Is the Wreck Bar Mermaid case also heading to criminal court?
Broward Sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Mellies appears to have abused his authority when he found information about the protected driver’s licenses of several swimmers performing in the mermaid show at the Wreck Bar on the beach in Fort Lauderdale.
But did he commit a crime?
That matter will be addressed by state prosecutors once the Broward Sheriff’s Office completes an internal affairs investigation into Mellies’ actions, according to an email the agency sent to an attorney representing the mermaids in their federal civil suit, which names Mellies and Broward Sheriff Greg Tony. as defendants.
“The case is still open and active,” BSO Captain Barry Lindquist wrote in the April 18 email. “In addition, the case will be submitted to the state attorney’s office for criminal review.”
In their federal lawsuit, siren performers Whitney Fair and Janelle Smiley allege that Mellies violated their privacy when he accessed their personal information on the Driver and Vehicle Information Database (DAVID), a Confidential law enforcement resource that includes photographs, addresses, social security numbers, and other sensitive information.
State records show Mellies used his BSO computer to perform DAVID checks on Fair and Smiley in 2018, at a time when his wife, Mia, performed with the couple in the Wreck Bar mermaid show, which is billed as the only underwater burlesque show. in America.
When Mellies’ wife, aka “Mermaid Mia,” was fired from the show the same year, the couple directed their anger at Fair and, to a lesser extent, Smiley. Fair alleges the Mellies waged a campaign of harassment against her that spanned more than three years, during which time they moved into a house right next to hers.
Like new times detailed in “Aquaticat Fight: Wreck Bar Mermaid Sues Broward Sheriff’s Office for Invasion of Privacy,” published April 20, security cameras captured video of Jeff Mellies on Fair’s property, including footage in which he can be seen. seen climbing a ladder and disabling a camera mounted on the side of his house.
Fair filed a trespassing complaint against Mellies with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, which declined to make an arrest. An internal BSO investigation into the matter concluded with no finding of wrongdoing against Mellies.
Meanwhile, Mia Mellies regularly attacked Fair on social media and posted a series of TikTok videos slandering her. In videos and police reports, she and her husband claimed Fair violated their privacy with the security camera. In a video, Mia, a self-proclaimed first-degree Celtic witch, said she feared the camera would capture her and her husband as they performed naked pagan rituals in their backyard.
The Mellies also claimed on social media that Fair was a drug dealer who served long prison sentences, apparently referring to an arrest involving a small amount of cannabis more than two decades ago, when Fair was 18. years. This case has been expunged from the public record. , leading Fair and his attorney, Gary Kollin, to suspect Jeff Mellies of inappropriately accessing his criminal record. To date, this suspicion has not been confirmed, but state records show that Mellies conducted a criminal background search on Smiley, Fair’s co-complainant.
The lawsuit also alleges that Jeff Mellies performed DAVID checks on mermaid show founder Marina Anderson, as well as the boyfriend of another Wreck Bar swimmer. Fair says she personally witnessed Mia Mellies presenting information about the boyfriend to law enforcement as well as driver’s license data from Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz.
Prior to the publication of our article in April, BSO spokesperson Cary Codd responded by email to new times request for comment, writing, “The Broward Sheriff’s Office has a history of not commenting on ongoing litigation.” Messages left for Jeff and Mia Mellies and Jeff Mellies’ attorney, Tamatha Alvarez, were not returned. There was no response to a detailed follow-up voicemail message left for Alvarez this week.
Stories of Florida police officers abusing the DAVID system are common. In an effort to increase penalties for offensive cops and other officials, the state Legislature last year passed a bill to increase the civil fine for misusing the driver database of the state from $500 to $2,000 per instance.
The Legislature cited numerous cases to justify the increase, including a Pasco sheriff’s detective who tracked down an activist who had requested his internal affairs file, a Port Richey police dispatcher who admitted to carrying out a checking on a teenage girl he had spoken to on a call, a Lakeland police officer who checked on women he encountered on duty, and another police dispatcher who used DAVID to look up addresses for debit cards. Christmas.
One of the most notorious cases cited involved a Pembroke Pines police officer, Melodie Carpio, who was discovered in 2017 to have abused the database hundreds of times for personal reasons, including 101 searches for the husband of his boyfriend’s ex-wife, who said she received numerous harassing anonymous communications containing details of her personal life.
Like many offending officers, Carpio was able to keep his job, facing only a civil judgment of $15,000, as well as a fixed salary of less than $20,000.
There are, however, laws in place that make it a criminal offense for officials to improperly access DAVID information.
Last month, Robert Herzog, a (now former) vice-principal at Coral Springs High School, was charged with criminal use of personally identifiable information, a felony, after police said he “deceived “a school resource assistant to perform a license plate check on his new boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend before he allegedly harassed the boyfriend in texts and social media posts.
Herzog, 38, “used his position as a public official in a position of authority to obtain confidential and personal identifying information … with the intent of gaining advantage for himself and causing harm to others,” wrote the police.
Attorney Kollin urges the Broward Sheriff’s Office to charge Mellies with the same crime.
“It’s time to increase the penalty”, he says new times. “The concept is deterrence.”
Kollin also urged BSO to charge Mellies under a Florida law that makes it a crime to access a computer system “knowing that such access is unauthorized or the manner of use exceeds the ‘permission”.
Whitney Fair worries that people are focusing on her case as a “mermaid feud issue”, rather than the community issue he represents.
“Any cop who sees a beautiful girl, a handsome guy, having something wrong with someone, can they just go and get that information?” she asks rhetorically. “It’s just ridiculous and dangerous.”
Fair says that until the police are held criminally liable for abusing confidential databases, the problem will not go away.
“It’s just justice, it’s just what’s right,” she said. “I had to go through four years of torture, ridicule, lies from these people. I don’t want anyone else to go through this. If for once this is really handled as it should be, so maybe the cops would stop abusing it.”
Bob Norman is editor of FLCGA News, a publication focused on investigative reporting produced by the nonprofit Florida Center for Government Accountability. This story was reported in partnership with the FLCGA.