PO­LICE

Palm Beach Daily News - - TODAY -

con­ducted Ro­driguez’s back­ground check be­fore Ro­driguez was hired, did not re­spond to mul­ti­ple re­quests for com­ment. Sgt. Dan Wilkin­son, speak­ing on Men­niti’s be­half, said the depart­ment does not “typ­i­cally give in­ter­views re­gard­ing these types of sto­ries.”

In a ter­mi­na­tion let­ter from then-Pub­lic Safety Di­rec­tor Kirk Blouin on March 8, 2017, Blouin wrote that Ro­driguez was be­ing fired, in part, be­cause he did not dis­close the Depart­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­ily Ser­vices’ in­ves­ti­ga­tion dur­ing the hir­ing process.

But on Fri­day, Blouin, who is now town man­ager, said Men­niti knew about that in­ves­ti­ga­tion, dis­cussed it with Ro­driguez and de­cided to hire him af­ter hear­ing his ex­pla­na­tion of the al­leged in­ci­dent.

Af­ter the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Blouin said, Men­niti re­ceived “ver­bal coun­sel­ing” but no other dis­ci­pline and the depart­ment changed its hir­ing poli­cies, which could not be ver­i­fied.

When asked if cur­rent po­lice of­fi­cers work­ing for the depart­ment might have crim­i­nal his­to­ries the town does not know about be­cause of in­ad­e­quate back­ground checks, Blouin said “it’s pos­si­ble.”

“It would be un­likely, but yes. Of course it’s pos­si­ble,” said Blouin, who also served as the town’s po­lice chief from 2009 to 2011 and as di­rec­tor of pub­lic safety from 2011 to 2018. “Only God knows the an­swers to our truths and mis­truths.”

‘That should have been found’

Dur­ing its back­ground check, the depart­ment ei­ther ig­nored or did not find a child abuse re­port filed with the Semi­nole County Sher­iff’s Of­fice in 2012, in which po­lice were called to Ro­driguez’s home, where he was liv­ing with his then­girl­friend and her chil­dren. The in­ci­dent was later in­ves­ti­gated by the Depart­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­ily Ser­vices, the Palm Beach Po­lice Depart­ment’s in­ter­nal af­fairs re­port showed. No charges were filed. Po­lice also did not in­de­pen­dently vet Ro­driguez’s mil­i­tary dis­charge form, which he sub­mit­ted in his ap­pli­ca­tion.

Ro­driguez al­tered his 2005 Ma­rine Corps dis­charge form to make it ap­pear as though he was forced to leave be­cause of a speed­ing ticket, the in­ter­nal af­fairs re­port said. The orig­i­nal un­al­tered doc­u­ment states Ro­driguez was dis­charged af­ter less than four months of ser­vice for fail­ing to dis­close a 2005 ar­rest on a mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion charge. On the orig­i­nal dis­charge form, Ro­driguez added in a vol­un­tary state­ment that he had been ar­rested at least seven times: six times for traf­fic vi­o­la­tions, in­clud­ing sus­pended li­censes and fail­ing to ap­pear in court, and once for mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion, the re­port shows.

Ro­driguez also did not pro­vide, and the depart­ment did not re­quest, a copy of his mil­i­tary re­cruit eval­u­a­tion re­port, which con­tained sev­eral neg­a­tive com­ments from su­per­vi­sors, in­clud­ing “re­cruit abuse, ap­a­thetic at­ti­tude towards re­cruit train­ing, mak­ing bel­liger­ent fa­cial ex­pres­sions, lack of re­spect towards author­ity, dis­re­spect­ful at­ti­tude towards drill in­struc­tors, bel­liger­ent to­ward pla­toon drill in­struc­tor, and bla­tant dis­re­spect towards his drill in­struc­tor,” the in­ter­nal af­fairs re­port said.

“That should have been found,” said John Kazan­jian, pres­i­dent of the Palm Beach County Po­lice Benev­o­lent As­so­ci­a­tion. “Mis­de­meanors, ci­ta­tions, felony ar­rests, po­lice re­ports — any­thing like that will draw flags. Most de­part­ments will not hire you af­ter that.”

‘Jose should not be a cop’

The depart­ment be­gan an in­ter­nal af­fairs in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Ro­driguez only af­ter his for­mer girl­friend con­tacted the depart­ment and said in a trem­bling voice that she had been “liv­ing in fear of” Ro­driguez and “wished to re­port his ac­tions,” the in­ter­nal af­fairs re­port said.

In a video­taped in­ter­view at the po­lice sta­tion on Dec. 30, 2016, the woman, whom the Daily News is not nam­ing, told in­ves­ti­ga­tors she “en­dured con­tin­ued men­tal and ver­bal abuse” from Ro­driguez. The woman was vis­i­bly shaken and looked di­sheveled, po­lice said. Af­ter they broke up, the woman said Ro­driguez con­tacted her ev­ery day, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, and once called her 132 times in one day.

“Jose should not be a cop,” the woman told po­lice, adding that she was “ba­si­cally a pris­oner in my own home.”

In a phone in­ter­view with po­lice, the mother’s daugh­ter said she and Ro­driguez ar­gued con­stantly.

Po­lice also con­ducted a video­taped in­ter­view with the woman’s son, who said he had never seen Ro­driguez hit his mother but saw him re­peat­edly curse at her and one time had “to in­ter­vene on his mother’s be­half to de­fend her.” Dur­ing the in­ter­view, the boy be­gan to cry, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, and told po­lice that he did not want Ro­driguez to “hurt him or his mother.”

‘There was a mis­take’

Men­niti, who con­ducted Ro­driguez’s back­ground check, raised ques­tions about Ro­driguez’s mil­i­tary his­tory dur­ing the back­ground process, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. At the time, Ro­driguez told Men­niti that his dis­charge stemmed from a speed­ing ticket and that he was el­i­gi­ble to re­turn to the Marines. The re­port does not state whether Men­niti ver­i­fied that with the Marines.

Ro­driguez also lied sev­eral times dur­ing his psy­cho­log­i­cal exam, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, an­swer­ing “no” to ques­tions about whether he had been in an ar­gu­ment that in­volved phys­i­cal con­tact, had been in­volved in a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in­ci­dent, had used phys­i­cal dis­ci­pline that pro­duced in­juries or bruises on a child, or had ap­plied for a pub­lic safety po­si­tion and not been se­lected.

Ro­driguez ap­plied and was re­jected by at least two other Flor­ida po­lice agen­cies, in­clud­ing the Semi­nole County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, which asked for an ex­pla­na­tion for his pos­ses­sion of mar­i­juana charge in 2005, the re­port said. Ro­driguez never re­sponded. The re­port does not state whether Men­niti in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied any of the in­for­ma­tion Ro­driguez sub­mit­ted in his 2014 ap­pli­ca­tion.

Af­ter Ro­driguez was fired in 2017, Blouin said the depart­ment changed its hir­ing poli­cies to re­quire in­de­pen­dent vet­ting of ap­pli­ca­tions. “There was a mis­take made by Men­niti in that par­tic­u­lar back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Blouin said. “It’s quite pos­si­ble that they didn’t do a pub­lic records re­quest.”

The in­ter­nal af­fairs in­ves­ti­ga­tion came dur­ing a time of in­sta­bil­ity and high em­ployee-turnover within the depart­ment.

It’s still on­go­ing. In Septem­ber, the Daily News ob­tained records that showed more of­fi­cers have left the depart­ment dur­ing the 2017-2018 bud­get year than in any year since at least 2006.

The Town Coun­cil has dis­cussed the depart­ment’s of­fi­cer-re­ten­tion prob­lem sev­eral times this year, sug­gest­ing that its pub­lic safety work­ers are un­der­paid and re­ceive sub­par ben­e­fits when com­pared to nearby po­lice agen­cies. The depart­ment’s hir­ing poli­cies have not been a cen­tral is­sue.

When asked why po­lice did not un­cover Ro­driguez’s lies and crim­i­nal his­tory in the back­ground check, Blouin said “Jose was very con­vinc­ing.”

“It was clear they could’ve done a bet­ter job,” Blouin said.

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