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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

[FL] From sister of murdered deputy's wife, Jean Lindsey: An open letter to Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent

...You may wonder why I take such an interest in this "incident." You see, my sister was killed by her husband, a deputy for the Palm Beach County Sheriff's office, 17 years ago, Oct. 9, 1992... Don't make the mistake of thinking this could never happen to you...

Hernando Today
Published: October 11, 2009

On Oct. 5, I read in Hernando Today "Deputy accused of beating his wife." At first I was enraged and then waited for days to see the public's response to this outrageous act by a deputy employed by the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

It is now Thursday and I am saddened by the fact that either we, the taxpayers, have become accustomed to and therefore desensitized to such atrocities or that someone has the power to keep such things from being printed about any further. After all, these are the very people who carry guns and have the authority to determine if we are obeying the laws and when we appear in court it is our word against theirs.

The article states that Jeffrey P. Swartz was charged Saturday with domestic violence and placed on administrative leave. It states that Swartz had an argument with his wife, pushed her into the floor and placed his arms around her neck. It goes on to say that the wife sustained red marks on the front of her neck and arm. There was even a witness to this event.

My questions are: Is Swartz being paid while on administrative leave and will he retain his job?

You may wonder why I take such an interest in this "incident." You see, my sister was killed by her husband, a deputy for the Palm Beach County Sheriff's office, 17 years ago, Oct. 9, 1992.

His peers' explanation was that my brother-in-law was so in love with my sister that he could not live without her so he shot her in the head a couple of weeks after their divorce was finalized and then turned the gun on himself. She had been abused by him for 24 years but waited until the children were grown to leave him so that her children would not have to do without the necessities of life. I would be willing to bet that my nieces would sacrifice everything to have their mother back.

There is a very long story to all of this, how my brother-in-law's fellow deputies helped him stalk her when she tried to hide from him, how he was given the opportunity to admit himself into St. Mary's Hospital mental unit when on a previous occasion, a few weeks before he killed her, he attempted to kill her. When she reported it to the sheriff's department they played the recording of her report to my brother-in-law who then stated she was accusing him of those things only because she wanted alimony. Believe me, she wanted nothing but her freedom of him and his abuse.

This is what I would like to know, Sheriff Nugent. Will Detective Swartz be required to attend some "anger management" classes and retain his current position or another job in the department or will he be terminated? I would also be interested in knowing if there are any other members of your department who have been charged with domestic violence and are still employed by Hernando County.

I hope that you can respond that it is Hernando County's policy to terminate immediately any officer charged or believed to be involved in domestic violence of any kind.

I read some of the e-mails attached to this article, one of which was a woman married to a law enforcement officer who was currently abusing her. My advise to her is run to a women's shelter out of this area. Your life and the life of your children are much more important than his paycheck or his pension.

Don't make the mistake of thinking this could never happen to you. It happened to my family. My sister has been gone for 17 years and I still miss having a cup of coffee with her each Saturday morning while discussing the events of the week on the phone.

Carol Nelson

1998 and 1999 articles:

Sun Sentinel
Steve Nichol
Oct 10, 1992

A Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office pilot apparently fatally shot his ex- wife and himself. [Sentence section missing in library archive copy of article] or they "took it with a grain of salt," said Michael H. Stauder, Jean Lindsey's divorce attorney.

"The family feels it needs to be investigated on whether the Sheriff's Office made a thorough investigation," Stauder said.

The family also wants somebody else to investigate the apparent murder- suicide other than the Sheriff's Office, Stauder said. The murder-suicide took place in an area that is under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff's Office.

The Lindseys had been scheduled for a divorce trial in November. In a pre- trial statement on Sept. 25, Jean Lindsey expressed fear.

"I can still hear her words ringing in my ear, 'I know one day he's going to kill me,'" Stauder recalled.

After her deposition, however, the couple immediately reached a settlement on the property they owned and a divorce was granted, Stauder said.

"Everything seemed fine at that point. I guess the husband was a lot sicker than anybody thought," Stauder said.

Associates and sheriff's officials said Donnie Lindsey, a 22-year veteran of the department, was upset over the breakup of the marriage, which collapsed after his reserve duty during the Persian Gulf War.

The deputy was treated for alcohol abuse after the August allegations against him.

Lindsey initially returned to work in the alarms division of the Sheriff's Office, a light-duty job. Psychologists, however, subsequently cleared him for regular duty in the sheriff's aviation unit, where he was a helicopter pilot.

"They determined he wasn't a threat to himself and others," Ferrell said.

Sheriff Richard Wille on Friday personally contacted a psychologist who had counseled Lindsey, but Ferrell said there is nothing more the Sheriff's Office could have done.

Palm Beach Post
Christine Stapleton
Oct 26, 1998

Jean Lindsey was terrified.

On Aug. 4, 1992, she went to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office for help. Earlier that day, she said, her estranged husband, sheriff's deputy Donnie Lindsey, held a gun to her head and said, "Goodbye."

But hours later, she decided to take her bruises, fears and suspicions to the State Attorney's Office, telling an investigator there she feared sheriff's officials wouldn't take her complaint seriously.

That they'd think she'd egged her husband on or embellished the dispute to get the upper hand in their bitter divorce.

Two months later, at age 41, Jean Lindsey was dead.

She was found on her bed, shot just above the right eye. Her ex- husband was nearby, killed with the same .357 Magnum. Investigators concluded that Donnie Lindsey shot his wife, then killed himself.

Jean Lindsey's relatives say she could have and should have been protected.

In a federal lawsuit set to go to trial in Fort Lauderdale next month, Jean Lindsey's family claims the sheriff's office failed "to take necessary and appropriate action" when investigators learned months before the shooting that Donnie Lindsey had threatened to kill his wife and himself.

The family also claims the sheriff's office "had a pattern and practice of permitting certain of its officers, including Donnie Lindsey, to abuse their spouses without subjecting them to the same standards and laws as members of the public."

"My sister knew she was going to die, that this was going to happen," Robert Kunkel, Jean Lindsey's brother, said this month. "She said, `I can't get justice now, but I know you'll do the right thing.' One of the main things for the family is that this should never happen again to another spouse of a law enforcement official."

Sheriff's office response

The sheriff's attorney did not return phone calls about the case. In court papers, the sheriff's office offers this response: Jean Lindsey "knew of the danger . . . realized and appreciated the possibility of injury or damage . . . and, having a reasonable opportunity to avoid it, voluntarily" exposed herself to it.

The sheriff's office, which was headed by Richard Wille at the time, did provide psychological counseling and alcohol treatment to Lindsey and transferred him to its marine patrol unit.

As the case has progressed, the family has learned that files have been lost. Then, there is the cast of players:

Robert Boxold, the internal affairs supervisor at the sheriff's office who had been given a psychologist's report about Lindsey's threats several months before the shooting, now is the chief investigator at the state attorney's office.

Timothy Valentine, the former chief investigator at the state attorney's office who was critical of the investigation Boxold oversaw, now has Boxold as his boss.

Krista Rothman, the prosecutor who decided not to file domestic assault charges against Lindsey after the Aug. 4, 1992, incident, now is a candidate for county judge.

Shortly after Boxold moved to the state attorney's office and learned he was being sued, he reviewed the state attorney's file on the case and gave it to a secretary, Boxold said in a deposition taken for the civil case. The file, which contained notes critical of the sheriff's investigation, now is missing.

Boxold and Valentine declined to comment on the case.

Rothman, who is not being sued, remembers the case well. At the time, Rothman worked in the state attorney's intake division, reviewing a new case every 15 minutes. But Lindsey's case had been given more attention than most domestic abuse allegations because Lindsey was a deputy and his wife had complained about the sheriff's internal investigation.

"It was a classic case of `he said, she said,' " Rothman said.

Donnie Lindsey was obsessed with controlling his wife, said Kunkel, Jean Lindsey's brother. When Lindsey - a pilot who flew helicopters for the sheriff's office - worked nights, he so frequently flew over the couple's home, shining a bright spotlight over the neighborhood, that neighbors complained, Kunkel said. Lindsey even insisted on attending his wife's gynecological exams.

The Lindseys separated, after 24 years of marriage, in April 1992. In June, Lindsey's supervisors were worried and asked that he undergo a fitness-for-duty exam. A lieutenant had heard rumors that Lindsey had threatened to kill his wife and himself.

"No matter where you're at or no matter what you do, I'll shoot myself in the head and put my brains all over you," Raul Diaz, a psychologist who examined Lindsey, said during his deposition about Lindsey's threats.

On June 19, 1992, Diaz sent his report to Boxold. In it, he recounted Lindsey's threats and a night when Lindsey was so drunk and angry that he put his head through a wall. However, the psychological tests indicated he was not suicidal or homicidal. Diaz recommended therapy, marital counseling and Alcoholic Anonymous, and concluded that Lindsey was fit for duty as a pilot.

Alcohol treatment

By the end of the month, Lindsey had been committed to an in- treatment alcohol treatment center for police officers. Stephen Skultety, Lindsey's counselor at the center, remembered Lindsey's threats.

"I had some concerns that Donnie did not say in the first week to two weeks of treatment, `You know, I was really thinking crazy. How could I have thought that?' " Skultety said in his deposition in November 1997. "He persisted probably for the first week of treatment at least in saying that I have feelings . . . of killing my wife and myself."

Lindsey was released from the center on July 30, 1992. On Aug. 4, he met with Jean to discuss a property settlement. During a conversation in Lindsey's truck, Donnie held a gun to her head and said, "Goodbye," Jean told investigators, according to the investigators' reports.

Later that day, she went to the sheriff's office. Jean became convinced her complaint wouldn't be taken seriously by sheriff's investigators and asked for an independent investigation. The same day investigators searched Lindsey's truck and found two empty holsters.

Diaz also met with Lindsey and sheriff's officials.

"There were long discussions about (committing) him," Diaz said in his deposition last year. "I had suggested that he either be (involuntarily committed) or that he voluntarily admit himself." A deputy drove Lindsey to St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach, where he stayed in the psychiatric unit for 10 days.

"How do you think that made my mother feel?" said Christy Laury, the Lindseys' younger daughter. "How would you feel if you're begging, pleading for your life and they turn around and help him?"

Jean Lindsey's family believes Donnie Lindsey should have been arrested.

"If he had been a regular person, he would have been arrested," said Donna Fernandez, the couple's older daughter.

"We just don't buy the logic that arresting him would not have prevented this," Kunkel said. "If you believe that, why arrest anybody?"

Jean Lindsey argued for another agency to handle the case. The investigators, who listened to her complaint but did not photograph the bruises on her arms, drove her to the state attorney's office.

"Mrs. Lindsey came into the State Attorney's Office complaining vehemently that the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office did not take her complaints seriously and she was demanding another law enforcement agency take a look at it," Valentine, the state attorney's chief investigator in 1992, said in a deposition last year.

Valentine listened to her complaint and photographed her bruises. He interviewed witnesses. He asked repeatedly for the sheriff's investigation of the incident and Lindsey's personnel records, but didn't receive all of them.

To Valentine, something wasn't right.

"It is unclear at this time if PBSO is attempting to stall or alter records they may have," Valentine wrote in his notes on Aug. 7, 1992. "Considering the fact that Donnie Lindsey is extremely depressed, suicidal and has access to countless weapons, a delay in determining an outcome in this investigation could be fatal."

Valentine persisted. According to Valentine's handwritten notes, which Valentine turned over to the Lindsey family lawyer as part of his deposition, Boxold apologized for the sheriff's investigation and admitted that the detectives assigned to investigate Jean Lindsey's complaint were friends of Donnie Lindsey's.

"He states that he is sorry that the investigation was not done properly from the beginning, but he was `on vacation,' " Valentine wrote.

No charges filed

Valentine said he made numerous requests for psychological reports from the sheriff's office regarding death threats Lindsey had made toward Jean months before, but never received them. On Sept. 1, 1992, Rothman, relying upon Valentine's investigation, decided not to file charges.

"There would be testimony that since the alleged incident there has been continuous contact made by the victim, Jean Lindsey, in an attempt to resolve the civil (divorce) matter," Rothman wrote.

Rothman said in a memo that she had considered filing a misdemeanor battery charge against Lindsey because of bruises seen on Jean Lindsey. But detectives who interviewed her just hours after the fight "would both testify . . . that the bruises in the photos were already visible."

"Medical testimony would not substantiate bruising within a couple of hours," Rothman wrote. An internal affairs investigation had not resulted in any discipline, Rothman wrote.

Finally, Rothman cited an incident in May 1992, in which a sheriff's lieutenant heard that Jean Lindsey had pointed a gun at her husband, Rothman wrote.

Donnie Lindsey, who had been transferred to the sheriff's marine unit during the tumultuous summer, was found fit to return to the sheriff's aviation unit.

On Oct. 9, 1992, Donnie Lindsey parked his truck about a mile from his ex-wife's home in Lake Clarke Shores. No one knows exactly what happened, but the Lindseys' son-in-law found Jean Lindsey lying on her bed. She had been shot in the head. Lindsey, in his underwear, was sitting on the floor, leaning against a sliding glass door. He also had been shot in the head, with the same gun.

Palm Beach County sheriff's detectives Van Garner and Rick Oettinger were assigned to investigate the murder/suicide. The Lindseys' daughters were shocked. Their father was a close friend of Oettinger's and they often baby-sat for him.

Garner thought the sheriff's office should ask an outside agency to investigate. Oettinger eventually was taken off the case, but the investigation remained in-house.

"I mean, basically we were investigating ourselves," Garner said in his deposition. "I was ordered to work it."

Rothman said this month that arresting Lindsey would not have prevented the shooting. As for Lindsey's psychological records, they probably were privileged and could not legally have been given to Valentine, Rothman said.

Even if Lindsey had been arrested, he would have posted bond and been free, she said. "It was a terribly tragic situation."

Donnie and Jean Lindsey were buried after separate funerals, a day apart. The sheriff's aviation unit gave Lindsey a fly-over at his funeral in Belle Glade. The Lindseys' daughters said they were appalled by the fly-over, but were too traumatized to contest it.

"We were scared if we said no," Donna Fernandez said, "they would make us out to be evil."

Sun Sentinel
Scott Gold
Nov 17, 1998

About the time police helicopters performed a ceremonial flyover above the grave of Palm Beach County Sheriff's Deputy Donnie Lindsey, suggesting that he had been some sort of a hero, Robert Kunkel knew something was wrong.

"Here's a man," Kunkel said bitterly on Monday, "who murdered his wife."

Just two months before the funeral, in August 1992, a terrified Jean Lindsey described to investigators how her husband of two decades had pointed a target pistol at her head with these words: "Goodbye, Jean."

She fought him off that time, but on Oct. 9, Donnie Lindsey shot his estranged wife above the eye with a .357-caliber Magnum in her Lake Clarke Shores home, then shot himself.

Both were dead. But who was to blame?

Six years later, a jury will provide an answer. In a trial that began on Monday in Fort Lauderdale, Jean Lindsey's survivors claim that the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office protected Donnie Lindsey, a helicopter pilot, by turning a blind eye toward indications that he was suicidal - and homicidal.

Instead of pursuing charges against Donnie Lindsey, Sheriff's Office investigators - including some of the department's top officers - "coddled" him, said Sid Garcia, an attorney representing Jean Lindsey's brother, sister and daughters.

The office's inaction, and decisions that included appointing close acquaintances of Donnie Lindsey to investigate the case, amounted to nothing less than a violation of Jean Lindsey's civil rights, the family charged on Monday.

The family is asking for an undetermined amount of damages.

"He was one of them," Garcia said. "Because of Mr. Lindsey's relationship with the top brass of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, he was able to get away with crimes, and ultimately get away with murder."

The Sheriff's Office disagrees, and says it took every step available - including transferring Donnie Lindsey, forcing him to undergo psychological evaluations and investigating Jean Lindsey's claims - to curb potential violence.

Even if Donnie Lindsey had been charged with a crime, such as attempted murder or kidnapping, after he pointed the target pistol at his wife, he would have quickly bailed out of jail, according to James Barry, an attorney representing former Palm Beach County Sheriff Richard P. Wille.

It was an unavoidable tragedy, the Sheriff's Office attorneys argued on Monday. The department "tried to do what was best for Donnie Lindsey and what was best for Jean Lindsey," Barry said.

"When tragedies happen, people look around to see who's to blame," said Fred Gelston, an attorney representing Sheriff's Office investigator David Ferebee in the case.

It will not be an easy case to prove.

By law, proving that the Sheriff's Office didn't properly investigate the case - which is by no means clear in itself - is not sufficient. Attorneys representing Jean Lindsey's survivors must also prove that the Sheriff's Office directly caused the killing, which is a difficult burden.

"If it didn't cause the damage - the end result in this case - then it's not actionable," said Kent Pratt, an attorney representing Robert T. Boxold, a former Sheriff's Office investigator who is now the chief investigator of the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office.

The family's attorneys, however, think they have the evidence.

Donnie Lindsey, for example, had told associates that he was capable of "smoking" his wife. In sessions with psychologists and investigators, Lindsey repeatedly suggested that he could easily become violent with his wife. At one session, one of the Lindsey's daughters revealed that he had assaulted her in the hallway of a West Palm Beach hotel.

But instead of being arrested, or involuntarily housed in a mental ward, Lindsey was sent to therapy. At one point, he was sent to alcohol counseling, though he never had a problem with alcohol, Garcia said.

He was also allowed to listen to his wife's version of the target pistol incident before he was interviewed, Garcia claims, violating department policy. Other Sheriff's Office employees were encouraged not to "rat out" their colleague, Garcia charged.

All the time, the lawsuit charges, anyone who was around Donnie Lindsey knew he was a dangerous man.

"He never was without a gun," Kunkel testified on Monday. "Donnie Lindsey - always - was armed. He was like a madman."

Palm Beach Post
Christine Stapleton
Dec 3, 1998

A federal jury awarded $69,000 to the family of Donnie and Jean Lindsey on Wednesday for their claim that the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office should have protected Jean Lindsey from her ex- husband, a deputy with a history of domestic violence.

Donnie Lindsey went to his ex-wife's home in Lake Clarke Shores on Oct. 9, 1992, and shot her, then killed himself. Two months earlier, Jean Lindsey, 41, had told sheriff's officials her then-estranged husband had held a gun to her head and said, "Goodbye."

The Lindseys' two daughters and other relatives sued the sheriff's office and Robert Boxold, who knew of Donnie Lindsey's problems because he then oversaw the sheriff's internal affairs division, and deputy David Ferebee, who investigated the August incident.

They claimed the sheriff's office conspired to protect Donnie Lindsey because he was a veteran officer. After two days of deliberations, jurors upheld the conspiracy complaint against the sheriff's office but cleared Boxold and Ferebee.

"This was not about money for the family," the family's attorney, Sid Garcia said. "It was about vindicating Jean Lindsey. They all knew that Donnie Lindsey was homicidal."

Before the trial, the family offered to settle the case for $2.9 million. The family later dropped its offer to $1.5 million, the sheriff's attorney, James Barry said.

"There was no evidence the sheriff's office conspired or had a policy in place to violate Jean Lindsey's rights," said Barry, adding that he was disappointed by the verdict.

Palm Beach Post
Scott Hiaasen
Mar 24, 1999

A federal judge has thrown out a $69,000 jury award to the family of a woman who was killed by her ex-husband, a Palm Beach County sheriff's deputy with a history of domestic violence.

In December, a jury found the sheriff's office did not do enough to protect Jean Lindsey, a 41-year-old woman who told sheriff's investigators in August 1992 that she was threatened with a gun by her husband, deputy Donnie Lindsey. Two months later, after they divorced, Lindsey shot Jean and himself at her home in Lake Clarke Shores.

The jury gave $29,000 to Jean Lindsey's estate and $20,000 each to the Linsdeys' two daughters.

But U.S. District Judge Jose Gonzalez ruled Monday in Fort Lauderdale that there was not enough evidence to support the jury's conclusion and threw out the verdict. The judge also said the jury contradicted itself: In answer to one question on the verdict form, the jury said the practices of the sheriff's office did not lead to Jean Lindsey's death, but the sheriff was blamed for her death in a later question.

"Although (the) plaintiffs have suffered a terrible loss under the worst of circumstances, the defendant is not to blame for the actions of Mr. Lindsey," Gonzalez wrote in his ruling.

After the August 1992 incident, Jean Lindsey did not believe the sheriff's office was taking her seriously and asked the State Attorney's Office to investigate her complaint instead. But prosecutors declined to file charges against her husband.

Lindsey told at least one psychologist that he had thoughts of killing his wife, and he spent 10 days in a hospital psychiatric ward. He was also treated for alcohol abuse.

"Every time he (Lindsey) escalated his violence he kept getting the green light to do it again," said Sid Garcia, a lawyer for the family.

Garcia said the family was "very disappointed" with the judge's decision; he believes the judge should have instead granted a new trial. Garcia also said he plans to appeal.

Fred Gelston, a lawyer for the sheriff's office, said the judge's ruling upholds the rights of police officers to independently decide when to make an arrest.

Without the verdict, the sheriff's office may not be responsible for paying the Lindsey family's legal fees for the lawsuit. The family's lawyers are seeking more than $343,000 in fees and costs.

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