Ethics commission finds probable cause Atlantic Beach commissioner misused position | News

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Ethics commission finds probable cause Atlantic Beach commissioner misused position
News


The Florida Ethics Commission found probable cause that Atlantic Beach City Commissioner Jonathan Daugherty attempted to use his position as a public official to try to get preferential treatment during traffic stops when pulled over by Atlantic Beach police.

The commission also determined there was no probable cause to believe Daugherty misused his position to avoid the consequences of failing to register his vehicles and switching license plates between his vehicles.

The investigation report details separate incidents from 2011 to 2014 involving different Atlantic Beach police who said Daugherty either directly said or insinuated he should receive preferential treatment because he is a commissioner.

"There is sufficient evidence to show respondent [Daugherty] used or attempted to use his position for his special private benefit. Respondent's mention of his position was meant to benefit him in the aforementioned situations," Melody A. Hadley, a commission advocate, stated in the Dec. 14 recommendation to proceed against Daugherty.

Daugherty denied misusing his position, and told the Times-Union he will contest the commission's finding.

"There is no truth to it whatsoever. And it's completely fabricated," he said. "In every instance that I was pulled over, I did receive a ticket. I've never gotten out of a ticket for my job."

He said the only incident where a police recording still exists shows he didn't try to misuse his position.

STOPPED 7 TIMES

Police stopped Daugherty seven times and he received eight traffic citations between May 30, 2011, and Aug. 14, 2014, according to police records.

The ethics commission investigation cites incidents including one at Marsh Fest 2012 on Dutton Island. The investigation also details the following stops all made by officers:

■ Aug. 24, 2011 — Officer Stephen Davis stopped Daugherty for not wearing a seat belt. He said Daugherty initially said he was a commissioner and later said he could not be given a citation because he was an Atlantic Beach commissioner. Daugherty said he doesn't remember saying anything like that to Davis.

■ Marsh Fest 2012 — Officer Dewayne Williams said Daugherty drove up and said he should be allowed to park on Dutton Island because he was a city commissioner. Williams initially refused but eventually allowed Daugherty to drive onto the island because traffic was starting to back up.

Daugherty said he was issued a pass to get onto the island but couldn't print it because his printer was out of ink. It was a city-sponsored event and he had volunteered to teach a children's fishing clinic. He said he had his city shirt on because he was working both in his capacity as a city representative and as a volunteer. The officer got frustrated with him, Daugherty said.

■ April 13, 2012 — Officer Michael Fissel said at 1:55 a.m. he saw Daugherty driving in circles in a neighborhood and suspected he might be impaired. Daugherty pulled into Rose Park. Fissel said Daugherty told him he was a commissioner and had been told by the police chief at that time to check on the parks. Fissel said he believed Daugherty was trying to exert his authority as a commissioner.

Daugherty said there was a problem with people selling drugs there, and he talked to the chief several times about suspicious activity there.

■ Aug. 14, 2014 — Officer B.J. Cassidy stopped Daugherty for riding a motorcycle without a motorcycle endorsement. He said Daugherty insinuated his position as commissioner should have kept Cassidy from making the stop. Daugherty said he never mentioned he was a commissioner and never tried to use his office to get special treatment.

Florida law states no public official shall corruptly use or attempt to use his/her official position to secure a special privilege, benefit or exemption. The penalty for misuse of public position ranges from public censure and reprimand up to removal from office.

A civil penalty is the most common in Florida. A person can be fined up to $10,000 per violation, said Kerrie Stillman, ethics commission spokeswoman.

Daugherty has the right to a full hearing before an administrative law judge. Or he could choose to try to enter into a stipulated settlement agreement with the commission's advocate in lieu of having a hearing. Either way, the matter would return to the commission for final decision.

Teresa Stepzinski: (904) 359-4075


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