Final report released for October murder-suicide

BRADENTON BEACH – The Bradenton Beach Police Department has released the final findings on the murder-suicide that occurred in the upper level of a triplex at 2514 Ave. C in October.

Det. Sgt. Lenard Diaz released those final findings on Friday afternoon. According to the 17-page report, the medical examiner’s autopsy determined 37-year-old Sabrina Dumdei’s cause of death was “incised wounds of the neck” and her manner of death was “Homicide – Cut by other person with box cutter.”

The medical examiner’s findings note Dumdei’s fatal injuries included stab wounds and incised wounds to the head, neck, throat, torso, cervical vertebrae, extremities and muscles, and abrasions and contusions of the skin.

“The toxicology reports stated that Dumdei was positive for Ethanol in blood 0.32 G/DL (blood alcohol concentration) and urine 0.37 G/DL,” according to Diaz’s summary report of the medical examiner’s findings.

According to the report, the cause of death for Zachary Winton, 34, was “incised wounds of the neck and upper extremity” and the manner of death was “Suicide – Cut self with box cutter.”

The medical examiner determined Winton had incised wounds of the neck and upper extremity, superficial incised wounds of the torso, blunt impact injuries that included subgaleal hemorrhage and also abrasions and lacerations of the skin.

“The toxicology report stated that Winton was positive for Ethanol in blood 0.24 G/DL (blood alcohol concentration) and urine 0.31 G/DL,” according to Diaz’s report.

The summary of the medical examiner’s findings states the Bradenton Beach Police Department had previously responded to domestic incidents involving Dumdei and Winton at that address.

“It was a known fact that Dumdei and Winton had been arguing with each other the whole week leading up to their deaths,” Diaz stated in his final report.

“During this investigation, several interviews were conducted, evidence was collected, crime scene techs responded and processed the scene along with medical examiner investigators and the medical examiner herself. I also invited the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Homicide Task Force, which I am a part of, to come to the scene for an extra set of eyes a few days after,” Diaz stated in his report.

“At this time, this case is closed as a murder/suicide. If any further information arises, a supplement will be done to this case,” Diaz’s report says in closing.

Incident narrative

The final report Diaz released Friday includes the incident narrative he included in his original offense report dated Oct. 17.

According to that narrative, Diaz and Lt. John Cosby were dispatched to 2514 Ave. C on Saturday, Oct. 17, and advised that two dead people had been discovered by the victim’s father, Keith Dumdei.

“The father stated that he observed his daughter through the glass windows on the door, laying on the living room floor in a pool of blood. Keith advised that he had made entry by punching one of the small glass windows on the door,” the report states, noting the door was locked at the time.

According to the report narrative, Diaz and Cosby then entered the home and observed a female lying on the floor, covered with blood and laying in a pool of blood.

“We also noticed blood everywhere,” Diaz stated in his report, noting that Cosby then walked further into the house and discovered Winton’s body in the bedroom, on the bed.

Final report released for October murder-suicide
Sabrina Dumdei and Zachary Winton were found dead inside this Bradenton Beach triplex in October. Photo: Joe Hendricks

The narrative states, “The Dumdei family advised that they had received information from Winton’s sister, Wendy, through Facebook Messenger that Wendy had not been able to reach her brother or Sabrina all day. One of the Dumdei sisters called their dad, Keith. Keith stated that he was already heading toward the beach, so he could go to the house and check on them. Upon pulling into the driveway, they found Sabrina’s little dog outside. They knew something was wrong. The family stated the dog never left Sabrina’s side. That was when Keith went upstairs,” Diaz stated in his narrative.

“We were able to identify both suspects due to being at the residence in the past for a disturbance and prior domestic violence arrest, and by the family identification,” the narrative notes.

Final report released for October murder-suicide
In the days that followed, these items placed outside the triplex served as a memorial for Sabrina Dumdei. Photo: Joe Hendricks

Diaz’s narrative states he spoke with a man who had been vacationing with his family in a rented home at 2517 Ave. C since Sunday, Oct. 11. The man told Diaz the couple at 2514 Ave. C argued numerous times that week, including while walking down the road. The man told Diaz at one point he heard the couple arguing while walking and “The male yelled that he was going to kill her.”

Diaz spoke with another female who was living nearby and saw the couple walking and arguing during the middle of that week. Diaz also spoke with neighbors and visitors who heard no disturbances.

According to Diaz’s narrative.  Winton’s sister, Wendy, woke up that Saturday morning and noticed she had missed three calls from her brother, Zachary. Those missed calls were made at approximately 7, 8 and 9 p.m. Friday evening.

“According to Wendy, the last call to her from Zachary’s phone was a message. The message was a voice message of Sabrina yelling at Zachary that he was the one that was going to have to leave. Wendy advised that after hearing that last missed call, she tried contacting Zachary and Sabrina but could not reach either of them. Wendy stated that she then messengered Sabrina’s sisters on Facebook and asked if they could go by and check on Sabrina and Zachary,” Diaz stated in his narrative.

Previous death threat

According to court records, Winton was arrested by the Bradenton Beach Police Department on Aug. 31 on alleged charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, tampering with a witness, false imprisonment and domestic battery.

The victim’s name and the address were redacted in the probable cause affidavit prepared then by officer Steve Masi, but after the suspected murder-suicide occurred Diaz confirmed Dumdei was the victim in the August incident that occurred at the same Avenue C address.

According to the probable cause affidavit Masi filed, “Defendant and victim had been arguing for the last two days. Victim stated Winston refused to let her leave the house, or his sight, by threats of violence. Defendant then grabbed her by the face and held a razor knife to her neck and said, ‘Leave and see what happens.’ Victim had a well-founded fear that Winton had the ability to carry out such a threat and that it would take place. Victim finally got away and made the call to 911 dispatch but had to hang up in the middle of the call, as defendant had found her and once again put her in fear of violence.”

“Upon my arrival, defendant was yelling and walking at victim with a large kitchen knife I observed in his right back pocket. Defendant was issued verbal commands at taser point to back away from the victim. He then complied and was detained. While detained in the police department, Winton made numerous threatening remarks about what he was going to do to victim when he gets out, such as ‘If I get charged with felonies, I’ll kill her then myself. I will cut her throat,’” according to the probable cause affidavit.

According to court records, Winton’s attorney, Jacob Grollman, filed a motion on Sept. 9 seeking to allow Winton consensual contact with Dumdei. On Sept. 15, the no contact order was lifted and the status of Winton’s criminal case was still pending at the time of their deaths.

In November, the triplex was demolished by the new owners who purchased the property shortly before the fatal incident occurred.

Final report released for October murder-suicide
The Avenue C triplex was demolished in November. Photo: Joe Hendricks

Barfield responds to Van Ostenbridge’s request for protective order

BRADENTON – On Thursday paralegal Michael Barfield filed a response to the motion attorney Morgan Bentley filed on Monday seeking a protective order for County Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge.

In his response summary, Barfield states, “Van Ostenbridge claims he has produced all records responsive to the records request but wants to avoid questions about his production by invoking his Fifth Amendment rights due to a pending criminal investigation. As set forth below, there is a factual dispute about whether Van Ostenbridge has produced all records. Moreover, a blanket assertion of Fifth Amendment rights is not permitted under Florida law.”

Barfield’s response also states: “The contention that Van Ostenbridge produced all records responsive to the records request prior to the amended complaint is disputed by the parties. As one example, Van Ostenbridge’s response to the amended order to show cause, filed on Dec. 23, claimed ‘all items’ sought in the records request had been produced. However, as recently as Jan. 26, Van Ostenbridge produced records responsive to the request that had not previously been produced.”

“Two days later, Van Ostenbridge produced another version of the same record but with a different filename. An evidentiary hearing is required to resolve the dispute about whether all records have been produced. It is inconsistent for Van Ostenbridge to claim he has produced everything while seeking shelter under the Fifth Amendment to prevent any adversarial inquiry to test his claim of full compliance,.” according to Barfield’s response.

Barfield responds to Van Ostenbridge’s request for a protective order
County Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge seeks to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights if deposed under oath. Photo: Joe Hendricks

In his response, Barfield also states, “Van Ostenbridge makes an unsupported claim that it appears that the deposition is intended to elicit questioning related to Ch. 286, Sunshine Act issues. The scheduled deposition is for the purpose of testing the assertion that all records responsive to the request have been produced.”

“As relevant here, Van Ostenbridge became the actual and exclusive custodian of public records by using private electronic devices to communicate about public business. Barfield is certainly entitled to ask questions about the creation, existence and retention of records responsive to the request,” the response states.

Existing case law

Citing previous case law, Barfield’s response also addresses Fifth Amendment privilege: “It is not disputed that ‘witness may assert the privilege against self-incrimination during discovery in a civil case when he has reasonable grounds to believe that his answers would provide a link in the chain of evidence necessary for a criminal conviction.’ However, Van Ostenbridge has prematurely asserted his Fifth Amendment rights. As Belniak v. McWilliams and other cases make clear, a witness cannot make a blanket assertion of the Fifth Amendment to avoid questions.”

Citing a Third District Court of Appeal ruling, Barfield’s response states, “A blanket assertion of Fifth Amendment privilege not available in civil proceedings.”

The response then notes, “To properly invoke the privilege, a party must respond to each specific question by asserting the privilege. Once properly invoked in response to specific questions, the court then determines whether the responses to the questions posed will potentially implicate the party asserting the privilege. When a trial court is presented with such a contention, it must exercise its discretion and also determine whether it is reasonably possible that the answers could evoke a response ‘forming a link in the chain of evidence which might lead to criminal prosecution.’”

Citing a Third District Court of Appeal ruling, Barfield’s response states: “Deponent must assert his Fifth Amendment right to each particular question, which must then be certified to the court for resolution at a hearing.”

Citing existing case law, Barfield’s response states: “Party is required to make a specific objection to a particular question and, at that time, assert his Fifth Amendment privilege.”

Citing case law again, Barfield’s response states: “As explained by the Fifth District: ‘Not every question asked in a deposition or interrogatory will implicate the Fifth Amendment privilege. However, if Respondent believes a question may lead to incriminating evidence, she (or he) can make a specific objection to the question, assert her (or his) Fifth Amendment privilege and, at that time, the trial court, if requested, can exercise its discretion in determining whether it is reasonably possible that the answer could evoke an incriminating response.’”

In closing, Barfield’s response states, “It is not the witness who determines whether the answers fall within the privilege. Rather, only after Van Ostenbridge asserts his Fifth Amendment privilege to specific questions posed during a deposition does a court address the issue and conduct the test outlined in Belniak. For the above reasons, the motion for protective order should be denied as premature.”

Van Ostenbridge seeks protective order in public records case

BRADENTON – Manatee County Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge plans to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights if he’s deposed under oath by paralegal Michael Barfield.

On Monday, attorney Morgan Bentley filed a motion seeking a protective order from Judge Charles Sniffen. Bentley’s motion references the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides that “No person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”

In response to Bentley’s motion, a Zoom hearing has been scheduled before Judge Charles Sniffen on Friday, March 5, at 1:30 p.m. The hearing seeks Sniffen’s ruling on the protective order sought by Bentley and Van Ostenbridge.

Bentley’s motion pertains to the public records requests Barfield began making of Van Ostenbridge and fellow commissioners Vanessa Baugh, George Kruse and James Satcher on Nov. 20.

Barfield began submitting his records requests one day after Van Ostenbridge made a motion, with no advance public notice or previous commission discussion, to put County Administrator Cheri Coryea on notice that her proposed termination would be decided in early December. Van Ostenbridge made that motion two days after he, Kruse and Satcher took office.

On Dec. 7, Barfield filed a civil lawsuit against Satcher as part of his ongoing efforts to obtain all  of the records he requested, many of which since been provided. Filed with the Circuit Court of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit in Manatee County, Barfield’s lawsuit names Van Ostenbridge and Baugh as co-defendants. Barfield’s lawsuit is a civil case. It is not a criminal case, but the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) is independently conducting a related criminal investigation.

Deposition opposed

When being deposed, the subject of the deposition is questioned under oath – usually in a non-courtroom setting – with a court reporter present. The court reporter then produces a verbatim transcript of the deposition that serves as sworn preliminary testimony to be provided to the judge and others before a case goes to trial.

“Defendant Kevin Van Ostenbridge, by and through his undersigned attorneys, hereby files his Motion for Protective Order related to the deposition noticed for March 12. Wherefore, defendant Kevin Van Ostenbridge, respectfully requests that this court enter a protective order prohibiting the taking of his deposition, or in the alternative, requiring that the deposition be taken after the conclusion of the FDLE investigation with limiting instructions as to the scope of questioning to be allowed,” Bentley stated in his March 1 motion.  

Van Ostenbridge seeks protective order in public records case
Attorney Morgan Bentley is representing Kevin Van Ostenbridge.
Photo: Bentley Law Firm

“Van Ostenbridge has produced all items requested by plaintiff. Nonetheless, on February 19, plaintiff filed his notice of taking deposition, scheduling the deposition of Van Ostenbridge for March 12, at 10 a.m. Such deposition is improper in the context of the current litigation, the purpose of which was to obtain documents. As such documents have been produced, there is no ongoing purpose and no need to take the deposition of Van Ostenbridge other than to annoy and harass,” Bentley’s motion states.

“Moreover, there exists a pending Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation. The FDLE investigation centers on the same issues as those involved in this case. As such, during the pendency of that investigation, Van Ostenbridge will necessarily invoke his Fifth Amendment rights in response to questions related to any matters subject to the investigation,” Bentley stated in his motion.

In his motion, Bentley also stated, “Further, the instant case is solely in regard to Ch. 119 Public Records issues. It appears that the deposition is intended to elicit questioning related to Ch. 286, Sunshine Act issues. This line of questioning would obviously be irrelevant to any Public Records issues and not designed to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

“Given these issues, it follows that any deposition of Van Ostenbridge on these issues will be fruitless. Plaintiff’s insistence at proceeding with the deposition, over counsel’s objection, is merely further indicative of his intention to annoy and harass Van Ostenbridge,” Bentley stated in his motion.

Barfield records request

When contacted Tuesday, Barfield said, “The litigation is related to the commissioners’ compliance with Florida’s open-government laws, which includes the Public Records Act and the Government in the Sunshine law. The purpose of the pending litigation is to ensure that all records responsive to the initial request have been produced. I have many questions about the production of records and whether it was a full and complete production. That is why I scheduled Kevin Van Ostenbridge’s deposition.”

Van Ostenbridge seeks protective order in public records case
Paralegal Michael Barfield wants to depose Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge under oath. Photo: Joe Hendricks

When making his initial records requests, Barfield sought from Baugh, Kruse, Satcher and Van Ostenbridge all emails, text messages and other electronic forms of communication between Nov. 3 and Nov. 20. He also sought a detailed phone log of all calls made or received for that same period.

Kruse, Satcher and Van Ostenbridge were elected on Nov. 3. According to Barfield, they then became subject to the Public Records Act and the Sunshine Law that night, even though they were not sworn into office until Nov. 17. Baugh was reelected on Nov. 3 and as an incumbent commissioner she was already subject to the Public Records Act and Sunshine Law at that time. 

The special county commission meeting on Nov. 19 was scheduled at Van Ostenbridge’s request, and in response to his desire to discuss the county’s legal rights in the event of a COVID-19-related federal shutdown. During that meeting, Van Ostenbridge then proposed terminating Coryea and he made a motion to put Coryea on notice her termination would be addressed at another meeting in early December. Kruse, Satcher and Baugh supported Van Ostenbridge’s motion. Commissioners Reggie Bellamy, Misty Servia and Carol Whitmore opposed it and the motion passed by a 4-3 vote.

During that Nov. 19 meeting, Bellamy said the previously unannounced efforts to oust Coryea appeared to be “premeditated.” Whitmore described the termination efforts as “orchestrated.” Servia described them as “reckless” and “dangerous.”

Those initial terminations efforts were later abandoned, then reinitiated for a second time by Kruse in late January and finally settled with a $204,000 separation agreement Coryea and the commission mutually agreed to on Feb. 23. 

On Thursday morning, Barfield filed his response to Bentley’s March 1 motion.

League of Women Voters believes county charter poses too much risk

MANATEE COUNTY – The League of Women Voters of Manatee County (LWV) no longer fully supports Manatee County becoming a charter government at this time.

On Tuesday, the League issued a written statement in response to the charter-related Anna Maria City Commission work session that took place on Monday.
Manatee County Commissioner George Kruse has been leading the latest effort to make Manatee County the 21st chartered county in Florida and he initiated preliminary discussion about a potential county charter during the Feb. 2 Council of Governments meeting.

As a non-charter county, the Manatee County government is structured, organized and operated according to state statutes. During the Council of Governments meeting, Kruse said the adoption of a county charter would allow the county’s registered voters to impose commission term limits, removal from office procedures, campaign finance restrictions and more if so desired.

During that meeting, several mayors, commissioners and city officials from Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, Bradenton, Palmetto and Longboat Key expressed concerns and/or opposition to the pursuit of a county charter.

The city officials’ primary concern was the fear that the initial county charter could be written or amended later in a manner that would allow the county and the county commission to enact laws, regulations and codes that could potentially preempt and nullify city ordinances, regulations and codes – including those that pertain to land use, development and the use of public beaches.

In response to those concerns, Kruse claimed a “starter charter” could be written in a manner that would not supersede existing city laws, codes and regulations. He also said a starter charter could include a provision that would require at least 60% support from county voters in order to later amend it.

As part of the law firm that serves as the city attorneys’ office for the city of Anna Maria, attorney Wade Vose has stated on more than one occasion that a 60% charter amendment threshold would violate the Florida Constitution.

LWV statement

The League of Women Voters’ written statement begins by addressing the 60% threshold.

“Let us start with the poison pill for Manatee County charter government. State regulations require changes to a county charter be voted with a 50% + one person approval. A county is not allowed to put that bar at 60% or 66%. This makes changes to a charter fairly easy to pass,” the LWV statement says.

“Monday, Anna Maria hosted a work session with Wade Vose, an eminently qualified attorney who has worked extensively on charter revision commissions, and on other charter related issues. His presentation was only to point out the risks to municipalities of charter. It had none of the advantages (which are still significant) that are the reason the League of Women Voters of Manatee County supports charter.

“The major fear of the municipalities is preemption of their regulations and ordinances by the county, especially land use preemption. This can easily be rectified with a provision in the charter that states that the county cannot override any municipal provisions,” the statement says.

“Now we come to the reason that the Manatee charter government will not fly under current state regulations. The state has dictated that a charter county must have 50% +one person to change the charter and this restriction makes it too easy to change the charter. Even if a provision is put in the charter prohibiting the county from overriding city ordinances, the cities will not want, nor should they, to take any chance that at some future election that provision would be eliminated.  
“An example: Manatee becomes a charter county and has a provision that the county will not override municipal ordinances. Four Seasons wants to put a resort hotel in Anna Maria. They could do massive advertising and give large infusions money to commissioner’s campaigns. With only 50% plus one needed to pass, they could use their influence to get this provision voted out of the charter. Then the commission could allow the resort hotel on the grounds that we should allow people to do what they want with their property and it will bring jobs.

“As much as the League supports charter government for Manatee County for all the flexibility and citizen input it allows, until the State of Florida allows charters to have a higher threshold for changes to the charter, the risks of manipulation and undue influence are too high,” the LWV statement concludes.

Lakewood Ranch vaccinations trigger criminal investigation

MANATEE COUNTY – Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh’s role in the controversial Lakewood Ranch pop-up vaccination distribution site has prompted a sworn criminal complaint filed by Sarasota-based paralegal Michael Barfield.

Barfield filed his complaint Monday evening with State Attorney Ed Brodsky’s office and also with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). The complaint alleges Baugh’s vaccination-related efforts may have violated Florida statutes.

The sheriff’s office is now investigating Barfield’s complaint. When contacted via email on Tuesday, MCSO Public Information Officer Randy Warren said, “It’s an active investigation. Michael Barfield filed a complaint yesterday and our detectives are looking into it now.”

In contrast to the randomized, lottery-style vaccine registration and standby pool protocols previously established by the Manatee County Commission, Baugh helped organize a pop-up vaccine distribution site for 3,000 recipients of the 34202 and 34211 zip codes only. In doing so, Baugh did not consult her fellow commissioners. The vaccinations occurred the week of Feb. 16.

On Feb. 16, Manatee County issued a press release regarding the pop-up clinic. In the press release, Baugh was quoted as saying, “This unique opportunity was made possible by Governor DeSantis calling Rex Jensen wanting to do a vaccination site near Lakewood Ranch. The governor has been trying to find large areas of neighborhoods to target.” 

According to the press release, Jensen is the president of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc. According to the Lakewood Ranch website, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch is the parent company of Lakewood Ranch.

In addition to restricting vaccine access to zip codes only, Baugh produced a list of five specific vaccine recipients who did not have to rely on their names being randomly pulled from the county’s standby registration pool. That list included Baugh herself, even though she decided later not to receive the vaccine.

On Monday, Feb.  15, Baugh emailed her list of specific recipients to Manatee County Public Safety Director Jake Saur. Baugh’s list included Rex Jensen, whom she listed as living in the 34212 zip code, and his father, Lawrence Jensen, whom she listed as living in the 34208 zip code. Baugh’s list also included Lakewood Ranch residents Robert and Marie Keehn, whom she listed as living in the 34202 zip code, and herself, whom she listed as living in the 34202 zip code. Baugh also owns the Vanessa Fine Jewelry store in Lakewood Ranch.  

Complaint allegations

“Based on the following information, I have a reasonable belief that violations of Florida Statutes occurred by Vanessa Baugh beginning on or about Feb. 9,” Barfield stated in his complaint.

The complaint references the following Florida statutes:

“When Baugh inserted individuals and herself on a COVID-19 vaccine distribution list, she acted contrary to the adopted Vaccine Standby Pool and used her official position to secure a special privilege, benefit, or exemption for herself and others, which may be in violation of section 112.313(6), Florida Statutes, Misuse of Public Position.

“By including herself and individuals on a COVID-19 vaccine distribution list, Baugh acted contrary to the adopted Vaccine Standby Pool and altered or caused the alteration of an official record or official document, except as authorized by law or contract, or caused another person to perform such an act, which may be in violation of section 838.022, Florida Statutes, Official Misconduct.

“By including herself and individuals on a COVID-19 vaccine distribution list, Baugh acted contrary to the adopted Vaccine Standby Pool and used her official position to take action in reliance on information to which she had access in her official capacity and which had not been made public, to acquire a pecuniary interest or gain a benefit by such information, which may be in violation of section 839.26, Florida Statutes, Misuse of Confidential Information,” Barfield stated in his complaint.

Supporting statements

Barfield’s complaint includes several additional supporting statements.

“On Jan. 6, the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) of Manatee County held a special meeting regarding COVID-19 and vaccinations. At the conclusion of that special meeting, the Manatee BCC adopted a motion authorizing the county administrator to implement the Vaccine Standby Pool, effective Jan. 7, until further notice. The motion was adopted unanimously. As explained in the public presentation during the special meeting, the effect of the Vaccine Standby Pool was to randomize distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine through a lottery system,” the complaint states.

“On or about Feb. 8, constituents of Baugh were actively soliciting her about their eligibility and inability to get appointments for vaccine distribution in Manatee County. Sometime near Tuesday, Feb. 9, Manatee County resident Rex Jensen received a telephone call from Pat Neal. Governor Ron DeSantis was already on the line when the call was made. The reported purpose of the call was to facilitate a location for a pop-up vaccine distribution site at Premier Sports Campus for additional doses of COVID-19 vaccine,” the complaint states.

“On Feb. 9, Baugh sent an email to Jacob (Jake) Saur, Director of Public Safety of Manatee County stating, ‘Jake, the state wants Rex to keep a list. Can we do that.’ That same afternoon, Jensen sent an email to Courtney Coppola, a Florida Department of Health employee, stating Baugh helped reserve the pop-up site and outlining the tentative plan: ‘I have no infrastructure or staff to field all the calls necessary to assemble and maintain a list of candidates for the vaccine. I am copying Commissioner Baugh in the hope that she might be able to think creatively to find a solution,’” the complaint states.

“Baugh ignored the Vaccine Standby Pool process and selected two zip codes within her own district, including friends and herself, that would receive the additional doses of Covid-19 vaccine at the pop-up site. On Feb. 12, Alicia Niki Boyette, a contractor on behalf of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, sent an email to Baugh regarding the registration process for the ‘upcoming vaccination event.’ Boyette indicated that the information the department required for the event was a list with names, date of birth and phone numbers. Baur forwarded the email from Boyette to Saur, who replied that he was working on it. The next day, Baugh replied to Saur ‘Pls send to me when you have info as I am working on a list.’ On Monday, Feb. 15, Baugh sent an email to Saur with the subject matter ‘Names for list’ in which she added a number of individuals to the list of those who would receive the extra doses of vaccine at the pop-up site,” Barfield’s complaint states.

“A notice was sent out to Manatee County residents on Feb. 17 advising that the vaccinations scheduled for Bennett Park under the adopted process would be rescheduled due to inclement weather. Meanwhile, the plan to distribute the additional doses at the pop-up site went forward,” the complaint states.

Barfield comments

When contacted Tuesday evening, Barfield said, “Vaccine distribution must not be based on politics. Manatee County unanimously adopted the Vaccine Standby Pool and residents have been patiently waiting for their number to be called. It’s offensive and criminal when one commissioner diverts 3,000 vaccine doses to an affluent area and then adds names, including her own, to a VIP list.

Paralegal Michael Barfield alleges the recent vaccination selection process may have violated state law. Photo: Joe Hendricks

“Worse, the regular vaccine distribution that was planned for the same weekend was cancelled on the grounds of inclement weather. Yet the vaccine distribution at the pop-up site for the VIP list went forward without a hitch. If those optics aren’t bad enough, the VIP list and two zip codes selected by Baugh for vaccine distribution at the pop-up site happen to be the most affluent and white in Manatee County. I might add that these two zip codes have the lowest rate of COVID-19 infection within Manatee County.

This conduct is the classic example of corruption and using official power to gain a benefit for friends and the well-connected. It’s time for our system of justice to hold her accountable,” Barfield said.

Baugh named in vaccine-related ethics complaint

Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh has been named in an ethics complaint.
Photo” Joe Hendricks

BRADENTON – On Tuesday, county resident Jennifer Hamey filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics regarding Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh’s recent role in organizing a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination distribution site in Lakewood Ranch.

Hamey, a local attorney, filed the ethics complaint one day after Sarasota paralegal Michael Barfield filed a sworn criminal complaint with State Attorney Ed Brodsky’s office and the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office regarding Baugh’s recent vaccine-related actions.

When contacted via email Tuesday afternoon Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Randy Warren confirmed Barfield’s complaint and said, “It’s an active investigation. Michael Barfield filed a complaint yesterday and our detectives are looking into it now.”

Hamey’s ethics complaint and Barfield’s complaints are separate and independent actions that pertain to the same issues.

Ethics complaint

Taking place the week of Feb. 16 at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch, vaccine eligibility for the pop-up clinic Baugh helped organize was limited to 3,000 recipients in the 34202 and 34211 zip codes only. As part of her efforts, Baugh also submitted to Manatee County Public Safety Director Jacob Saur a list containing the names of five specific individuals, including herself, to be vaccinated.

Baugh helped organize the Lakewood Ranch vaccination site in conjunction with Gov. Ron DeSantis and Lakewood Ranch developer Rex Jensen.

Regarding the Lakewood Ranch vaccination site, Manatee County issued a press release on Feb. 15 in which Baugh was quoted Baugh as saying, “This unique opportunity was made possible by Governor DeSantis calling (Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc. president) Rex Jensen wanting to do a vaccination site near Lakewood Ranch. The governor has been trying to find large areas of neighborhoods to target.’” 

According to Baugh’s short list, which contained each person’s zip code, address, phone number and birth date, two of the five people on that list – Rex Jensen and his father Lawrence Jensen – do not live in the 34202 or 34211 zip codes. Baugh’s short list also included Lakewood Ranch residents Robert and Marie Keehn, who like Baugh, do live in the 34202 zip code.

The Lakewood Ranch pop-up vaccine distribution site’s zip code restrictions were not in accordance with the randomized, lottery-based vaccine registration and standby pool protocols previously established by the Manatee County Commission.  

As a result of the public fallout that ensued, Baugh later apologized to some degree for her actions and she said she chose not to receive the vaccine herself.

Issues for consideration

Hamey’s ethics complaint lists two issues for consideration by the Commission on Ethics.

“Did respondent (Baugh) violate Florida Statute 112.313(6), Misuse of Public Position, by ignoring the county’s lottery system for the COVID-19 vaccine distribution and instead unilaterally picking two zip codes in her district to receive 3,000 additional vaccines issued by the state, to the detriment of all other Manatee County residents 65 and over who had signed up for the lottery system?”

“Did respondent violate Florida Statute 112.313(6), Misuse of Public Position, by putting herself and four friends onto a ‘VIP’ list provided to the county to insure she received a vaccine from the extra doses provided by the state?”

Hamey’s complaint notes that in February Baugh was approached by DeSantis with an offer to provide 3,000 additional vaccines for a pop-up vaccination site at the Premier Sports Campus.

To date, the county administered vaccinations have generally occurred at Tom Bennett Park in east Manatee County and also at the county’s public safety center.

Hamey’s complaint notes the Premier Sports Campus is owned and operated as a Manatee County park.

“Respondent (Baugh), by her own admission as stated by her at a county work session on Feb. 18, took full responsibility for choosing the two zip code locations and advised she was not directed by the governor to do so. Both of these zip codes are located in her district, are predominantly white and have an average median income of over $100,000,” the complaint states. It also notes Baugh lives in the 34202 zip code and owns a business there as well.

The ethics complaint states, “Respondent (Baugh) further admits in her responses to correspondence from an angry resident that she ‘did have a lack of judgement.’”

Hamey’s complaint cites language contained in Florida Statute 112.313(6) that states, “No public officer shall corruptly use or attempt to use his or her official position or any property or resource which may be within his or her trust, or perform his or her official duties to secure a special privilege, benefit or exemption for himself, herself or others.”

The complaint also states, “The first instance of violating 112.313(6) occurred when respondent (Baugh) took it upon herself to determine what two zip codes were worthy to receive an additional 3,000 vaccines and chose two areas that were advantageous to her personally and to the detriment of the other 150,000 persons over the age of 65 who had done as directed and entered into a lottery system.

“Respondent used her position to advise the governor of her choices. She did so with no discussion with the other six commissioners, and she did so without any consideration to the very lottery system she (and the other commissioners) put into place for the residents of Manatee County to maintain fairness in the process,” according to the complaint.

“The second instance of violating 112.313(6) occurred just days after already excluding over 140,000 residents from a chance at the 3,000 vaccines – only 7,285 of the approximately 150,000 signed up residents lived in 3402 or 34211. Respondent created a ‘VIP’ list to ensure that she and several friends and neighbors got vaccines out of those 3,000 that were provided by the state. Two of the parties that she listed on her ‘VIP’ list didn’t even live within the two zip codes that she chose as the ones to get the vaccine,” Hamey stated in her complaint.

“These actions taken by the respondent, separately and over the course of approximately a week, are a clear violation of the requirements outlined in 112.313(6),” the complaint states.

The ethics complaint is accompanied by several evidentiary exhibits, including the Monday, Feb. 15 email Baugh sent Saur that contained her list of five specified vaccine recipients.

The exhibits also include the Tuesday, Feb. 9, email Baugh sent Saur that said, “Jake, the state wants Rex to keep a list. Can we do that.”

In response, Saur wrote, “The state hasn’t mentioned anything to us on this end yet on what they require. We would be able to pull from our vaccine waiting pool for scheduling for them.”

Baugh remains commission chair

On Tuesday, the Manatee County Commission voted 4-3 in opposition to Commissioner Reggie Bellamy’s motion to remove Baugh as the commission chairperson. Bellamy’s motion did not seek to remove Baugh as county commissioner, nor does the commission have that authority.

Before making his motion, Bellamy asked Baugh if she would resign as commission chair. Baugh said she would not.

Commissioner Reggie Bellamy proposed removing Vanessa Baugh as commission chair.
Photo: Joe Hendricks

Baugh was joined by commissioners George Kruse, James Satcher and Kevin Van Ostenbridge in opposing her removal as chair. Commissioners Misty Servia and Carol Whitmore joined Bellamy in support of his failed motion.

$204,000 Coryea separation agreement finalized

Coryea separation agreement finalized
Cheri Coryea’s tenure as as county administrator came to an end on Tuesday.
Photo: Joe Hendricks

BRADENTON – The Manatee County Commission, on Tuesday, voted 6-1 to accept a separation agreement that at the end of the day ended Cheri Coryea’s two-year tenure as the county administrator, and her 30-year tenure as a county employee.

Commissioner Reggie Bellamy cast the lone opposition vote to the separation agreement. He said he could not support an agreement that resulted in Coryea vacating her administrator’s role.

The separation agreement calls for the county to pay Coryea a lump sum payment of approximately $204,000, minus any taxes to be deducted. The separation agreement is not a termination and it is not a resignation.

The commission-approved separation agreement includes 20 weeks of regular pay per Coryea’s $192,000 annual salary. The separation agreement also includes 400 hours of paid leave, 500 hours of sick leave pay and 197 hours of compensatory time pay.

Before the separation agreement vote took place, Commissioner Carol Whitmore unsuccessfully sought to have Coryea’s vacation pay increased to 1,000 hours.

Before that 6-1 vote occurred, the commission rejected by 4-3 vote Commissioner Reggie Bellamy’s motion to discontinue the separation discussion and give Coryea one year to prove she can move the county forward. Commissioners Vanessa Baugh, Kevin Van Ostenbridge, George Kruse and James Satcher opposed Bellamy’s motion. Bellamy, Whitmore and Commissioner Misty Servia supported it.

The commission-approved separation agreement brings to an end two previous efforts to terminate Coryea. Those efforts were first initiated by Van Ostenbridge in November, and then again by Kruse in January,

Acting county administrator

After a short break, the commission then engaged in a lengthy discussion regarding the appointment of an acting county administrator.

The commission ultimately voted 4-3 in opposition to hiring Venice-based attorney and former Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines to serve as acting county administrator while a search for a new county administrator is conducted.

Coryea separation agreement finalized
The commission majority opposed Charles Hines serving as acting county administrator. Photo: Joe Hendricks

Commissioners Baugh, Kruse, Satcher and Van Ostenbridge opposed Hines’ temporary hiring, which was previously proposed by County Attorney Bill Clague. Bellamy, Servia and Whitmore supported hiring Hines.  

Before those votes were cast, school board member Dr. Scott Hopes expressed interest in the acting county administrator’s job.

Van Ostenbridge and James Satcher also touted Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance President and CEO Dom DiMaio as a potential candidate.

“Dom DiMaio’s beating down my door. I’ve talked to Dom a couple times as well,” Van Ostenbridge said. “DiMaio’s not here, but he seems pretty interested the way he blows my phone up.”

During public comment, county resident Carol Felts expressed concerns about DiMaio’s connections to developer Carlos Beruff. She also oppossed Hopes serving in that role.

Satcher mentioned Rick Mills as another potential candidate. Mills formerly served as superintendent of the School Board District of Manatee County.

After another short recess, the commission voted 6-1 in favor of appointing current Deputy County Administrator Karen Stewart to serve as the acting county administrator, but only until March 23. It was noted during the meeting that Stewart is not interested in serving in that role on an extended or permanent basis.

Coryea separation agreement finalized
Karen Stewart will serve as acting county administrator until March 23.
Photo: Joe Hendricks

As a final action, the commission voted 7-0 to direct Clague to draft a contract and accompanying resolution for the position of acting county administrator, to be presented to the commission no later than the commission’s land use meeting on March 4.

The commission will then have until March 23 to appoint someone to serve as acting county administrator while a search for a permanent county administrator is conducted. Van Ostenbridge expressed hope that the

HBPD releases fatal accident details

HOLMES BEACH – On Saturday morning, the Holmes Beach Police Department released the following probable cause affidavit submitted by Detective Brian Hall.

“On 02/10/2021 at around 1900 hours, a vehicle vs. pedestrian crash occurred in the 2700 block of Gulf Drive on Holmes Beach in Manatee County. The pedestrian and victim, Ms. Madelyn Dakin, was crossing Gulf Drive in the 2700 block walking westbound and was not in a designated crosswalk area. A vehicle, determined to be a 2006 Chevy Trailblazer, was traveling south on Gulf Drive and struck the victim, projecting her approximately 30 feet Southwest onto the grassy area beside the roadway. The vehicle information was provided by a license plate reader located directly above the incident location. The victim sustained a severe laceration to the abdomen with various other injuries and was pronounced deceased on scene by EMS at 1911 hours,” the probable cause affidavit said.

“Multiple witnesses stopped and advised that a thin built, blonde female, approximately in her 20’s, was observed beside the victim and frantically shaking her, asking other witnesses for help. This subject was later identified as Ms. Cierra Shannon who is the defendant in this case. One witness advised that the defendant made multiple statements that she needed to leave because she was in a hurry or she needed to pick up her mother before eventually getting back in her vehicle and leaving the scene. Two witnesses were interviewed and photo packs were completed and administered. Both witnesses confirmed Ms. Shannon in the line-up provided. The Medical Examiner’s report determined that the victim’s manner of death as ‘Accident’ and the cause of death as ‘Transecting Laceration of Aorta due to blunt impact to the torso,’” according to the probable cause affidavit.

“Multiple locations were checked for the defendant to include the address listed on her driver’s license. Officers spoke with the defendant’s mother at the given address, but the defendant and the involved vehicle were not located at this time. The involved vehicle is registered to the defendant’s mother but she was not able to advise its location at this time. The morning of the following day (02/11/2021), units were contacted by an attorney advising to represent the defendant. The location of the vehicle was provided at this time and located at 4535 119th St W where consistent damage was observed on the front passenger’s side headlight and quarter panel area with various dried blood spots that was at a seemingly consistent height of the victim’s injuries. The defendant advised the attorney that she would turn herself in at Bradenton Police Dept. She arrived at Bradenton Police Department and was arrested, and paperwork was completed,” according to the probable cause affidavit.

The vehicle was located in the trap yard at the FISH Preserve in Cortez.

On Friday, Shannon, 27, was released on a $15,000 bond. She faces a first-degree felony charge of “Leaving scene of crash with death.”

According to Florida Statute 316.027 (2)(c), Crash involving death or personal injuries: “The driver of a vehicle involved in a crash occurring on public or private property which results in the death of a person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the crash, or as close thereto as possible, and shall remain at the scene of the crash until he or she has fulfilled the requirements of s. 316.062. A person who willfully violates this paragraph commits a felony of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084, and shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 4 years. A person who willfully commits such a violation while driving under the influence as set forth in s. 316.193(1) shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 4 years.”

According to a press release issued by the Holmes Beach Police Department on Thursday, the victim, Madelyn Dakin, 83, is survived by her husband Gerald. The couple lived in Brighton, Michigan.

“Madelyn and her husband of 67 years, Gerald, have vacationed in Holmes Beach for many years,” the press release said.

Kruse call log reveals private communications between commissioners


County Commissioner George Kruse’s private communications have raised concerns about potential Sunshine Law violations. (Photo by Joe Hendricks)

MANATEE COUNTY –County Commissioner George Kruse’s call log indicates he’s had private communications with fellow-commissioners Vanessa Baugh, James Satcher and Kevin Van Ostenbridge since being elected on Nov. 3.

It is not illegal for members of the same elected body to communicate by phone, text message or email, but it is a violation of Florida Sunshine Law if they discuss anything that has, will or could foreseeably come before them as official county business.

On Tuesday, Kruse provided paralegal Michael Barfield with a call log and a copy of an recent text message exchange he had with Satcher. Kruse provided these documents in response to the public records request he received from Barfield on Friday Nov. 20.

Baugh, Satcher, Van Ostenbridge and former commissioner Steve Jonsson received similar records requests, and all were given until Friday, Dec. 4 to respond. Barfield made his records request according Florida’s Public Records Act.

According to Kruse’s call log, he had, or attempted to have, 16 telephone conversations with Baugh during the Nov. 3 to Nov. 20 timeframe specified in Barfield’s records request.

Kruse had three phone communications with Satcher and two with Van Ostenbridge during that same time. He also made one call and received one call from developer Carlos Beruff, and on Nov. 20, Kruse called Circuit Court Judge Edward Nicholas.

On Tuesday, Nov. 17 Kruse, Satcher and Van Ostenbridge were sworn in as new commissioners, joined by Baugh, who was elected to another term. Later that day, they participated in their first commission work meeting. That night, Kruse left Satcher a voice mail at 6:39 p.m. and called him again at 10:18 p.m. At 10:22 p.m., Kruse called Baugh, and he called her again at 9 a.m. the following morning.

At 6:45 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19, Kruse sent Satcher a text message that said, “Ignore our call the other night. Stick to original.”

During the Nov. 19 commission work meeting that took place later that morning, the county commission adopted by 4-3 vote a county resolution presented by Baugh with no public notice that now allows the commission to change its meeting procedures while a meeting is in progress, with no advance notice to the public.

“Any of the foregoing rules may be waived at any board meeting then in session by a majority vote of the board, unless such waiver is in conflict with state or local law,” according to Resolution 20-191.

Van Ostenbridge then initiated a discussion, with no advance public notice, that resulted in a 4-3 vote to put County Administrator Cheri Coryea on notice that her potential termination would be discussed and determined on Wednesday, Jan. 6.

Commissioners Reggie Bellamy, Misty Servia and Carol Whitmore opposed the Nov. 19 actions initiated by Baugh and Van Ostenbridge.

Bellamy said the efforts to terminate Coryea seemed “premeditated” and Whitmore said they seemed “orchestrated.”

Barfield began submitting his records requests the following day.

Barfield’s reaction

“It’s a bombshell,” Barfield said Wednesday afternoon when discussing these initial discoveries.

According to Barfield, the three new commissioners became subject to the Public Records Act and the Florida Sunshine Law once the election results were known on Nov. 3. As an incumbent, Baugh was already required to comply with the Public Records Act and the Sunshine Law.   

“There’s 16 calls between Vanessa Baugh and George Kruse at various times,” Barfield said.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh has apparently had several phone conversations with Commissioner George Kruse. (Photo by Joe Hendricks)

“That message about ‘ignore the other night’ is so telling, coming hours before the Nov. 19 meeting began. It seems to me this is strong evidence of coordination in advance of a meeting,” Barfield said.

Wide-ranging concerns

Barfield said Baugh still had not provided him with an original draft copy of the resolution she presented with no public notice.

Barfield said Baugh’s official county emails indicate she had a conversation with the county attorney’s office on Nov. 18 about her requested resolution but did not provide that office with a digital copy of her document.  

“To date, she has not produced that record. Vanessa did provide a photograph of the draft language of the resolution,” Barfield said.

Barfield questions whether Baugh or someone else wrote the original draft of that resolution.

Barfield also said he spoke with two people who attended the post-meeting farewell ceremony for departing commissioners Betsy Benac, Steve Jonsson and Priscilla Trace on Nov. 10.

Barfield said he was told that Baugh suggested to ceremony attendee Tara Poulton that there might be a job opening at the county soon. Poulton lives in Bradenton and serves as the Economic Development Director for DeSoto County.

“The people I talked to on the record said they heard Vanessa say there’s going to be a change in the Manatee County administration very soon,” Barfield said of the farewell ceremony that preceded the Coryea termination discussion by nine days.

When contacted Wednesday afternoon, Poulton said she attended the farewell ceremony to say goodbye to Benac and Trace.

Poulton was asked if Baugh said anything about applying for the county administrator’s position.

“It was such a casual conversation. She said something to the effect of ‘You never know, we might have a position open.’ There was no mention of any specific position opening up,” Poulton said.

When asked if she’s had any contact with Baugh since then, Poulton said, “No, none whatsoever. And I have no intention of applying for the county administrator’s position if it opens up.”

Still awaiting records

Barfield said he received some preliminary records from Van Ostenbridge Wednesday afternoon and was told he’d receive copies of his Van Ostenbridge’s text messages and phone log on Thursday.  

Regarding Baugh, he said, “I received a couple emails from her official county account and a phone log from her official county phone that has virtually nothing on it. I’ve received nothing from her private email accounts or her private cell phone, including her text messages and phone log.”

Barfield said Satcher produced some records Tuesday night that he was still reviewing.

When asked where all of this might be headed, Barfield said, “I’m still collecting evidence.”