Trooper Michael Farris is an agent of the government.
More to the point, he’s an agent of the government who is bound by Principle One of the Florida Highway Patrol’s Law Enforcement Officer Ethical Standards of Conduct, which states that: Police officers shall conduct themselves, whether on or off duty, in accordance with the Constitution of the United States, the Florida Constitution, and all applicable laws, ordinances and rules enacted or established pursuant to legal authority.
On November 9, 2017 the Gateway Sun published an article titled “Bully cop used police resources to harass HOA board, FHP investigation finds”.
On November 10, 2017, attorney Tim Culhane, representing Trooper Michael Farris (who was the subject of the Nov 9 article), wrote us a “Retraction of Article” letter which made a variety of demands and threats on Farris’ behalf.
In the “Retraction of Article” letter there are seven numbered statements and/or correction demands made by Culhane and Farris. There are also two other key arguments made elsewhere in the letter.
Farris is bound by Principle One to uphold the Constitution of the United States, whether he is on duty or off duty. Keep that in mind as we go over the retraction letter’s statements one by one, and you can judge for yourself whether Farris was attempting an act of censorship in order to scrub truthful information about his questionable conduct from the internet.
Statements and/or correction demands made by Farris’ attorney will be in bold text.
1.: “Gain Private Information” about [Flavia] Walsh: DAVID is a system for obtaining readily available information. It is primarily used to review the photograph of someone who does not have their license in possession at the time of the stop, or to verify a signature.
Is that what Trooper Farris was doing? Was he in his patrol car, at 6:30 in the morning, off duty, illegally using the DAVID system to look at pictures of Flavia Walsh?
I mean his lawyer just said that’s what the system is “primarily used” for.
Now for my own sanity I’m going to assume that’s not what Farris was doing.. But it does beg the most obvious question that (at least publicly) has yet to be asked or answered: just what information was Trooper Farris after that morning???
Summary response to the attorney: The Gateway Sun rejects the argument that images of signatures, government photos, emergency contacts, etc. which are contained in a government database could possibly be considered “readily available information”. Moreover, we are baffled that such a suggestion was made by an attorney.
2.: Obtain Walsh cell phone number: This was covered in #1 above.
In regards to this situation the Florida Highway Patrol wrote:
Mrs. Walsh stated that Trooper Farris had called her on her private cell phone and when she asked him how he got the phone number, Trooper Farris replied “I have my ways.”…
Tim Walsh, Mrs. Walsh’s husband, did file a public records request to see if Trooper Farris ran his or her information through FHP to gain her personal information. This request was made to Patrick Lineberry, Government Analyst – DAVID Liaison on Sunday, September 3, 2017.
Long story short, it was proven that Trooper Farris logged in to DAVID on April 25 at 6:26:01am while off duty, accepted the legal disclaimer not to use the system for personal use at 6:26:05am, and then Farris proceeded to retrieve information about Flavia Walsh.
But you know what? The lawyer is technically right here. I wasn’t in Trooper Farris’ mind at the time he was violating the Law of Agency Rules by using the DAVID system to obtain information about Flavia Walsh. So the reality is that I don’t know what Farris was ultimately after.
I will say that based on the FHP report, I interpreted it as Farris was after her number. But his lawyer is saying I don’t know that for a fact.
So help me make the correction you seek, counselor. What are the facts?
If Trooper Farris discloses what in the world he was looking for that morning I’ll add that to the original article as an editor’s note. I don’t have a problem with doing that.
Now Culhane is going to say that’s not how it works. He’s going to tell me to pull that off without him providing any additional information from Trooper Farris.
But just for the theater of it, Culhane is going to have to explain all this to a judge if he wants to have his cake and eat it too.
“Your Honor, it is true that State Trooper Michael Farris, a member of the Florida Highway Patrol, was logged in to the DAVID system at 6:26 in the morning, while he was off duty, and illegally looked up what I would describe as readily available information about Mrs. Flavia Walsh. That’s all true. But there is NO CLEAR PROOF he was on the system specifically looking up her cell phone number, which is what a blogger wrote on a community website. And that, Your Honor, is why we’re all here today.”
And if that happens I will totally video-tape and publish the whole thing for you guys and Culhane’s law school buddies. It won’t be anybody’s finest moment, I can tell you that much.
Summary response for attorney: The Gateway Sun, absent clarification from Farris, believes our reporting was a correct interpretation of the FHP report as it was written. However, should Farris set the record straight and tell the world just what he was up to, the Sun will happily append Farris’ statement to the November 9 article.
3.: “Farris was ordered not to conduct enforcement on secondary roads”: This is not a true statement.
Oh really? It’s not a true statement?
Tell that to Lieutenant Joseph Bowers, who wrote an email to Captain Joseph Gideons on September 18, 2017 saying:
“[Farris] was ordered by me to x8 his home, directly leave his Gateway Community and patrol. He is not to sit and enforce any traffic laws in the secondary county roads of Gateway.”
There is also the September 21, 2017 FHP memo, with the rather specific title of “Meeting with Michael Farris”, which says:
Trooper Farris was told the following
Do not take Law Enforcement action (specifically traffic enforcement) in the Gateway gated community.
Not a true statement, eh?
Summary response for attorney: The Gateway Sun will not be retracting this statement. You may want to consider retracting your statement, though, Tim.
4.: “Positioning his patrol car near the Exit of the Community”: It is quite possible that he was parked near the exit to a community that he resides within. There is no way to tell if he was following someone, or just happened to leave at the same time. It was clearly coincidental if it occurred the way CHIN [sic] or WALSH described and it was not-sustained by FHP.
I don’t think so, Tim.
Point of order: the proven fact that Trooper Farris used his marked FHP vehicle to follow Mr. Walsh out of the community was actually neither sustained or not-sustained by the FHP report.
But what exactly are we being asked to correct, retract or apologize for here anyway?
The Gateway Sun wrote on Nov 9: This was necessary because contained within the report is “video showing Trooper Farris positioning his marked FHP unit near the exit of the Gateway community. The video showed [Flavia’s husband] Tim Walsh exiting the community and Tpr. Farris following him out of the gate.”
The quoted text in the above paragraph is straight from the report itself.
Regardless of what I believe happened, technically I’m not saying Farris did anything that’s on the video. I’m saying the FHP report said that Farris did what’s on the video.
And that’s exactly what the FHP report did say.
Summary response to attorney: The Gateway Sun stands by our reporting 100% and also feels your letter is rapidy running out of steam.
5.: “FHP Agrees the incident with Chan and Miranda Occured”: There was no credible evidence to prove this allegation, therefore FHP could not prove it occurred.
The report says, and this is literally a direct quote from the FHP: “While these two incidents did occur”
And what I wrote was: “The FHP agrees that the incidents with Chan and Miranda occurred,”
So I ask again, what am I being asked to retract or correct?
Although the Florida Highway Patrol, Gateway Sun, Chan and Miranda all believe these incidents occurred, the Gateway Sun did not state that they occurred. The Sun reported that the FHP said they occurred, and the FHP did in fact say exactly that.
Summary response to attorney: So once again, the Gateway Sun stands by our reporting due to its accuracy. The Gateway Sun also calls on Trooper Farris to publicly confirm or deny whether those events occurred rather than hide behind his lawyer’s legal-speak that says the “FHP could not prove it occurred”.
6.: “Farris has been ordered to report any future contact he has with HOA board”: FHP does not regulate HOA activity, nor are they going to be involved in HAO [sic] activities. This is clearly FALSE as they would not order this to take place.
On September 21, 2017 at 4:10pm, Trooper Farris met with Captain Gideons, Lt. Bowers and Sergeant Kelly Petracca to discuss the complaints against Farris.
Trooper Farris was told in that meeting, and … repeat after me … THIS IS A DIRECT QUOTE FROM THE FHP DOCUMENTS … to “keep his immediate supervisor informed of incidents with HOA members”.
Summary response to attorney: We would be happy to discuss this with Gideons, Bowers and/or Petracca on the witness stand, should Farris so choose. I’m sure they’d be thrilled to discuss this particular matter, in that particular setting, and provide Farris with all the clarification he needs. Also, why do you keep taking things that did happen and say they never happened?
7.: “How he got my phone number”: If you navigate to the “about page” on [GatewaySun.com], your phone number is listed. One would think this is where he obtained your number since you readily publish it on your site.
One would think that about most people, that’s true.
But most people don’t sit in their police patrol cars, off duty, at 6:30 in the morning, and violate the Law of Agency Rules by looking up government information about someone they’re having an HOA dispute with. Do they?
But most importantly, I specifically wrote that I don’t think Trooper Farris got my number using DAVID.
So why, exactly, am I being asked to retract or apologize for something I never said?
Summary response to attorney: At this point, I have to ask… What are you even doing?
Those were the seven specific issues cited by Farris’ attorney for which the retraction demand was made. As you can see, there isn’t much there.
And it gets even sillier.
Also contained in the letter was a complaint that … get this, the Gateway Sun described the FHP investigation as … *gasp* … an investigation.
That’s because Farris’ lawyer wants us to call the FHP investigation a “pre-investigation”.
The attorney writes: The current article is to be taken down immediately upon receipt of this letter. In the article, you refer to an investigation, and there was no investigation, it was settled prior to the FHP conducting an investigation. (hence the PRE-INVESTIGATIVE TITLE).
Let’s see. The FHP interviewed Flavia Walsh, Tim Walsh, Po Chan, Mei Mei Chan, and Fernando Mirana in regards to allegations made against Farris. The FHP had also had at least three staff members meet with Farris to discuss the situation at hand. FHP reports also state there was a government analyst who retrieved records that were contained in a database, which were inspected. The FHP also reviewed and evaluated multiple videos, and had internal discussions regarding Farris’ conduct in uniform and/or utilizing FHP resources.
The Gateway Sun feels the activities of the Florida High Patrol constitutes an investigation as the term is commonly understood, and we feel the use of the term investigation is totally valid in this situation. However we will stipulate that others involved may prefer to use the term “pre-investigation” in their official correspondence. (*eye roll*)
The final unnumbered complaint in Culhane’s letter was that the Gateway Sun published the HOA community name where Trooper Farris’ lives.
Culhane writes: “Lastly, you published his residence in the article by describing him by name and the community he resides within. Law enforcement officers have a difficult job, and they take a great effort to keep their locations out of the public view.”
Farris took great efforts to keep himself and his location out of the public view? Culhane, if you ever file a court claim, you can quote that my response to that statement was, what is commonly referred to as, a “face palm”.
Let’s not forget that this is the guy who had to be ordered by the Florida Highway Patrol not to identify himself as a State Trooper at HOA meetings according to the September 21 memo. And he’s certainly the only police officer I know who – and this is true – “is not to drive around the community in his patrol car” and was directed by Lt. Bowers to drive straight home. He also had to be told “Do not confront any [HOA board] members while in a marked FHP vehicle or while in uniform.”
This is not a guy who conceals his identity. This is a guy who WANTS people to know he’s a State Trooper.
But most importantly here, I absolutely DID NOT publish Farris’ “residence”.
A residence is described in Webster’s dictionary as “a building used as a home”.
Florida Statute 843.17 makes it illegal to publish the “residence address” of a law enforcement officer, which is one of several reasons I did not do that, and would never do that.
Saying somebody lives in a general area where approximately 500 to 1000 other people also live is not akin to drawing a map to his house.
And as I responded on social media, where does the line get drawn? Can we say he lives in Gateway? Lee County? The United States? Does Trooper Farris get to act like an ass, confront his neighbors while in uniform, make statements at HOA meetings alluding to his authority, bully and harass the HOA board, call publishers to demand their sources, retain attorneys to make threats, and then somehow be off-limits for criticism for his behavior because he’s a police officer?
Bottom line: The bulk of the November 9 news article is about Farris’ ongoing dispute with his HOA and his behavior toward the HOA board. It was simply not possible to write the article without naming the HOA.
Added Culhane in his letter to the Sun: “Since you have told everyone where he lives, he may have to move to protect his family.”
Well if Trooper Farris plans to move out of Gateway, I will help him pack.
Culhane then threatened: “Any loss of value in [Farris’] home, expenses involved in the same would be recoverable in a civil action from you. Our goal is for you to retract the story, issue an apology for misquoting several facts, prior to bringing any litigation.”
Okay, let’s be clear about one thing here. And that is …. that I don’t have any money.
BUT … more importantly… as Culhane knows, or ought to know, the line is drawn at the Florida Statute. And the Gateway Sun did not cross that line and would never knowingly break any law.
And why wasn’t what I wrote categorized as “illegal” by the attorney? Culhane had no problem citing Florida Statute numbers in other parts of the letter, so why not cite FS 843.17? Why doesn’t the word “illegal” appear anywhere in the letter?
Additionally, how does retracting a story supposedly “misquoting several facts” in a news piece resolve a potential safety issue for Farris “prior to litigation”. How are those two things linked, exactly?
In my opinion, this letter from attorney Culhane is deeply problematic, as I’ve detailed above.
But the reality is that Culhane isn’t trying to figure out legal matters right now. He’s trying to scare me. Crushing my will to fight back is his first job in a dispute situation such as this one.
It may turn out to be his only job in this matter, or it may not. We’ll see.
Although I must admit I would welcome the opportunity to depose Mr. Farris so he can finally be questioned as to just why he was accessing DAVID to look at Flavia Walsh’s records. I would also like to get him on record, in his own words, telling people whether he did or did not confront two HOA board members while driving his marked FHP vehicle and wearing his uniform over an HOA matter.
Trooper Farris could also count on us issuing public record requests (or, if necessary, subpoenas) to the FHP to explore other uses of the DAVID system by Farris. Hey, you never know.
This whole thing can go in a thousand different directions at this point.
None of them particularly good for anyone. Least of all, Farris.
Over and above all else, I remind Farris and his counsel that Farris is bound by Principal One. There may already be some First Amendment issues involved here, gentlemen.
That said, whether Farris wants to escalate matters or move on, we welcome his decision either way.