found with a Loaded Gun and Knives in School yesterday.

The Tampa Bay Times reported yesterday of Pinella’s county arrest of Starkey Elementary School forth grade teacher Betty Jo Soto, 49.

Ex-Elementary School Teacher, Betty Jo Soto, 49, of Pinella’s County’s Starkey Elementary School. (Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office via Tampa Bay Times]

Soto is facing two counts of misdemeanor conceal weapons charge, after being found with a Glock 9mm pistol and two knives in a backpack. According to WFLA’s interview with Desoto on why she brought weapsons into her classroom, Soto responded by telling them to “Ask Desantis.” Revelations made on her Facebook Page was also reported to include a message indicating that she was conducting a “revolutionary act.”

Soto’s timely arrest arrives on the heels of the passing of the controversial State Bill 3070 on arming teachers, signed by Gov. DeSantis on May 8 and strongly advocated for by Pinellas County Sheriff, Bob Gualtieri.

School district would have to opt into the “Guardian’s Program” in order for teachers to receiving the training. As of this time, both Sarasota and Manatee counties have opted out, despite Manatee school board member, Scott Hopes, advocating for the district’s inclusion into the program.

What we don’t know:

  • Soto’s psychological evaluation, if any.
  • Soto’s Motive

Manatee County Pilots Controversial ICE Agreement as Deportation Fears Increase

 

On Jan. 17, 2018 in Largo, Florida, a press conference was held by Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies to announce a new inter-governmental law enforcement partnership with ICE called a “basic ordering agreement.”

Bradenton Rallies to Keep Families Together
Photo(s): Alex M Buono

(Bradenton, Florida)“The people that were doing these lawsuits were arguing, ‘Oh no, the state or the local jail doesn’t have jurisdiction to hold them,’” 

explained Adriana Guzman-Rouselle, an immigration attorney who has served Manatee County since 2005, on the liability exposure felt by local law enforcement agencies that inspired ICE’s “basic ordering agreement.” “The way to go around this was, ‘Okay, we’re going to hire those jails as providers of the service,” said Guzman-Rouselle.

According to Tampa Bay Online, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, also a representative of the National Sheriff’s Association, had been working with U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement to develop the contract that was reportedly planned be piloted by 17 Tampa Bay area law enforcement agencies.

The “basic ordering agreement” or BOA was described in a press release by ICE on January 17, “an existing procurement tool for acquiring a substantial, but presently unknown quantity of supplies or services.” The housing agreement was designed to afford liability protection for local law enforcement agencies housing “illegal criminal aliens in their jails and prisons.” ICE would then reimburse the service provider or law enforcement agency for the costs up to 48-hours of detention of an individual detainee. These actions would all take place after an individual is released from custody, having been charged with state-level criminal charges.

Also in attendance at the press conference was Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells, who according to public record signed the agreement with ICE on the Jan. 19. Sheriff Wells commented to Hannah Morse of the Bradenton Herald on Jan. 18 regarding the agreement, “We’re just trying to keep our community safe, and when you have a criminal illegal alien who has been committing crimes in our community, they need to be held accountable.”

Media Controversy Surrounding the Agreement

Since the announcement of the joint law enforcement program in January, the agreement has generated media controversy. According to Guzman-Rouselle, the national media has been complicit in conflating the fears of the undocumented community in recent months. “Even if you are undocumented, if you comply with the law, you will be okay,” Guzman-Rouselle explained. “When you start doing things you are not supposed to, you encounter problems.”

According to The Gainesville Sun, Shortly after the press conference on the 17th, Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell announced the next day that the County Sheriff’s office would not opt into the pilot program because “they are not in the business of immigration,” according to the Alachua sheriff’s spokesman, Art Forgey. On Jan. 24, The Southern Poverty Law Center sent public records requests to all 17 Florida counties involved with the pilot program, demanding transparency and more information on the federal program. Florida Politics’ Mitch Perry reported in February a number of Tampa Bay area faith-based organizations rejecting the merits of the agreement.

In March, the Tampa Bay times reported of local undocumented immigrants seeking retainer agreements amid fears of detention and deportation by ICE. In April, 88.5 WNMF reported of a “heated debate” between Pinellas Sheriff Gualtieri and immigrant rights activists on the implementation of the agreement as a pretext to detain undocumented individuals that were initially arrested on charges of driving without a license or identification. April also marked the beginning of the controversial “zero-tolerance policy” implemented by the Department of Justice along the southwest border.

The policy created a national fervor that was also felt here in Manatee County over the separation of families in detention facilities that included South Florida’s Homestead federal facility.

Recent History of Immigration Enforcement in Manatee County

“I haven’t seen any changes, you know, just in paper,” Guzman-Rouselle said of her recent legal experiences with the BOA in comparison to other programs like 287g and Secure Communities. According to public record documents available on online via freedom of information act requests from ina287.org, Manatee County has been actively participating in joint partnerships with ICE since signing a “memorandum of agreement” or “MOA” in July 2008.

In Dec. 2006, former Manatee County Sheriff Charles B. Wells, father of current Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells, sent a written request to ICE to participate in the 287g program in order to train corrections officers in response to what Wells claimed was a large population of undocumented aliens who, “end up in our jails for everything from traffic-related crimes to homicide.” Charlie Wells successor, former Manatee Sheriff Brad Steube signed the agreement in Jun. 2008, only to request a withdrawal from the 287g Program in Sept. 2009.

Steube cited changes ICE made to the MOA requiring law enforcement agencies to provide certified interpreters that were, “cost prohibitive under MCSO’s current budget.” The hiatus was brief, as the Sheriff’s Office joined the Secure Communities program in Oct. 2009 until the Obama administration’s sun-setting of the program in November 2014. The Trump administration reactivated the program via executive order in Jan. 2017.  The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is currently not participating in the program.

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Breaking Down the BOA’s implementation in Manatee

According to the Booking Manual procedures provided by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, “Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E) Detainers and Notifications” was implemented on Mar. 8 2018, defining the department’s role as a “service provider to the DHS ICE pursuant to the BOA and authorized by federal law to hold alien detainees when all requirements for detention are met.”

“The narrow service we provide to ICE is detention for 48 hours after release from custody on local criminal charges, and that is only done when proper documentation is submitted by ICE for detention of a particular subject,” according to Manatee County Sheriff’s Office General Counsel, Eric Werbeck. “ICE then has 48 hours to pick the subject up from our custody. If they don’t arrive within that time period, the subject is released. All of the subjects being detained will have been arrested for state criminal charges,” Werbeck said.

Since the agreement’s implementation in March, the Sheriff’s Office has held 32 individuals as of June, 14, according to a public record. Of the 32 individuals detained for the maximum of 48-hour period, 25 have been transferred to ICE custody. The criminal charges of detainees that were transferred to ICE ranged from battery and domestic violence, DUI, attempted murder and controlled substance. The individuals released from the detention ranged from unanswered court summonses, driving without a license, or probation violations.

Elizabeth M. Nicholson, ICE Community Relations Officer for Central and Northern Florida, stated that the local field office does not have an accounting of individual detainers at the county level, but pointed to 2017 fiscal year removal statistics for Florida. According to the ICE Fiscal Year data for Florida from 2016-2017, there was a 14-percent increase in removals.

Peter Lombardo, a local criminal defense attorney located in Bradenton who has had clients from the undocumented community, believes that the overall majority of undocumented criminal defendants do not get deported or jailed in Manatee County. “We’ll go to court and its usually misdemeanors, and we’ll go in, they’ll plead guilty, they’ll either get a fine or probation or whatever, and they just walk out the courtroom with me,” Lombardo said.

“I definitely believe that what people have to understand, sometimes, it’s not like ICE is looking for them,” Guzman-Rouselle said. Rouselle explained further that she believes that substance abuse in the undocumented community invites attention from authorities. A study titled, “Undocumented Immigration, Drug Problems, and Driving Under the Influence in the United States, 1990-2014” released in August of 2017 by the American Public Health Association concluded that there was “no significant relationship between increased undocumented immigration and DUI deaths.”

The Trump Administration and Interior Immigration Enforcement

In 2015, the New York Times reported from the campaign trail that Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric was scolded by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush as “extraordinarily ugly.” In April 2017, The American Bar Journal hosted a legal panel in Miami that emphasized the Trump administration’s focus on criminal immigration enforcement.

Ariel Ruiz Soto, an Associate Policy Analyst at the Migration Policy Institute who co-authored a May 2018 MPI report titled, “Revving Up the Deportation Machinery: Enforcement under Trump and the Pushback,” believes that the creation of federal BOA’s by the Department of Homeland Security and ICE are meant to incentivize participation of local law enforcement agencies who are concerned about prohibitive costs and legal blowback.

“Rather than incentivizing new participation in immigration enforcement, BOA’s have facilitated access to local law enforcement agencies which had considered cooperating more closely with ICE but had common concerns regarding the cost and liability of holding an immigrant beyond the time they were charged to serve for their criminal convictions,” Soto said.

“The practices of the current administration, however, can and must also be traced to the crime politics of liberal Democrats that shifted the discourse on unauthorized migration,” writes Patricia Macia-Rojas in a 2018 article featured in the Journal of Migration and Huma Security. Amanda Frost wrote in a Nov. 2017 article in the Iowa Law Review, that the legacy of the Obama administration’s removal or forbearance model of immigration enforcement and lack of congressional response to immigration enforcement, should prompt alternative enforcement strategies in the future.

According to Guzman-Rouselle, an urgent problem facing Manatee’s undocumented community is being able to parse fact from fiction by finding legitimate sources of legal help for friends and family. “Mostly what I have seen is notary fraud, telling people things, ‘Oh no, let’s apply for asylum, let’s apply for this or let’s apply for that’,” Guzman-Rouselle said. “They don’t understand the consequences of doing one of those applications, that eventually, they are going to put you in front of an immigration judge when you didn’t have to be there.”

For more information on the Manatee County Basic Ordering Agreement via the National Sheriff’s Association, click here.

Click here for ACLU’s fact sheet on the Basic Ordering Agreement.

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Protest Rally Calls for More Oversight In Wake of Mobley Shooting

On Saturday evening, protesters arrived at the Desoto Mall in Bradenton to host another rally challenging Manatee County Law Enforcement’s account of the Jan. 23 shooting death of 38-year-old Bradenton resident, Corey Mobley. The “Justice 4 Corey Mobley” rally was organized by local activist organization Answer Suncoast, where protesters called for independent oversight of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office ongoing investigation.

“The Sheriff’s account matches to the T the number one racist stigma that black men have super powers,” said Ruth Beltran of Answer Suncoast. “We want to demand that there is community control and independent oversight of both the City Police and the Sheriff’s Department,” Beltran added.

According to the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Sheriff Rick Wells asserted during a Jan. 30 press conference that witnesses accounts verify that Deputy Patrick Drymon was threatened by Mobley before firing his weapon, as Mobley continued to approach Drymon after being shot. Beltran and the protesters reject the Sheriff’s Office official account of the incident, and accuse the department of promoting a false media narrative to vilify Mobley, where Body-worn cameras could have clarified the situation for the public.

“He was a loving father of four kids and also a member of a bible baptist church in Palmetto,” Beltran said.

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Demonstrators continued to protest after sunset on Saturday. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)

Traffic temporarily shut down on 301 Boulevard West, as protesters marched across to the nearby Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and continued their demonstration eastward at the intersection of Route 41 later that evening. Protesters chanted, “Black Lives Matter,” and “No Justice, No Peace,” while being escorted by Manatee Police, as motorists driving by honked their horns in support of the demonstration.

For Beltran, it is now a waiting game.

“We would like the sheriff to actually initiate the independent investigation,” Beltran said. “He has the power to do so, and I feel it’s the right thing to do,” she added.

For more information on Answer Suncoast, click here.

 

Manatee NAACP Holds Emergency Meeting for Bradenton’s Minority Community

On Thursday, the Manatee County NAACP held an emergency meeting for Bradenton’s minority community at St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Bradenton. The meeting was in response to county officials meeting with the Florida Department of Transportation on their Desoto Bridge Flyover Proposal  , as reported in the Sarasota Herald Tribune on Wednesday. Bradenton residents also reacted to the controversial unarmed shooting death of Bradenton resident Corey Mobley by the Manatee Sheriff’s Office, as reported in the Bradenton Herald on Jan. 24.

Rodney K. Jones, 51, a born and raised Bradenton local and the President of the Manatee County NAACP who organized the event, hopes that the general call for all Manatee County residents to meet on Thursday broadened the awareness of the minority community’s plight.

“It was a really eclectic group, and the only thing we really wanted to do was expose our condition, because many people don’t know,” Jones said on Friday. “If you’re not directly impacted or it doesn’t impact your family or your neighborhood, a lot of times you’re not conscious of the bigger picture of the community that endures a much different condition,” Jones added.

The FDOT proposal is to build a “flyover” elevated throughway on RT.41-301 in Bradenton to alleviate traffic congestion and increase mobility, which has been a top priority to the city according to the Central Manatee Network Alternative Analysis. Jones along with local community and activist leaders from Answer Suncoast and Black Lives Matter Manasota argue that the current FDOT plans violate their own civil rights program and are in line with a pattern of non-responsiveness to minority community concerns. In response to their claims in a Jan.30 Bradenton Herald article, FDOT District One Growth Management Coordinator Lawrence Massey was quoted stating that FDOT had conducted several official meetings in Bradenton and Palmetto, outreaching to minority communities affected by project with significant turnout.

Jones contends that these FDOT meetings were out of reach for Bradenton’s minority community as part of a historical effort to disenfranchise the community.

“They held all of the public workshops outside the community,” Jones said. “If you were elderly or had to walk, you wouldn’t make it.”

Manatee Sheriff Rick Wells was also in attendance on Thursday, as community activists addressed their concerns to him directly. Natasha Clemons, 46, of Bradenton, gave an emotional plea to the Sheriff as a first-cousin of Corey Mobley and a mother of Randall Mitchell, a 23-year-old man who was fatally shot by Sarasota police during a June 2012 traffic stop.

Manatee County NAACP Emergency Meeting
Natasha Clemons, mother of Rodney Mitchell and first cousin to Corey Mobley, addresses the audience. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)

“My first cousin Corey Mobley was shot and killed, some say execution style, by a Manatee Sheriff,” Clemons said. Clemons added, “So what do you have to say about that Mr. Wells? You’re the head.”

According to Manatee Sheriff Office statistics featured in a June 2016 WWSB ABC 7 article,“50 percent of the suspects in those officer involved shootings were black. Compared to the City of Bradenton’s overall black population, which is only 16 percent according to the most recent information from the U.S. Census Bureau.”

Jones feels optimistic that the future organizational plans will be a step in the right direction, but they do have a limited effect.

“We can rattle all the cages that we want to, but if we don’t make changes in legislation, laws, policy and procedure, we really haven’t done anything but make noise,” Jones said.

For more information on the organizing efforts of the NAACP and Answer Suncoast, click here.

(Correction, 5:03 p.m: This story was edited to correct that Natasha Clemons is a first cousin, not ex-wife of Corey Mobley. We regret the error.)

A Manatee Dreamer Helps Her Community as DACA Fades

On Sunday, Holy Cross Catholic Church of Palmetto hosted the Protect the People Clinic & DACA Renewal, an event organized by the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC). The event offered information on civil rights, free legal screenings, and emergency planning for Manatee county residents looking to impacted by the September repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. FLIC volunteer coordinator Patricia Lara, 29, of Bradenton, is a DACA recipient and a Manatee local.

“It’s Manatee County, you know, it’s home. This is where I’ve been since kindergarten through graduation,” Clara said. “That’s why I love working in it, because I know everybody, I know where everything is.”

According to Migration Policy Institute data, as of September 2017 there are an estimated 27,000 DACA recipients in the state of Florida, where 72,000 non recipients meet the requirements to apply. For the immigrant community in Manatee, the County’s health department currently offers the immigrant community medical examinations and immunizations required for immigration status. On Jan. 17 the Bradenton Herald reported the partnership between the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office partnership with ICE to hold arrested undocumented immigrants for up to 48 hours as a part of “basic ordering agreement.” According to the Herald article, Sheriff Rick Wells commented in response to the agreement, “We’re just trying to keep our community safe, and when you have a criminal illegal alien who has been committing crimes in our community, they need to be held accountable.”

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Patricia Lara, 29, of Bradenton checks in arrivals at the event. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)

To Lara, it is crucial that the immigrant community knows their rights to protect their loved ones in Manatee County, especially in the current political climate.

“Just to know how they can keep themselves and their family’s safe and protected and make sure that they understand that the even though they don’t have a documented status here, they still have civil rights.”

To learn more about the Florida Immigrant Coalition, click here.

The Cultural Mapping of President Trump’s Tweets

Donald Trump Donkey

President Trump’s Twitter account has been the subject of media scrutiny in the first year of his presidency, where Trump’s recent “stable genius” tweet in reaction to those questioning his mental fitness for office has come into focus in the last month.

CNN’s Chris Cillizza recently commented in his CNN.com column The Point reacting to Trump’s that Trump, “is a political creature of almost entirely id.Breitbart’s Daniel Nussbaum framed the social media reaction to Trump’s stable genius tweet from Hollywood as “triggered”. Teen Vogue’s Melissa Moreno criticized the media’s various reactions to Trump’s tweet in a January 11 op-ed stating, “When language starts to involve hypotheses about mental illness, things not only get difficult and confusing, but downright dangerous.”

DT
President Trump’s “genius tweet” from Jan 6  has media outlets speculating on his mental fitness. (via Twitter)

Tim Stock, the co-founder of ScenarioDNA, a global innovation consulting firm and adjunct professor at the Parsons School of design, is an expert in forecasting cultural trends and behaviors. Stock and his cohorts have found a way to clarify media speculation by employing scientific methodology and research to deconstruct Trump’s tweets through a combination of semiotics, consumer anthropology and data science called “cultural mapping,” a process that Stock himself has co-created. ScenarioDNA’s research into the tweets of Trump’s first 100 days in office through cultural mapping offers insight into the present and future implications of Trump’s mentality through his tweets, as well as offer how as civic-minded American citizens and the news media can benefit from becoming more literate in semiotic analysis.

“There’s an interesting aspect to Trump where it’s almost sort of hiding in plain sight,” Stock said about the genius tweet. “Where he essentially never has to be right, he has to bury himself in untruths so it doesn’t really matter.”

To see more of scenario DNA’s cultural mapping projects, click here.

Hiding in Plain Sight – Manatee County Law Enforcement’s Complex relationship with Cameras

Manatee County Law Enforcement is one of the select counties in Florida that has not opted to integrate body-worn cameras within its ranks and yet, has found recent success utilizing automated license plate readers as a tool to combat crime in Manatee County, according to recent articles in the Bradenton Herald and WFLA.com.
 
The beginning of 2017 sparked a new public policy debate in the state of Florida surrounding surveillance and body camera technologies.
 
In 2017, the Florida state senate bill 624, co-sponsored by Senator Greg Steube (R), son of recently retired Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube, was passed into law. SB 624 along with House Bill 305, mandates that along with establishing policy procedures for body-worn camera technologies, a provision allows law enforcement officers to review body camera footage before writing their official report or providing testimony. In the previous years of 2014 and 2015, the state legislature passed SB 226 and SB 248, two laws that were devised to create public record exemptions due to privacy concerns of individual citizens regarding automated license plate reader systems and body-worn cameras, respectively.
Despite these legal provisions attempting to address privacy concerns of individuals under information-gathering camera technologies, civil rights organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida continue to argue for citizen privacy and access to police recordings as a matter of public record in the state of Florida.
 
In the Florida Sheriffs Association Legislative Report for 2017, the report states in response to the passing of SB 624 and HB 305, Florida Sheriffs will, “have to update their policies and procedures related to body-worn cameras to allow an officer to review body camera footage before writing a report or making a statement about an incident.”
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has consistently supported the legislative agenda set by the state’s sheriffs association. In a 2015 Bradenton Herald article detailing local law enforcement reactions to the passing of HB 93, requiring law enforcement agencies to develop procedural rules for body-worn cameras, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, Dave Bristow stated that the department was still in a holding pattern and monitoring how agencies were doing.
 
According to a 2013 Bulletin published by the Department of Justice on Local Police Equipment and Technology, an “estimated 32% of departments reported they provided body-worn cameras for at least some of their patrol officers.” The DOJ findings in the bulletin reported further that, “An estimated 17% of departments used automated license plate readers in 2013.”
More recently in 2017, a pilot study on Citizen Perceptions of Body-Worn Cameras in Arlington, Texas was conducted by independent research foundation, The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). In their findings, PERF found that despite survey results indicating no differences between citizen perceptions of officers who wore or did not wear body-worn cameras, there was a reported 38 percent drop in complaints of officers trained in body-worn camera technology a year later.
 
Two years after the passing of HB 93 and new passages of HB 305 and SB 624, there appears to be no change in the legislative or budgetary priorities at Manatee County’s
Sheriff’s Office concerning body-worn cameras.
 
According to statistics featured in the office’s proposed 2017-2018 fiscal budget, the increase in service requests took five years to reach 300,000 calls, in contrast, it took the previous 20 years to reach 200,000. In light of the increased volume of service, the current operating budget is slated to rise to 13.5 million.
In January of 2017, the ACLU updated its current recommendations for Body-Camera policing, stating, “we hope that these best practices will become widespread in order to ensure that body cameras are not reduced to yet another surveillance tool, but actually serve their intended function as a check and balance on police power.”
For more information on the Manatee County Sherriff’s Office, click here.