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Sunday, November 24, 2013

[FL] From Frontline and the New York Times: What Happens When the Police Investigate One of their Own?

The New York Times and PBS Frontline collaborate to take a closer look into the shooting death of Michelle O'Connell, departing girlfriend of St. Johns County sheriff's deputy Jeremy Banks. The question and argument for 3 years has been was it murder or suicide? In a set of accompanying articles they also present related problems, solutions, and what they have discovered using multimedia and the best investigative journalism many of those I've talked to have ever seen.

Updated Nov. 24

[FL] It's that simple? Anonymous deputy says his anonymous girlfriend killed herself and the anonymous investigators believe him.

Television Documentary:
- on PBS ChannelFrontline and The New York Times investigate:
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
On the night she broke up with her Sheriff's Deputy boyfriend, 24-year-old Michelle O’Connell was found dead from a gunshot in the mouth. Next to her was her boyfriend’s semi-automatic service pistol.

ONLINE NOW: PBS Frontline Website Documentary: 
You may also see the full version online now at PBS.org:
"A Death in St. Augustine."

Two Gunshots On a Summer Night
A Deputy’s Pistol, a Dead Girlfriend, a Flawed Inquiry
New York Times /Frontline Multimedia Indepth reporting:
By Walt Bogdanich and Glenn Silber
NEWS OF THE SHOOTING ARRIVED via police radio as Deputy Debra Maynard and two other officers were sipping late-night coffee at the Hess gas station, a brightly lit outpost on a slumbering stretch of Dixie Highway on St. Augustine’s south side.

Departments Are Slow To Police Their Own Abusers
New York Times / PBS Frontline
By Sarah Cohen, Rebecca R. Ruiz and Sarah Childress
Dottie Davis, a former deputy police chief of Fort Wayne, Ind., said she was battered by her domestic partner, also an officer. When the police chief in Tacoma, Wash., shot and killed his wife in a parking lot after years of abusing her, the shock from that event 10 years ago mobilized national support for a more aggressive response to domestic violence in police households...

Frontline: How to Combat Officer-Involved Domestic Violence
Mark Wynn helped to write a national policy on officer-involved domestic violence... As a police officer, did you ever have occasion to respond to domestic violence calls?
Thousands over the years...

Frontline: One Survivor’s Story
What is it like when your abuser worked in law-enforcement? Here, one woman shares what happened to her and how she escaped.

Frontline: How Should You Investigate a Death?
by Sarah Childress and Alexander Hyacinthe
...When a police officer is involved, an accurate death investigation is important, especially from a liability standpoint, says Vernon Geberth, a retired New York police lieutenant commander who wrote the widely used textbook, Practical Homicide Investigation. To make sure it’s done right, an outside agency should be called in to take on the case immediately... “You can’t possibly investigate a member of your department the same way you investigate an average case... Because people know each other as friends, you leave yourself open to criticism... You do it right the first time. You only get one chance.”
[[police officer involved domestic violence oidv intimate partner violence ipv abuse law enforcement public safety lethal fatality fatalities murder said suicide  St. Johns County  deputy jeremy banks sheriff david shoar florida state politics]]


  1. Thank you for investigating.

  2. New York Times, ‘Frontline’ collaborate on investigation of Florida woman’s death
    by Andrew Beaujon
    Nov. 21, 2013
    [Excerpts] Next Tuesday, “Frontline” will broadcast “A Death in St. Augustine,” an investigative collaboration with The New York Times. The Times plans to run a multimedia story on the investigation this weekend. The collaboration tells the story of Michelle O’Connell, a Florida woman whose death was ruled both a suicide and a homicide. Her boyfriend, Jeremy Banks, a sheriff’s deputy in Florida’s St. Johns County, has sued the Florida Department of Law Enforcement over its investigation... Producer Glenn Silber first brought the story to New York Times reporter Walt Bogdanich. “I decided it was worthy of looking into more deeply than anyone had to date because it touched on some issues I was interested in,” Bogdanich said in a phone call with Poynter. “Among them, how rigorously do police investigate one of their own?”... http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/230795/new-york-times-frontline-collaborate-on-investigation-of-florida-womans-death/

  3. Happy to see a blogger get some well-deserved recognition. Keep up the excellent work.

  4. Thank you!

  5. I would just like to offer condolences for Michelle's family, and to say that fighting to reopen the case was a very courageous thing to do. Don't stop, keep fighting, there are people you believe in your cause and in justice for Michelle. Holding the entire sheriff's office accountable will not only honor Michelle, but will expose the corruption that may have let a murderer walk free, and will encourage everyone to stand up and fight for the truth about many other cases, and help to change the huge systematic problems that allow these types of terrible injustices to occur. Keep fighting, and know there are people everywhere who support you in your struggle. These things are only possible when people are afraid to stand up to the authorities. God bless.

    1. Jonathan I shared this with those close to Michelle. It's a beautiful encouragement. Thank you.

    2. I could not agree more!!!

    3. Just watched Frontline. So sad. My prayers go out to her family. I really have no idea how people can live with themselves. It makes me want to right to that Police station and tell them all how I feel. Thank you New York Times. PBS and whoeve else still keeping this open. How can I help??

    4. I can't believe the St Johns PD got away with an obvious assisted murder. My heart goes out to her family. As daughter of police officer I am well aware of how they potect their own. RE OPEN CASE!!!!

    5. It would be interesting to see if all the women he has dated since the investigation can give any insight on the officer's actions and behaviors in relationships.

    6. I just watched this Frontline episode on Netflix. I live north of St. Johns county and remembered seeing that the case had been reopened, but did not hear what the outcome was. How disgusting that the State's Attorney chose not to prosecute. It is a shame that the St. John's County Sheriff's Office didn't have the "integrity" they claim to have to step away and call in FDLE to begin with to have them do the investigation from the beginning. It seemed to me that the Sheriff's Office did such a shoddy investigation that there was NO evidence collected to prove or disprove ANYTHING. In actuality, they showed up, pretended to "investigate", then left. There is no "justice" left in our justice system. I pray for Michelle's family. God will see that those who failed her receive their just desserts in the long run.

    WJCT, First Coast Connect
    Tue November 26, 2013
    A PBS Frontline documentary airing tonight on WJCT Television takes a close look at a controversial death investigation... Controversy has lingered since 2010 over the death of 24-year-old Michelle O’Connell....
    LISTEN: WJCT's Melissa Ross spoke with New York Times investigative journalist and three time Pulitzer Prize winner Walt Bogdanich, the lead reporter of "A Death in St. Augustine." http://cpa.ds.npr.org/wjct/audio/2013/11/fcc_deathinstaug_11-26-13.mp3

    READ: The New York Times "Two Gunshots On a Summer Night"

    SOURCE: http://news.wjct.org/post/pulitzer-prize-winning-reporter-walt-bogdanich-death-st-augustine

  7. Just finished watching the nicely detailed Frontline documentary (great work Frontline!). And a personal thank you, from me to you in exercising our freedom of the press and most importantly keeping the powers that be in check. Thank you, thank God for people like you!!

    OK, so after watching this documentary I am personally under the belief that this was NOT a suicide. I am appalled by what I watched this evening and how the officer in question was treated like a chum.

    I mean even if the police department was on the up and up, and everything was legit, it's still very inappropriate for ANY department to investigate one of their own officers. Personally I'm asking for the FBI to do their own investigation into this police department. These folks/officers are not above the law, they work for us (we the people) and they should never forget this fact! Frankly I think this department needs to be reminded.

    And what's with the officer, captain or lieutenant at the end who is up on stage at the hotel? I mean who is paying for this preacher and his pulpit? Why is he up on stage speaking to an audience about the deceased and his own personal beliefs? It looks very suspicious in that he is trying to push his opinions on the audience of officers -- this just seems plain wrong. Where is the justice in this land of the free, home of the brave? What happened to my America?

    Feeling lowly and sad for our nation when I see things like this. Hoping and praying for justice for the victim and her family.

    1. Im out raged.....this case needs Homeland Security

    2. Ditto!!! Thank you

  8. Im not even finished watching this....Im outraged !! Not only is it clear this officer killed this sweet girl. But in the interviews with this officer...he laughs...jokes...the car interview...the cut on her eye and not on her hand. Makes me sick!! Other officers even spoke of Banks temper. Banks should be in prison. Homeland Security really needs to get on this case.I will never visit St Petersburg ever again!! This is horrible.Please dear God...get Homeland Security on this case!!!! One more thing...with so much doubt...why not allow a jury to decide? Why are these dirty, good ol boy, southern cops playing Judge and Jury?? If they are so sure of themselves...then give this family peace by at least allowing the case to be heard in a court room.

  9. I am one lone person, hundreds of miles away, with no connection to Michelle O'Connell's family whatsoever, yet I feel gnawing visceral emotions anyway. Hopefully a justice greater than humanity and Earth will ultimately hold everyone from the St Johns Sheriff's department involved in this sad affair accountable.

  10. I saw this on Frontline and had questions about conflicting reports: 1. During the first phase of the video, it was reported by the suspect that he was in the garage when he heard the sound of the gun shot. However, later in the video, it was said that the victim grabbed the gun from the holster during an argument. 2. The wound on the eye has edges rounding upwards, however, when demonstrating the gun in the upside down position, the rounded edges would mark downward.

  11. Just watched the Frontline episode and just wanted to say how deeply sorry I am to all who were and are involved in this beautiful spirit named Michelle. It was a real eye opener and it is sad that you all have to fight so hard for what we ALL know is the true story about that September morning. Please keep fighting for awareness of this situation. If you cannot get justice for Michelle, you will definitely get justice for thousands of others due to your strength and love. Michelle is undoubtedly with you and proud of you all knowing that you are fighting for her! I love you all deeply and hope to see the justice prevailed! God Bless you and stay strong! XOXO. Mandy

  12. I wonder if anyone considered the possibility that deputy Banks had Michelle's phone at some point during the concert and sent the odd texts. They were too short and cryptic making it look like someone typing them on the sly. As soon as I saw them it's what it looked like to me. That would make this a premeditated homicide.

    1. I thought the same thing. Is there anything left that will bring justice for Michelle and her family?

  13. After watching Frontline tonight I find myself mystified that so many questions went unanswered, has there been no further investigation of this case? What about the second bullet hole, there was no mention of that? Did they never exhume the body; it’s obvious that the autopsy was botched, badly. In my opinion there is a strong case for homicide, based on the evidence presented. Is a civil case possible?
    I hope the family of this woman does not give up their quest for justice.


    ...The death of Michelle O’Connell, suicide or not, is a strong call to action on the issue of domestic abuse and its collusion within the ranks of the thin blue line. This is a message that should resonate in Florida and Cleveland and all points in between...

    The Plain Dealer [Ohio]
    By Phillip Morris
    on November 26, 2013

  15. I watched the PBS documentary about St. Augustine last night. I'm very sorry for the victim's family and also very sad to see how a police dept misuse their power to save a killer. I think Fed should look into this case.

  16. Francis, you sent a comment that has a link to a website where you offer a visual for the NYTimes article, but I'm concerned because I don't know you, your name is not hyper-linked, and that link could take folks to an infected page. I don't really know how to resolve this but I am open to suggestions.

    1. Hello,

      I understand your concern. I just linked this comment to my Google profile, if that can help.

      I found the NYT story through Twitter and it stayed with me and since I design information, I decided to list the protagonists' positions to make sense of a lengthy and complex article. I'm now working on a visual timeline, also to help make sense of the article. Either of them might contain mistakes as the article is not really structured for this and I'd happily correct them.

      Hopefully this helps. At the same time, feel no obligation if you're still concerned.


    2. Yes and in light of the discussion people can choose now whether to click on the link you sent, which is http://www.chezvoila.com/blog/two-gunshots. It looks ok enough but because I draw so many enemies in this topic I have to be careful. Thank you for being understanding.

    3. Thanks for sharing the link and sorry to hear that you're getting a hard time for writing this blog. I hope to make the complex NYT story more accessible. I've just published a visual timeline too, to make sense of the sequence of events (you'll see a mention of you). Would you have any idea of when the FDLE inquiry completed? I could not figure it out from my sources. Thanks.

  17. [Folks might think I'm distrusting. That would be true.] <3

  18. St Johns Co is just as guity for assisted homocide. Being child of an officer I have knowledge how they protect their own. My love to her family. Be comforted that everyone knows how incompetent that Sherriff and his detectives truly are. I will pray for Michelle

  19. I notice Ms. O'Connell pants were unzipped. It appears she was getting ready to go to bed or had just came out of the bathroom. Was this checked
    out in any way. In either case she wouldn't commit suicide

  20. Just finished watching this well done expose and it's definitely a miscarriage of justice. Basically, this guy is getting away with murdering his wife, plain and simple. The brother has been cowed into being a sap too, by them offering his job back.
    My heart goes out to her family, this young lady was the same age as my older daughter and so young and full of life. This case needs to be reopened by an outside source and go to trial!

  21. [Audio] The Leonard Lopate Show - WNYC
    Police Officer-Involved Domestic Violence
    Tuesday, November 26, 2013
    "Pulitzer Prize winning Frontline correspondent Walt Bogdanich discusses “A Death in St. Augustine,” a collaborative project with The New York Times that investigates police officer-involved domestic violence. He discusses the hidden problem of officer-involved domestic violence, and the story at this investigation's heart: that of young single mother Michelle O'Connell who was found dead from a gunshot after she broke up with her boyfriend, who was a cop. The sheriff’s office ruled it suicide—but was it?"

  22. I am so saddened by this tragedy, as a citizen of the US, as a woman, and as a human. And, as a follower of true crime stories, watching forensic type shows as often as I can, I can't help but question a couple things that really were not ever fully addressed.

    1. As someone else mentioned, two bullet firings???? How often does this happen in attempted suicide? I have to image NOT very often. There was no explanation given.

    2. Absolutely no gunshot residue tests on either Michelle or the killer...oops, I mean Jeremy. Frustrating.

    3. Was there any analysis of the angles of the shots to even see if it was feasible that she was able to shoot herself based on the location of the shells, location of bullets, and Michelle's body's final position, apart from the bruise on her eye? (as a sidenote, I was flabbergasted at the suggestion that she shot herself using the gun upside down to match the light to the bruise...? Who would do that to commit suicide?) What about blood splatter analysis? These things were not mentioned in detail on Frontline and it seems like there HAS to be something in these details.

    4. I advocate for an exhumation and independent autopsy to at least get as much on record -- from a non-flip-flopping ME -- as soon as possible to avoid as much tissue degradation as possible.

    5. I am puzzled at Michelle's brother. I understand the desperate want and need for a job, but it seems that he has sold his soul to his sister's killer and conspirators.

    So many questions left unanswered, that I am left frustrated and sad.

    1. Frustrated and sad... Me too... something deceptive is obviously going on here. It's so obvious..., it makes me sick.

  23. I learned of Michelle's death through the investigation by the New York Times and Frontline. As an attorney, I am wondering whether or not Michelle's family has instituted a civil action against, among others, Jeremy Banks? Neither the article nor the program mentioned anything about this.

  24. I watched the Frontline piece. It's really sad, but I believe that small law enforcement agencies are prone to poor investigations when their own misbehave.

    I feel bad for Michelle's family. I think it is despicable that her brother was fired when he asked questions about the death, then re-hired him when he chose to turn to silence.

    I hope an investigation by independent authorities is conducted. In the meantime, bless you all, and don't give up hope.

  25. This article was published in the Sun-Times. I thought you might be interested.

  26. Investigated twice and cleared twice. Just because you dont like the truth doesn't mean you can try to keep blaming somebody else. Zero real evidence, a witness over 200yds away, an officer remembers she smells soap months after. 3 ME's ruled suicide. Brother calls in bomb threat then even he agrees with the suicide months later. Now even he is friends with the suspect. Let it go

  27. AnonymousJuly 09, 2014

    It's just begun! Being cleared by your own Dept is flawed even the Sheriff admits so....quietly
    This is never going away! The witnesses passed FBI Polygraphs....

    M.E Hobin amended the death certificate to Shot by Other: Homicide. Although it was not filed.
    Dr Bulic never wrote any reports and believes in FORWARD RECOIL! And the Third M.E you suggest, won't comment on the case( can't remember it), Steven Cogswell ...look him up, he's been ridiculed Nationally.

  28. Again, as stated above -- gunshot residue on both the hands of the woman and the cop should prove which one was the shooter. Why wasn't this even mentioned?

  29. The family needs to file a civil suit against 1) the officer that is a suspect and 2) the sheriff's office. With the help of the expert witnesses presented in the documentary I don't think it will be hard to find representation.

  30. did anyone ever really check her cell for his dna? He could have been the one to send those texts to her family to make it appear as if she was thinking suicide,

  31. I just watched Frontline: A Death in St. Augustine... I am outraged!!! Before I start I will offer a short comment to Michelle's family... 'don't give up... something is seriously wrong here.'

    Close to the end of the above mentioned show... the sheriff has a meeting in a fancy hotel with all his employees present and he says...(I'm paraphrasing) that man (meaning his deputy) was almost charged with a homicide when they had nothing (then he repeats) nothing...' I'm sorry but this is so absurd... nothing??? what about the dead girlfriend, in his house, his gun, she was right handed, no deputy DNA on gun (suggesting coverup), the actions of the sheriffs office alone are a huge red flag... what's going on here? Everything about this case is absurd... listen to the expert that wrote the text book... The primary suspect was treated as a friend... who is this guy... even more suspicious (because the sheriff mentions it in his 'speech') who are this guys parents... and what is there relationship with the sheriff.... The sheriff himself makes it sound extraordinarily friendly... At the very least... this is a complete blunder by the St. Augustine Sheriff's office... but given their actions... they are acting so guilty... acting so strangely... and not just one of them... there was only one deputy who sounded reasonably objective toward the whole thing... All the rest of the people in this documentary who worked for (or associated with) the Sheriff's department (more than 10) acted as if they were obviously covering something up. Something is very wrong here... and everyone should be very outraged... I honestly can't believe I just watched what I saw. Someone has to do something. If I were Michelle's family I'd take that tape and sit down with the governor of FL and get him to watch it... because something very very fishy is going on within his jurisdiction... I'm no expert... but to me it reeks of dirty 'organized crime like' behavior for the sheriff's office to act so completely irresponsible... in the opening statement of the documentary they have a brief interview with the sheriff where he says (paraphrasing) integrity is non-negotiable... I would bet everything I have that his integrity and the integrity of the entire department has been grossly compromised... by nearly everyone who appeared in this documentary.... never have I seen so many people act so guilty and behave so strangely... what's going on here... Please someone... do something... because Michelle didn't deserve to die and her murder doesn't deserve to be covered up by a corrupt police department with obviously far reaching tentacles of influence and power...

  32. Am curious where this case stands now as I just saw the
    Frontline episode...in horror I may add!

  33. wow, glad this is on Netflix now, hope justice will prevail, thanks behindthebluewall, NYT and Frontline, ignorant and arrogant officers

  34. I just watched this case on Frontline on Netflix you & your blog site were highlighted on this episode. Great site!! Sheds light on tragic situations that are swept under the rug more than people tend to realize or believe.

  35. I think everyone is missing a very big clue in this case. When the police responded they found pain pills in the victims pocket and the officers name on the empty bottles in her purse.

    There is clearly prescription abuse in play here and that was most likely the reason she was killed. To hide the fact that he was addicted to pain medications. This fact would have ended his career as an office and is most likely the reason for this murder.

  36. I watched the documentary a few nights ago. I may have missed it but I heard no mention of either the officer or the victims hands being checked for gunshot residue. Also the pills in the victims pocket that were in the officer's name is very suspicious, almost like he was further trying to point to suicide. Granted the tox screen showed no drugs in her system. This should have been turned over to
    an outside agency from the start. Not to mention the holster situation where it was difficult to access the gun if you didn't know how to get it out if the holster.


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