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tv   Frontline  PBS  November 26, 2013 10:00pm-11:01pm PST

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>> narrator: tonight on frontline... (phone ringing) a 911 call from an off-duty officer. did his girlfriend commit suicide? >> i saw him be rough with her in my house. >> narrator: or was it a homicide? >> there was not sufficient evidence a crime had been committed. >> narrator: in an exclusive report with tnew york times... >> are you saying that you believe that michelle might have been battered before the fatal shot was fired? >> yes. >> narrator: ...frontline investigates this troubling case. >> you can't possibly investigate a member of your department the same way you investigate an average case. >> there is a visceral sense of, "what if she was murdered
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and this guy goes free?" there ought to be at least some visceral sense, "what if she did commit suicide and he's in prison for the rest of his life?" >> narrator: tonight on frontline... >> he was never treated like a suspect. he was treated like a brother. >> narrator: ..."a death in st. augustine." >> frontlinis made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major support for frontliis provided by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. more information is available at additional funding is provided by the park foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. the wyncote foundation.
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and by the frontline journalism fund, with a grant from jon and jo ann hagler on behalf of the jon l. hagler foundation. >> michelle was the youngest of all of us-- of six-- and she was the one that we always looked out for. she was an amazing athlete.
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she loved to swim. she could climb a tree faster than anybody. michelle was very fun-loving. she was very outgoing. >> i mean, michelle just embraced life. >> she loved being a mom, even though she was a single mom. she made the best out of that situation. she worked two jobs, sometimes three jobs, just to support alexis. >> michelle went skydiving one time, and before she could go, she had to write a letter to lexi just in case something was to happen to her. >> "my life began after having alexis, and the love i have for her could never be measured. but i want tmake sure that if something does happen to me, that alexis will be loved, safe, happy, praised and protected. i don't like thinking about it, because i plan on being here for alexis for a long time."
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(phone ringing) >> 9-1-1. >> narrator: on september 2, 2010, 24-year-old michelle o'connell died from a gunshot to the mouth. the gun belonged to her boyfriend, jeremy banks, a deputy with the st. johns county sheriff's office in st. augustine, florida. >> everybody's coming, your friends are on the way. >> narrator: deputy debra maynard was on duty that night. >> we stopped off at the hess
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station around 10:00 pm. sergeant beaver was there with corporal shand and myself, and we were having some coffee. call came out, "signal 18, shot fired." immediately, when you hear that it's a shooting involving one of your own, you know, adrenaline's pumping, and we jumped up from the table, ran out and got in our cars and started heading down us-1. (sirens wailing) i pulled up on this side. we noticed the door open to the house. went in through the kitchen, and first door on the left i noticed was open and is where i saw some feet laying on the floor. and i proceeded in the room and i saw deputy banks crouched down by the bathroom door and a female laying on the floor, some
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blood dripping from her face. there was a gun off to her left side, and i noticed the tac light was on and the holster was just right next to the gun on the floor. >> narrator: beside her on the carpet, investigators found a second bullet hole, and nearby, the shell casings. >> sargeant beaver ordered me to go ahead and get jeremy out of the room. i smelled a lot of alcohol on jeremy's breath at that point. and besides being blown away with the alcohol smell, he was just... (growling) he was angry. he wasn't sad. he was... (growling) i had never met michelle, so i wanted to positively id her, and i went out in the kitchen and her purse was on the counter. and i noticed there were two pill bottles with jeremy banks' name on it on top of her purse. >> narrator: the bottles were empty, but inside her pocket
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were 50 pills, including the painkiller hydrocodone. soon, other members of the st. johns county sheriff's office, some of them off-duty, began to arrive. >> narrator: these are law-enforcement interviews with officers who were on the scene that night. >> narrator: over the next two hours, deputy banks, seen here in the yellow t-shirt, huddled with family and friends. he was then interviewed in a police car by his colleague, detective jessica hines. his off-duty sergeant sat in on the interview.
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>> narrator: among the responding officers, a consensus developed: michelle o'connell had taken her own life. >> narrator: and from detective hines, who interviewed deputy banks...
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>> at which point, sergeant beaver told corporal shand and myself to make family notifications. >> the police come here, i was told michelle killed herself, and i knew that... i said, "that's not michelle, because michelle loved alexis. she never would have left her." (crying) it's not right. she should still be here today. >> they didn't come to my house any later than maybe four hours after she had passed, and they were already saying that it was suicide. >> when i heard suicide, i mean, i was like, "no way." i mean, michelle was planning her future. michelle was not planning suicide. >> narrator: one of michelle's brothers, sean o'connell, had been with her just hours earlier at a concert.
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>> i heard that michelle was dead, and that they think it was a suicide. i didn't believe it for one bit, so my friend drives me over about two blocks away, drops me off, and i start walking towards jeremy's house. and there's four st. johns county sheriff's office deputies and they said, "sean, you need to go home right now." i said, "i want an outside investigation. i don't want you guys to deal with this." he said, "no, we're not doing that." >> narrator: the next day, michelle o'connell's body was delivered to the local medical examiner, dr. frederick hobin. his autopsy report showed she had alcohol, but no other drugs, in her system. he found that the fatal bullet had severed her spinal cord. he also found a cut and bruise over her right eyelid and said it was caused by the ejected shell casing when the firearm was discharged. dr. hobin's ruling bolstered the assumptions made on the scene by the sheriff's office: michelle o'connell had committed suicide.
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the medical examiner submitted his report to the sheriff. >> i didn't believe that michelle killed herself, but i believed the sheriff's office. i believed that they investigated and they did a thorough job. i trusted the sheriff's office opinion immediately. >> hello, my name is david shoar, your sheriff in st. johns county, florida. >> narrator: david shoar has been elected st. johns county sheriff three times, twice unopposed. >> our core values are non-negotiable: integrity and treating people with dignity and respect. >> narrator: the sheriff holds one of the most powerful positions here in the historic city of st. augustine. he is also one of the county's largest employers. >> my family, you know, worked for the sheriff's office. >> narrator: michelle's brother scott was a deputy. her mother, patty, worked there as a file clerk. and a year before she died, michelle met deputy jeremy banks.
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>> one of our brothers introduced michelle and jeremy, and at first, we were all happy. he was a deputy. you know, my mom was thrilled. >> he was in a policeman's uniform. that's what i first noticed was the policeman's uniform, you know, and i said, "she's found somebody who's going to protect her." >> but as the relationship progressed, and around the time that michelle moved in with jeremy, he disrespected her, controlled her. i heard less and less from michelle. >> she says, "mom, it's getting bad." and that was about a month or two before she died. and i said, "just come home." >> narrator: the day she died, michelle told family and a friend she had decided to end the relationship. >> on september 2, 2010, michelle came over with alexis to have lunch. she loved this band paramore. i was going to watch alexis while she went to the concert with jeremy that night. and i'm making lunch, and i said, "what's going on?"
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she was really upset. and she said, "chris, it's so bad." and she just hung her head. i told her, "don't go to the concert," and she said, "no, i'm gonna go. i bought the tickets, i'm going, i'm gonna have a good time. but i'm breaking up with him tonight. it's done. i'm leaving. i'm going." and, um... (crying) i'm so sorry. that was the last time i saw her. (crowd cheering) >> my sister and i and my brother, we went to see paramore in concert at the st. augustine amphitheatre. my sister showed up later with her boyfriend, michelle seemed really happy and excited, i was excited to go see a concert. jeremy just looked like... he looked pissed off, so at about an hour into the concert, i basically said, "hey, do you mind scooting over so
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i can hang out with my sister? if you're not gonna enjoy your time with her, then i sure as heck will." and so they switched seats, and then me and her just started rocking out and jamming in our seats and standing up and dancing and singing. >> ♪ you treat me just like another stranger ♪ it's nice to meet you, sir i guess i'll go... ♪ >> narrator: during the concert, michelle sent cryptic text messages to a number of people, including her sister, who was babysitting her daughter. >> obviously, i was receiving these texts that night, and i was worried. i said, "well, she's leaving him. there's something going on." >> narrator: as the concert ended, michelle texted her sister one last time. (crowd cheering)
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>> narrator: her final text was sent to her brother scott. >> narrator: jeremy banks would later tell investigators that michelle broke up with him on the way home from the concert. >> narrator: a little over an hour later, michelle o'connell was dead. >> the day after michelle died, i called the sheriff's department because i wanted to talk to someone and let them know that the suicide thought was wrong. >> narrator: theresa woodward knew michelle as happy and motivated. but michelle's life had not been trouble-free. as a teenager, she was put under the supervision of juvenile authorities for anger issues and depression, according to court
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records. but the records also show that with medication and counseling, her schoolwork and attitude had drastically improved. and then at age 20, a life- changing event: motherhood. >> good job! >> michelle was all about alexis and where she could take her and experiences she could give her and what she could do with her. she would never leave her daughter. she wouldn't do that. i don't know what happened, but that's not what happened. >> narrator: woodward says she had just promoted michelle at her daycare center to full-time status with benefits. >> michelle's life was not spiraling down. she was happy with the changes she was making. the most difficult change she had to make was her personal life and her relationship with jeremy. and she was trying to do that carefully and thoughtfully.
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>> narrator: by all accounts, their relationship was stormy. jeremy banks described it in an interview with detective hines 12 days after michelle's death.
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>> narrator: he later said michelle told him she'd said it just to bother him. but michelle's family paints a darker picture of the relationship: that banks was physically abusive, an accusation he denied in law enforcement interviews. >> i saw him be rough with her in my house. he acted like he was fooling around, and he took her down, like the way police take a person down. and it was a hardcore slam on the floor. and then when she complained, he immediately said, "michelle, i'm not hurting you." my gut feeling was that he was hurting her. >> he put his knee up on her stomach and pressed really hard and slammed her. and she called me and she's like, "chrissy, i'm bleeding." and i told her i was going to call an ambulance, and she said, "please, you're going to make it hard on me, please, i don't want any trouble." she was so scared to go for help. i think she may have been
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influenced by the fact that he would lose his job and retaliate against her. >> narrator: but in the wake of her death, michelle's family says the sheriff's office never gave them a chance to express their concerns. >> they didn't speak to our family at all. they didn't take our statements. they didn't ask us, you know, anything leading up to those days: how my sister was or our interactions or, did i talk to her that night? nobody asked. >> narrator: finally, several weeks after michelle's death, the sheriff's point man on the case, lieutenant charles bradley, met with her brothers and sisters. >> narrator: the family disagreed with that interpretation of her texts.
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>> narrator: as far as the sheriff's office was concerned, the case was closed. >> narrator: but on the other side of the country, a solitary blogger had taken an interest in the story. >> i came across this tiny article that said that a deputy's girlfriend had killed herself with his service weapon. >> narrator: writing under the alias "cloudwriter," she began asking questions. >> my initial intention with the michelle o'connell case was to be sure that it wasn't hidden. but this was not a "let's crucify jeremy banks," this was "let's find out what happened." >> narrator: she started her blog "behind the blue wall" ten years ago, after a high-profile killing in tacoma, washington.
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>> in the midst of a nasty divorce from her husband, tacoma police chief david brame drove their children to gig harbor, parked near his wife's car, shot her, then himself. >> narrator: the murder of crystal brame in 2003 brought the issue of officer-involved domestic violence to the public's attention. >> that day when crystal was shot, everything changed for me. i realized i wasn't the only one that was living afraid. i was married to a police officer, and it did get so that it wasn't a good relationship anymore. since i started police domestic violence websites, i've acquired at least 1,000 cases of officer- involved domestic violence. i wanted victims to see that there were other people, and i wanted departments to know it's out in the open now. >> narrator: behind the blue
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wall became a place for michelle o'connell's family and friends to vent their frustration with the sheriff's investigation. there would eventually be about 250 comments. >> we had an outlet finally for the first time, and we were just hoping that people would see how we were being treated, what was going on, that we had questions that weren't being answered. and we got a lot of attention, and i think that put the pressure on the sheriff to finally do the right thing. >> narrator: after four months of pressure from the o'connells, and citing his own questions about his office's handling of the case, sheriff shoar asked for a new investigation to be done by the florida department of law enforcement, fdle, a statewide agency that is often called in when there's a potential conflict of interest. michelle's mother patty was working at the sheriff's office at the time. >> we were having a meeting, sheriff shoar walks in and says, "they will not find anything." i heard him say that.
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"they will not find anything." >> i'm special agent rusty rodgers from the florida department of law enforcement. i'm a law enforcement officer and i'm conducting a criminal investigation, a death investigation into the death of your sister michelle o'connell. >> narrator: these are audio and video interviews the lead agent, rusty rodgers, conducted with members of the sheriff's department, including michelle o'connell's brother scott. >> it felt like to us as a family that it was rushed, they had their mind made up that it was suicide, and that the investigation could have went a different way, and that he knew there were things in the past that he had done that she was gonna report, and it was going to come out that this deputy sheriff was not the true person he was claiming to be, and that he was actually a pretty bad person to her. >> narrator: many of the responding officers rodgers interviewed agreed with the sheriff's conclusion of suicide.
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>> narrator: others weren't so sure.
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>> narrator: the story of michelle o'connell caught the attention of new york times investigative reporter walt bogdanich, who, working with frontlinwas examining how police departments handle cases when there is the possibility of domestic violence in their own ranks. >> i've been involved in crime scenes and crime scene reconstructions for about 41 years. >> narrator: we went over the case with jerry findley, whose
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findings were critical to the fdle investigation. >> i was contacted by the florida department of law enforcement to examine the evidence in the case and see if we could determine, or if i could determine, the manner of death involved in this. >> narrator: findley analyzed the evidence the sheriff's office had collected, but never sent for analysis. >> walt bogdanich: testing showed that there was no blood found on the weapon. is that unusual in your view? >> for the type of injuries she had, i found it very unusual. i would've expected to find some blood on the gun somewhere. >> narrator: findley said he also would have expected to find some of deputy banks' dna on the gun. but there was just michelle o'connell's dna, which he found suspicious because it was deputy banks' regular service weapon. he also noted the location of the shell casings, which to him indicated that the shooter
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fired with the left hand. michelle o'connell was right handed; jeremy banks is left handed. and as for the injury to michelle o'connell's right eyelid... >> i think that the injury above her right eye was caused by the front sight of the weapon, which is the same size as the injury, which is eight millimeters. >> bogdanich: do you believe michelle o'connell committed suicide? >> based on the evidence that's present, i think it's more consistent with homicide than suicide, the physical evidence. >> narrator: one of the most important discoveries by fdle was two women who said they had heard screams the night michelle o'connell died. the sheriff's office had never canvassed the neighborhood after the shooting, and the women had never reported it. >> we were in the garage having a cigarette. we heard some arguing, so that's what initially brought us even out of the garage. and we walked over here so we could...
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...that the arguing was coming from that direction. >> bogdanich: over there between the two houses? >> between the house and the fence. we knew it was coming from right over there in that open patch. at first, i couldn't tell who it was, but one voice was higher than the other one and then one was real deep. and then we heard, um, we heard a woman yell for help, and then we heard a gunshot. and then there was another yell for help, and then another gunshot. >> bogdanich: and then there was silence? >> and then there was silence. there was no commotion, no nothing. it seemed like a long... it was probably ten, maybe 15 minutes, and then the sirens came. that's why we didn't call anybody. i knew somebody was coming. >> bogdanich: what did you think was happening? >> well, i didn't know if it was an accident or, you know... i didn't know what had happened, but i knew it was "help". plain as plain can be, it was "help". >> bogdanich: what kind of "help" was it when she yelled? what was your sense of her emotional... >> there was something wrong, something happened. and then the gunshot? you knew something was wrong. there was nothing playful.
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nothing. it was somebody that was scared. >> narrator: the women's testimony was considered so important, fdle asked the secret service to give them lie detector tests. both passed. agent rodgers presented his findings to the medical examiner dr. hobin, who had initially ruled michelle's death a suicide. hobin said the witness accounts were so persuasive that he changed his mind. he explained to a local reporter. >> well, i became convinced that it was probably a homicide. >> narrator: and as he noted in this document, "i amended michelle's death certificate by indicating that she was shot by another person and that the manner of death was homicide." fdle handed over the results of their investigation to the local prosecutor, r.j. larizza. investigators from his office soon asked the o'connells' permission to investigate even further. >> at one point, they say to my mother,
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"we may need to exhume..." sister's body. >> and i immediately said yes, because i knew, i said, "they're gonna find something that's missing, that they overlooked." and they said, "fine, we will get in touch with you, we will give you papers that you have to sign." weeks go by, nobody calls me. >> narrator: behind the scenes, the case was unraveling. though he declined to be interviewed on camera, dr. hobin told us that larizza asked him to hold off from filing the amended homicide finding because the case was about to take a new direction. and then larrizza asked to be recused, citing his office's close professional relationship with the sheriff's office. >> now all of a sudden he wants out of the case, and it makes us think, "what's going on? why do you want out?" nobody understood that. why didn't he recuse himself day one if it was a conflict of interest? >> narrator: we tried to talk to larizza. >> bogdanich: r.j. larizza,
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please. it's the o'connell case and it's walt bogdanich from the new york times calling. he's not available. is he in the building? can you tell me that? he's not. can you tell me where he is, please? okay, can you tell me why he hasn't responded to my voicemail messages or my many emails? >> narrator: with larizza off the case, florida governor rick scott appointed a special prosecutor. the governor cited "the potential prosecution" of jeremy banks. >> my goal and my role was to determine if i could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed a homicide. >> narrator: state attorney brad king relied on the opinions of three medical examiners, who all concluded it was suicide. one was dr. hobin, who had again changed his mind from homicide back to suicide. >> bogdanich: based on what your
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medical experts have told you, there were no defensive wounds on michelle o'connell. why is that important? >> i think the importance of that to them was that there was no struggle. >> bogdanich: because if there was a struggle, that might mean what? >> i don't know. i don't know what they thought about that. >> bogdanich: fair to say that if they had found defensive wounds, that might raise questions about whether michelle o'connell actually killed herself? >> it would depend on the nature, and that's one thing that i don't like to do is to speculate. >> narrator: king consulted with the new medical examiner who had recently taken over from dr. hobin. >> i basically inherited the case from the previous medical examiner. when i reviewed the case and all the material, it became apparent to me that this was a suicide. >> narrator: dr. predrag bulic
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altered the course of the investigation with a new theory explaining the injury above michelle o'connell's eye. >> the only sound, solid forensic explanation is that the gun was upside down and the tactical light caused that. >> my understanding was that it was from the recoil of the gun, and therefore, the recoil is essentially going to make the tactical light move forward into the face, as opposed to away. that was their opinion. that is also consistent with my years of training with firearms. >> narrator: after a three-month review, king called in the family. >> we're in the courthouse at a long table: christine, my mother, my brother scott, and myself. i believed that the state attorney was gonna get on board
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and bring charges and we were gonna walk out of that office that night and michelle's death was gonna be vindicated. that didn't happen. >> my conclusion was that there was not sufficient evidence to believe that a crime had been committed. the evidence has to exclude any reasonable hypothesis of innocence and point only and solely to the guilt of the defendant. >> i was devastated. i could not believe that this was happening. and at that point, my brother became upset and said that this was "eff-ing ridiculous" and he wanted, you know, to know how brad king would feel, you know, having a daughter. if something happened, you know, to his daughter, how would he feel? >> narrator: because of his angry outbursts about the case, scott o'connell was fired from his job at the sheriff's office. in the end, brad king declared michelle o'connell's case
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closed. >> when you talk about this case, yes, there is a visceral sense of, "oh, what if she was murdered and this guy goes free?" there ought to be at least some visceral sense, "what if she did commit suicide and he's in prison for the rest of his life?" >> bogdanich: and that's what juries are for, i suppose. >> well, they're for that only if there is sufficient factual basis to start that process. >> narrator: no charges have been brought, and her death officially remains a suicide. >> narrator: the shadow that lay across michelle o'connell's death was the question of how effectively law enforcement investigates cases involving its own officers-- especially when there is the possibility of domestic violence. >> in my 32 years in law enforcement, i can probably
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count on these fingers the number of agencies that have actually held officers accountable and terminated their employment. it is very rare that you see an officer even prosecuted because most prosecutors don't want to file criminal charges against an officer because they need them for their cases. >> narrator: dottie davis spent 32 years on the fort wayne, indiana police force. she says she was in a violent marriage to a fellow officer. today, davis talks to departments around the country about the issue of officer-involved domestic violence. >> so many agencies when i walk in will say, "not our agency. not anybody here." and the fact of the matter is, it's estimated six to seven incidents happen before they ever call the police. but if your abuser is the police, you're going to call his or her agency to the home, to investigate? and in today's technology? a victim calls 911, well, guess
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what? their statement's right on the screen for every fellow officer and every friend of that officer to read and to make a call and let him know what she just told the dispatcher, and that people are responding. >> bogdanich: that's a frightening scenario you just presented. >> it's the truth. >> narrator: there is no comprehensive data on the extent of officer-involved domestic violence, and nationally there are only voluntary guidelines on how to deal with these kinds of cases. but we analyzed the policies and procedures of some of america's largest police departments. >> we chose the 61 departments that had at least 1,000 officers based on fbi data. we asked them to tell us how they handled complaints of police domestic violence. we recorded the first reaction we got from people. and there were a lot of first reactions that went, "we have no idea what you're talking about." and most of these respondents
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were sworn officers themselves and were responsible for knowing what was in their standard operating procedure. >> narrator: we found only one agency that had fully implemented the recommended procedures and safeguards. in the case of michelle o'connell, her family believed the sheriff's office-- investigating one of its own... >> get someone here now. >> narrator: ...had blinded itself to the possibility that the shooting was a fatal case of domestic violence. we asked former new york city police commander vernon geberth to review the sheriff's investigation. >> i have personally investigated, supervised, assessed and consulted on over 8,000 homicides. >> bogdanich: 8,000? >> 8,000. >> narrator: geberth is the author of the widely used textbook, practical homicide investigation. >> every death investigation should be treated as a homicide until it's proven differently. >> 9-1-1.
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>> hey! >> deputy banks reported the case as a suicide. friends of his responded to that. early on, the case was being assumed to be a suicide. >> we were standing out front discussing it and it was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. >> i didn't have any suspicions that it was anything other than suicide. >> there's some serious red flags in the investigation. deputy banks should've been removed from the scene and brought to the station house. and the interview shouldn't have been conducted in the police car at the scene. it should've been in a controlled environment. >> all right, this is detective hines. it is... >> now his sergeant arrived at the scene and basically babysat him. and when he was finally interviewed-- two hours after the event-- the interview takes place in a police car, with sergeant faircloth sitting in. >> sergeant faircloth, i don't know how, but he got there very quickly. so he went to jeremy and stayed with jeremy the whole time. >> since when do we invite people to sit in on an interview?
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i know i wouldn't. >> what did you get to drink tonight? >> bud light. big ones. (laughter) >> there's no courtesy in homicide investigation. there's absolutely no reason in the world to have anybody sit in on the interview. >> comfy spinning chair, not the suspect chair. (laughter) >> i got the impression that he was treated special. i saw in the second interview on september 14th, he actually said to detective hines, "oh, i checked the file and read because i wanted to see what was going on on the other side." >> i've already read the report-- i know i probably shouldn't have. i just wanted to know what went down on the other side. >> how did he gain access to a confidential investigative report and how come she didn't challenge him on that? i don't get it. >> i think that covers it all. lets get out of this room; echoey room. >> yeah. >> this investigation stinks, okay? you can't possibly investigate a
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member of your department the same way you investigate an average case because people know each other, there's friends, you leave yourself open to criticism. i think that the sheriff's office made a major mistake when they didn't bring fdle in immediately. do it right the first time, you only get one chance. >> narrator: our examination also raised questions about the work of the county's medical examiner, dr. bulic, whose upside-down gun theory was crucial to the outcome of the case. this is his official documentation: a cut-out photograph of the gun, taped onto michelle o'connell's autopsy photo. >> bogdanich: i believe this is the only report that you had authored to back up your suicide conclusion? >> um... report? >> bogdanich: yeah. have you written any reports on this case? >> no, this is not my case, this was just out of my pure curiosity and to satisfy the...
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...many different people who came and asked about my opinion. >> bogdanich: we obtained a replica of the gun, and i'd like you to show me how you believe she held the gun. this is the gun... >> mm-hmm. i have to pull it out. >> bogdanich: i think it's a retention holster. >> apparently we don't know how to open this. >> bogdanich: yeah. >> does anybody know how to open it? >> bogdanich: you have to push that in there and then push forward and then it comes out. but before i do that, what makes you think michelle o'connell would do any better than you just did in trying to get this
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out of a retention holster? you have to know what you're doing to get it out. >> no. eventually you would figure out -- if you gave me long enough i would have probably know. but i mean i see your point. and, uh, that doesn't mean that even child cannot pull that by accident. >> bogdanich: why don't you show us how you believe she held the gun when she shot herself? >> the muzzle was in the mouth. the tactical light was aiming towards the-- the right eye. and uh, this is the way that i believe that the suicide occurred. >> narrator: we went to new york's prestigious john jay college of criminal justice to have forensic scientists peter deforest and pete diaczuk go over dr. bulic's work. >> bogdanich: is this an impressive document in your
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view? >> no. >> bogdanich: how would you describe it? >> amateurish. >> the scales here are not correct. the error is huge. and that would not allow that injury to be caused by the discharge of the firearm. >> narrator: we also asked them to test the theory advanced by brad king that michelle's eye was wounded by the gun recoiling forward. >> the idea of it recoiling forward is absurd. you know, basically it appears to be an attempt to explain the wound without considering the possibility of antecedent physical violence. >> in my use of firearms, it defies the laws of physics to have the gun go forward after it's shot. i did in fact fire the gun, and documented using high-speed photography. we had simply confirmed the only movement post-discharge is rearwards. not forwards. i'm not saying that the tactical light could not have made that
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injury. i'm saying that it did not make that injury at the same time that the fatal shot was fired. >> bogdanich: and that's important because? >> well, if it made the injury in advance, that could've been some sort of an aggression taking place against the victim. >> bogdanich: so you actually used a real gun. you held it upside down, what happened to you? >> i set up the shot to fire it. at discharge, the slide came back and... ow! dammit! that hurt! this slide comes back incredibly fast and has two very sharp edges on the bottom rail. there would be at least one, if not two, gouges in the operator's hand. >> narrator: michelle o'connell had no such injuries on her hands. but she did have that cut on her eyelid. >> the attempt is being made to explain the wound as resulting from that moment when the shot is fired and discounting the idea of these being due to violence that took place before
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the shooting. >> bogdanich: are you saying that you believe that michelle o'connell might have been battered before the fatal shot was fired? >> yes. >> narrator: for nine months, we made repeated visits to florida, requested and reviewed thousands of pages of documents. >> bogdanich: i want to inquire about my open records request. >> what's your name? >> bogdanich: it's walt bogdanich. >> narrator: and attempted to interview most of the key participants. >> bogdanich: hi. >> hi, how are you? >> bogdanich: nice to see you again. >> you too. >> bogdanich: i filed a request and i haven't heard anything back. do you know why? >> no, you'll have to call the attorney. >> narrator: and repeatedly, we asked sheriff david shoar for an on the record, on-camera interview to discuss our unanswered questions. but he declined, saying in this letter that he "didn't want to participate in a story that
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will create doubt about deputy banks." but the sheriff did release to the press a 150-page report on the case. >> shoar told us this is not a case where he's trying to protect his own. >> narrator: he conceded his office had made mistakes: among them, that jeremy banks should not have been interviewed in a police car on the scene. >> what did you drink tonight? >> bud light. big ones. (laughter) >> narrator: that the neighborhood should have been canvassed. >> and then we heard a gunshot. >> narrator: the o'connell family should have been interviewed. >> am i allowed to submit a statement? >> narrator: and the evidence collected at the scene should have been analyzed. despite these errors, he insisted that his conclusions were right and he accused fdle and its lead agent rusty rodgers of serious misconduct in the case. >> i'm special agent rusty rodgers from the florida department of law enforcement. >> narrator: the sheriff claimed that rodgers was careless and reckless in his methods, used false and misleading information and coached witnesses. >> i was not coached by anybody.
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he was nothing but professional. i only spoke to him a handful of times and he was professional every time i spoke to him. >> narrator: the sheriff took particular pains to discredit the two women. among other things, alleging they are regular marijuana smokers and couldn't recall if they had been smoking that night. >> totally false. completely. nothing was ever said to us about any kind of drugs or alcohol. >> narrator: and shoar also hired two former law enforcement officers-- one an acquaintance-- to review his report and both agreed based solely on what they read that rodgers' investigation was flawed. as a result of the sheriff's report, agent rodgers was put on paid leave while fdle and a prosecutor investigate. >> this concludes the interview of... >> narrator: fdle declined to comment and agent rodgers was not permitted to speak with us. but perhaps the most surprising twist of all, michelle's brother scott-- claiming he was misled by agent rodgers-- suddenly sided with the sheriff.
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we wanted to speak with him but he declined. >> welcome, everybody, one and all. >> narrator: and this summer-- nearly three years after michelle o'connell died-- sheriff shoar gathered his department at a resort hotel for an annual meeting that became a show of support for jeremy banks and an announcement about michelle's brother scott. >> we also of course have jeremy banks with us and all of you know jeremy because you're a co-worker, and his parents. i've known both of them for many, many, many years. also with jeremy is scott o'connell, who used to be employed at the sheriff's office. scott's going to come back to work as a member of this agency. there may be some of you in this room who have doubts about this case. "i don't know, man, i think it was a homicide." jeremy banks had nothing to do with that case. i'd stake a 33-year career on
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it. we had people that responded that night to that scene and, you know, they were right that night and they're still right. this guy right here came so damn close to being charged with homicide based on nothing. absolutely nothing. (church bell tolling) >> losing michelle, you have a distrust for law enforcement now. i surely have a distrust for sheriff shoar now. >> it may be 20 years, but eventually we will have justice for my sister and for her daughter. >> my granddaughter doesn't have a mother anymore. my children don't have their sister anymore. we have a right to stand up for michelle. we have a right and we have a
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duty. her life was very special. as for jeremy banks, after a year's paid administration leave, he has returned to active duty. he did not respond to our requests for an interview. he is now suing fdle and agent rodgers, accusing them of violating his civil rights. >> i've never stood up in the past and claimed to be right 100% of the time. in fact, i'm right maybe 60%, if i'm lucky. but on this issue i'm right. and by me standing up here and having this conversation with you, i'm doing what i can to take care of him. and i'm going to ask that jeremy and scott stand up. would you two stand up? let's give these two guys a hand. (applause) there you go. (applause)
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>> narrator: frontline... >> the school is in lockdown. >> narrator: one year ago, the tragic shootings in newtown. >> we have a loner, a guy who played violent video games, lived in a house where there were guns. >> narrator: haunting questions. >> how it all adds up to this kind of horror we're working hard to understand. >> narrator: and a heated debate. >> connecticut's very polarized on guns. sandy hook may push people even farther to the extremes. >> narrator: frontline and the hartford courant, "raising adam lanza." >> go to for more on the broader problem of officer-involved domestic violence. a closer look at how to conduct death investigations >> do it right the first time. you only get one chance.
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>> additional reporting from r partners at tnew york times. and connect to tfrontline community. sign up for our newsletter, and follow us on facebook, twitter and >> frontlinis made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major support for frontliis provided by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. more information is available at additional funding is provided by the park foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. the wyncote foundation. and by the frontline journalism
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fund, with a grant from jon and jo ann hagler on behalf of the jon l. hagler foundation. captioned by media access group at wgbh, >> for more on this and other frontline programs, visit our website at frontline"a death in st. augustine" is available on dvd. to order, visit, or call 1-800-playpbs. frontline is also available frontline is also available for download on itunes.
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xp is a rare genetic disorder that affects one in a million people. this navajo couple have two children with the disease. woman: i wanted to find out why there are so many families on the reservation with xp. sun kissed on "p.o.v." to hear from the filmmakers and to find out how you can share your point of view. and the national endowment for the arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great ar


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