St. Johns County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott O’Connell has filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and FDLE Agent Rusty Rodgers.
Rodgers was the lead investigator in FDLE’s investigation into the September 2010 shooting death of Michelle O’Connell, the sister of Scott.
The lawsuit was filed in St. Johns County on Wednesday. He is represented by Leslie Morton with the McLeod Firm in St. Augustine.
Rodgers was investigating the possible role that St. Johns County Deputy Jeremy Banks might have played in Michelle O’Connell’s death. He was her boyfriend at the time of her death, and they were living together.
Banks made the initial 911 call in which he told the dispatcher the Michelle O’Connell shot herself.
Although Rodgers indicated that he believed Banks was probably involved in the shooting, the Sheriff’s Office and an investigation by the 5th District State Attorney’s Office found there was not enough evidence to charge Banks with a crime.
Banks has since filed a lawsuit against the FDLE and Rodgers and is represented by Mac McLeod.
Rodgers is currently on administrative leave while the FDLE conducts and internal investigation. Banks remains a deputy in St. Johns County.
Sheriff David B. Shoar issued a statement Thursday on the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page: “Over a year ago, I personally made a complaint to FDLE regarding the egregious behavior of Rusty Rodgers and Dominic Pape during the investigation of the death of Michelle O’Connell. While Rodgers is currently the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation for ‘official misconduct,’ I am grateful the civil cases are moving forward to ultimately bring justice and closure to all involved.”
The O’Connell case has been a sore one for the Sheriff’s Office and has been divisive in the community.
Because the Sheriff’s Office was the first to respond to the call about the shooting, its investigation has come under fire from many fronts. Some have criticized the initial investigation as being too easy on Banks because he was — and still is — a deputy. Even the Sheriff’s Office has admitted some mistakes in the way Banks was interviewed and evidence gathered.
But there were many other complicating elements. Michelle O’Connell’s mother worked for the Sheriff’s Office at the time of her death (not as a deputy), and her brother Scott was a deputy at the time.
Scott O’Connell was later fired by the Sheriff’s Office for threatening Rodgers at a meeting at the State Attorney’s Office. He was eventually rehired by the Sheriff’s Office, first in an administrative position, and recently made a deputy again.
Rodgers has been accused by Shoar and Scott O’Connell of feeding information to the O’Connell family that suggested Banks was responsible for Michelle’s death.
Scott O’Connell, in an interview with Shoar during the period in which he was not employed by the Sheriff’s Office, said Rodgers made repeated phone calls to him during the investigation. O’Connell said in the interview that Rodgers had all but promised Banks would be charged in the shooting. He also said Rodgers encouraged him to carry a weapon at all times because Banks was dangerous.
The lawsuit by Scott O’Connell is not particularly surprising. In August 2013, the McLeod Firm delivered a letter to the FDLE office in Tallahassee notifying the agency of O’Connell’s intention of filing a lawsuit.
In that document, Rodgers is accused of “fabricating” and “misrepresenting” evidence in the shooting case. The letter also accuses Rodgers of “expressly and recklessly telling Mr. O’Connell his sister had been brutally executed by her boyfriend, Jeremy Banks.”