JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An Action News Jax Investigation has uncovered the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office violated its own policy when it failed to send a notification to the public about a teen’s murder.
JSO uses what it calls “EARS” to alert the media about crimes and investigations the public should know about.
EARS stands for Emergency Alert Radio System, but they’re actually emails.
Those notifications are important for the public’s safety and the agency’s transparency.
So, when an EARS didn’t go out after two deaths last week, Action New Jax started asking questions.
“I got big dreams,” Dari’one Flanigan rapped in one of his music videos.
But the 18-year-old rapper’s dreams were cut short when he was murdered at the BP gas station on Main Street North in Springfield on June 24.
JSO never sent an EARS alert.
Action News Jax found out about Flanigan’s murder from members of the community instead.
"We are constantly involved and concerned about JSO being straightforward with us,” Northside
Coalition of Jacksonville president Ben Frazier told Action News Jax outside the gas station on June 26.
Action News Jax asked JSO why it didn’t send an EARS about Flanigan’s death.
“We have been made aware of the oversight by patrol, and it is being administratively reviewed. An EARS should have gone out for that incident, and one did not,” said JSO Public Information Officer Melissa Bujeda in an email.
But Bujeda said JSO did nothing wrong when it failed to send an EARS about the in-custody death of James Byron Basham on June 29, even though the agency’s own policy requires an EARS for “in-custody deaths.”
Bujeda declined to do an on-camera interview with Action News Jax, sending us an email instead.
In the email, Bujeda said JSO did not notify the public “because the death is being investigated as a natural death.”
She referenced a separate section of the policy about homicide investigations that says, “An EARS broadcast or public statement are not done for deaths resulting from natural causes, overdoses, or suicide.”
Two days after Basham’s death, Sheriff Mike Williams touted the agency’s transparency at the inauguration for his second term.
“We've done a lot to increase transparency over the years,” said Williams on Monday. “I think transparency is important. It helps to build trust in the community -- something that we have to continue to work on every single day.”
Action News Jax also asked JSO why it didn’t send an EARS alert when it began investigating another homicide in January: A mother named Destiny Dennis.
“Our initial role in this case was geared toward assisting the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, as this was where the incident occurred according to initial reports. Our homicide unit ultimately took over the investigation several days later – as Ms. Dennis was transported to a local hospital where she passed away,” said JSO Public Information Officer Christian Hancock in an email to Action News Jax.
Action News Jax asked why JSO failed to send an EARS when the agency took over the investigation into Dennis’ death.
Action News Jax got an email response back from Stephen Powell, the Chief of Tort and Employment Litigation in the city’s Office of General Counsel, saying JSO had “nothing more to add.”
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