Sunday, November 23, 2008

Officer Adam Willis Arrested for Extortion


Complaints about police misconduct in Avon Park stemmed from within the Hispanic community, officials have said.

The allegations include extortion.

An undercover operation that led to the Wednesday arrest of Avon Park Police Officer Adam Willis, 30, used a vehicle that was "suggestive that the owner of the vehicle was of Hispanic dissent [sic]," the arrest report stated.

According to court documents generated in the case of the State of Florida v. Adam Willis, an investigation started in June 2008 in reference to complaints that officers within the Avon Park Police Department were stealing from citizens, "namely those of a Hispanic background."

During the investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Willis was determined to be one of the officers involved, said Yolanda Carbia, resident agent in charge of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Sebring field office.

The FDLE investigation eventually focused on two officers, Willis and Alberto Perez, court documents said.

Perez has yet to be charged, but has since been put on paid administrative leave by the APPD.

Patricia Austin, president of Council Three of the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said she fielded many complaints from the Hispanic community.

"(Avon Park Police Chief Matthew Doughney) said (the complaints) would definitely be looked into and taken care of," she said Friday. "He got right on it ... I was really impressed with the chief on that."

Some of the complaints included extorting money.

"Hispanics talked about how they had been pulled over and told if they would pay a certain amount, (officers) wouldn't write them a ticket," she said, citing examples of individuals being pulled over for infractions such as having a headlight out or window tint too dark.

"I was furious. I couldn't believe it ... everyone knows you don't pay officers for a ticket," she said. "Some of them, from what they had told me, had given the officers cash."

Two separate individuals told her they paid between $200 and $300 to officers.

Carbia said she had no comment on whether or not the officers extorted money in this manner, but did say that LULAC officials provided both the FDLE and APPD with information.

Austin recalled witnessing one of her Hispanic neighbors being pulled over for running a stop sign from the front porch of her house.

"He did not run that stop sign," she recalled.

Austin went to help the officer deal with a language barrier, as she said her neighbor didn't speak English very well. The officer let the alleged offender go with a warning.

Austin remembers who that officer was, but wouldn't give a name.

"It was one of the officers they are questioning now," she said.

The Undercover Operation

The operation involved an unlocked vehicle parked on the shoulder of North Central Avenue in Avon Park with $310 in marked bills inside a wallet, a package of cigarette rolling papers and a fake temporary registration.

Willis arrived on scene in response to an anonymous complaint regarding a suspicious vehicle.

Electronic surveillance from inside the vehicle reportedly recorded Willis taking the wallet and rolling papers. He also reportedly found the temporary registration.

"The registration's purpose was to see if the officer would make an effort to locate the owner of the vehicle, which Willis did not do," the arrest report stated. "He located the registration, simply looked at it, and then placed it back in the center console."

Newly released court records indicate there was information in the wallet not investigated by Willis.

They stated he put the wallet into his pocket after flipping through it "without looking at the names and telephone numbers written on pieces of paper inside the wallet in an attempt to identify the owner of the vehicle."

Willis locked the car and radioed dispatch, stating he did not find any identification in the vehicle, and without mentioning the found property, reports stated.

Officials from the FDLE and APPD searched in and around the vehicle after Willis left, reportedly unable to find the wallet, money, or rolling papers.

On Monday, the APPD temporary evidence hold was checked, but none of the items allegedly removed by Willis were found.

The serial numbers of the bills in the wallet were all recorded by the FDLE and when Willis was arrested, $40 of the missing money was found in his front pants pocket.

He allegedly admitted to FDLE agents that he spent the additional $270.

Reduction of bail

Initially Willis was held without bond until first appearance.

After his first appearance on Thursday, bond was set at $100,000 for the charge of armed burglary, and $25,000 for the charge of grand theft, at the request of the state.

"Namely stating that the alleged crime was horrible in that an officer of the law had violated the public's trust, and that the State Attorney's Office feared that the Defendant may interfere with further investigations and possibly tamper with witnesses," court documents from Judge Anthony Ritenour said.

At continued first appearance, granted so the judge could hear testimony from both the state and the defense on the amount set for bond, it was lowered to $1,000 for grand theft and $15,000 for armed burglary.

"The issue remains, though, as to whether the defendant can be charged with armed burglary as, in fact, it would be impossible for him not to be armed at the time of entering the vehicle, due to his being a law enforcement officer," Ritenour said.

The judge mentioned in the documents that the state failed to prove any possibility that Willis would harass potential victims or witnesses.

"The court cannot set bond based on innuendo," he said.

The Highlands County Sheriffs Office Web site indicated Willis was released from jail at 6:30 p.m. Friday on the reduced $16,000 bond.

His next scheduled court date is set for Dec. 15.

Sgt. Uthai Dechawiwat Charged with Murder Released from Prison


An off-duty police officer charged in the shooting death of a Canadian in Thailand has been released from prison because there was a problem with part of the investigation - a move that has angered the victim's family in Calgary.

Leo Del Pinto's father says he learned Friday that Sgt. Uthai Dechawiwat had been released.

"We, as a family, are upset. My wife is just devastated," Ernie Del Pinto said Sunday.

"I don't know what it was like on Friday, if it was sunny; I was so miserable."

Dechawiwat has been charged with premeditated murder and attempted murder in the Jan. 6 shooting in the small town of Pai in northern Thailand.

Leo, 25, was killed and his friend, Carly Reisig, was injured in the incident.

Dechawiwat has insisted the shooting was an accident - the result of a struggle.

The Pai police officer was off duty when the shooting happened.

Until now, he had been behind bars in Bangkok awaiting trial after he was denied bail in mid-October following an arraignment hearing.

Ernie said he was told part of the police investigation in Pai was not completed the way it should have been, resulting in Dechawiwat's release.

"It happens to be the Pai police department that missed a part in their investigation," Ernie said.

The Department of Special Investigation - a Thai federal agency - was officially appointed in April to also independently investigate the shooting.

Ernie said if the Pai police missed something, he could not understand why it was not caught by others looking into the shooting.

"They (the Pai police) definitely missed something. If it was by error, or if they wanted to, it should have never been missed by anyone else."

Ernie said he has been told the case will go on and the charges against Dechawiwat still stand.

"I've been reassured this procedure will continue," he said.

"All I want is a trial date."

Ernie and several other family members plan to travel to Thailand when the trial does go ahead.