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.