Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saved for posterity. Charlotte County CCSO grasping at straws IMO

What a crock of you know what! What are they trying to do by saying Nathan has "unclean hands"? What the hell does that mean?

CCSO, county, Lee has 'unclean hands' in lawsuit

Widower of murder victim still plans to file wrongful death suit

Nathan Lee said he wanted to wait until after the Michael King murder trial to seek damages against the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office for not helping to save the life of his 21-year-old wife, Denise Amber Lee, on Jan. 17, 2008, after she was abducted.

On Aug. 28, King was found guilty in Denise's kidnapping, rape and murder. On Sept. 4, jurors unanimously recommended the death penalty for King. A judge ultimately will decide his fate in October.

Nathan originally hired a law firm to file a wrongful death suit against the CCSO and Charlotte County, but the necessary paperwork was not filed with the state in a timely manner. Now, in recently filed court documents, county attorneys claim Nathan has "unclean hands" in not following procedures.

Nathan claims there were numerous procedural breakdowns at the CCSO and "severe incompetence" in the way the 911 call was handled on the night Denise was murdered.

County attorneys are asking a judge to block Nathan's request for an unredacted copy of a Sheriff's Office internal affairs investigation into the handling of that call.

The CCSO launched the internal affairs investigation several days after learning that Tampa resident Jane Kowalski called 911 to report she was at a traffic light on U.S. 41 and could hear someone banging on a window and screaming from the back of a Camaro, as she was leaving North Port and entering Charlotte County. Kowalski told the 911 dispatcher that the Camaro, driven by King, made a left turn on Toledo Blade Boulevard. Denise's body was found buried in a wooded area off Toledo Blade two days later.

However, none of Kowalski's information was sent over the airwaves or relayed to the North Port Police Department, which had launched a massive manhunt for Denise earlier that afternoon. Two call center workers received suspensions and additional training as a result of their actions that night.

Nathan said several law enforcement officers were in the area where King drove on the night he murdered Denise. Had law enforcement officers been given the information when Kowalski reported it, Denise may have been saved, he said.

North Port police learned about Kowalski only after she called the department explaining what she had seen two days earlier. She questioned why her information was not shared with North Port.

Nathan's original attorneys failed to file the proper paperwork with the Florida Department of Financial Services at the same time they notified Charlotte County during the mandatory six-month notice period before a suit can be filed. Florida law sets the maximum amount a plaintiff can collect from a government entity at $200,000. If the court awards more, the Florida Legislature must approve it.

"I have new counsel now," said Nathan, who was recently on "Larry King Live" talking about the botched 911 call. "We are following all of the requirements of the law."

However, because of the paperwork snafu, in recently filed court documents, county attorneys claim Nathan has "unclean hands" in not following procedures.

According to court documents filed by Nathan's new firm, Wotitzky, Wotitzky & Ross, "Charlotte County has cited no legal authority to support its proposition that Mr. Lee has unclean hands under these, or other circumstances. This argument is not only devoid of merit, but it is offensive and should be disregarded."

"I don't even know what they mean by saying I have unclean hands," Nathan said this week. "My wife is dead, my two boys don't have a mother, yet they say my hands are unclean."

County attorneys have blocked Nathan's attempts at receiving the CCSO internal affairs investigative report that he believes contains supporting details for his wrongful death lawsuit. Their motion states that CCSO officials say they have to protect Kowalski's identity and that they are not required to release information prematurely, as it is an "ongoing investigation." Further, the motion states, the county is not "liable for the death of Mrs. Lee."

Although Nathan's attorneys could still file the civil suit without having a copy of the report they requested, they are waiting for a judge to make a ruling.

In court documents, Charlotte County contends if Nathan wants to sue and needs the internal affairs investigation as part of the discovery -- evidence made available to both sides -- he should wait until after his suit is filed.

Instead of providing Nathan with a "clean copy" of the investigation, he says the CCSO gave him a "heavily redacted," or blacked-out, copy of the report, citing it as an ongoing investigation.

Nathan's attorneys claim the investigation was complete more than a year and a half ago and is "clearly not ongoing."