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COVER STORY | Vol. 5, No. 39, October 13, 2005
(The Death of Robert Boggon)

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The Death of Robert Boggon

by Duwayne Escobedo

Family still mourns Boggon's death
Citizen's Review Board For Escambia?
Download the Boggon civil lawsuit
Download the Escambia County Sheriff's statement on Boggon


"Pumpkin, they are going to kill me," Robert Boggon tells a niece, who is a corrections officer at the Escambia County Jail.

Thus, begins the story of Boggon's Aug. 29 death in the Escambia County Jail, according to his family's civil rights lawsuit filed Oct 5 in Escambia County Circuit Court. If you have a weak stomach, you might want to stop reading this story. What follows is the suit's recounting of Boggon's last hours.

"On or about Aug. 29 at around chow time, Mr. Boggon was ordered to give CO [correction officer] Speller his food tray. As was usual while he was in the Infirmary, Mr. Boggon just stood there confused.

"Thereafter, Defendants [correction officers] Roger Lastinger and Scott Driver arrived and had already decided that Mr. Boggon was going to be pepper sprayed.

"Driver said, 'It's time for us to give him some attitude adjustment.'

"Lastinger and Driver then pepper sprayed Mr. Boggon twice.

"After being pepper sprayed twice in the face, Mr. Boggon was dragged from his cell, stripped naked and forced into the shower cell.

"A Lexan Stun Shield was called for and brought to the Infirmary.

"Naked and wet, the 'D' shift COs, jointly and individually, participated in hitting Mr. Boggon with the Lexan Stun Shield and shooting him, at least three times, with at least one Taser Gun.

"Each time the Taser's darts were shot into Mr. Boggon's wet chest and he was shocked with 50,000 volts, the entire shower cell walls flashed, as if lightning were striking in that small space. Mr. Boggon screamed for his life on each occasion.

"Defendant [correction officer] Sherrie Day laughed, while this torture was inflicted upon Mr. Boggon.

"Mr. Boggon then collapsed in the shower. His body was then strapped in a restraining chair and a towel was tied around his head.

"The 'D' shift COs then dragged the wet restraining chair, with Mr. Boggon's body in it, back to his cell. Mr. Boggon's head, tied with a towel, was slumped to one side. He was not moving and he was not talking.

"...At this point, Defendant Elaine Gregory, a nurse, was in the area but did not check on the lifeless Mr. Boggon. No one checked on his condition.

"...At about 11 p.m. Aug. 29, Defendants Angela Currie and Lisa Whitlock entered cell 260 and finally discovered that Mr. Boggon was, indeed, dead."

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?

A two-page, written statement from Escambia County Sheriff Ron McNesby's Office disputes the lawsuit's version of how Boggon died in the jail.

McNesby's office alleges that Boggon appears to have suffered from a defective coronary condition and it's unknown how the "struggles" and "restraints" affected him.

The sheriff's statement reads: "It is unfortunate that Mr. Boggon's estate has chosen to initiate litigation before the reports of the investigation have been completed. Their accusations in public at this juncture have attempted to paint a lurid picture of torture and death. The events which did occur, however, will establish that a violent man was taken into custody and was the subject of standard, non-lethal restraints, and that tragically, his actions fostered a condition that led to his death while in custody."

What's undisputed is that Boggon was arrested at a Dollar Tree store Aug. 18 by sheriff's deputies after a disturbance and charged with aggravated assault and criminal mischief. The 65-year-old man then spent 11 days in the jail and his family was never allowed to see him.

The sheriff's office says it took Boggon into custody after receiving complaints that he was armed and threatening violence to customers and employees at the store.

Boggon suffered a "mental episode and began acting strangely" at the store, knocking over some boxes and waving a toy gun that was in his pocket, according to family members and the Boggons' lawsuit. Following the incident, his family was concerned about his behavior and wanted him to get medical help but jail officials refused to let them see him.

The sheriff's statement accuses Boggon of being "uncooperative, aggressive and engaged in numerous acts of violence" during his incarceration. It admits officers used "non-lethal force to restrain his behavior on several occasions."

While the sheriff's office depicts Boggon as violent, his family's lawsuit claims he was never aggressive and, in fact, "unresponsive." It describes him taking off all his clothes in his cell, sitting on the floor with his fists clenched, rocking back and forth and then urinating all over himself. When his toilet overflowed, he was shot with a Taser Gun, the suit reports.

"When asked to do something or asked a question, he would just stand there," the Boggon lawsuit says. "Clearly, this was mental confusion or a medical problem. Defendants, however, planned to punish Mr. Boggon for his lack of immediate obedience."

The sheriff's office says Boggon was checked every 15 minutes. The lawsuit contends no one went into the cell to check on Boggon for up to six hours, while he faced the cell's back wall with his head wrapped in a towel.

INVESTIGATING BOGGON'S DEATH

Todd LaDouceur, the Boggon's attorney, says he doesn't put much stock in Florida Department of Law Enforcement or State Attorney's Office investigations. The family has already had an independent autopsy performed and eyewitnesses, including a corrections officer, have stepped forward.

"The family and I have taken great pains to investigate," LaDouceur says. "Our own investigation has yielded different facts (from the sheriff's statement). We have eyewitnesses who were in a position to see what happened. We look forward to the opportunity to go to court before a jury and let them decide the facts."

Meanwhile, the NAACP Pensacola Branch, Movement for Change and American Civil Liberties Union Panhandle Chapter are all calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to look into Boggon's death and the running of the jail. They're also calling for the creation of an independent board made up of citizens to investigate future law enforcement actions, an idea that came up several years ago but was squashed by the sheriff and other public officials.

"Mr. Boggon shouldn't have been killed," says Elvin McCorvey, NAACP Pensacola Branch president. "It's very apparent there's trauma to his body and he did not die of natural causes. We want answers. We want to know what's going on over in the county jail."

Movement for Change President Leroy Boyd questions jail officials' and the medical examiner's failure to inform the family and public immediately about the cause of Boggon's death.

"It gives rise to disbelief," he says. "It gives rise to the question whether once again justice will be denied in this county. It gives rise to a lack of confidence and trust in the process and system."

ACLU Panhandle Chapter Executive Director Susan Watson says she worries that community leaders and local citizens will look the other way in Boggon's death.

"I am so concerned there will not be outrage in the white community," she says. "He was not combative. He had no criminal record. We need an independent investigation."

'IT WILL HAPPEN AGAIN'

The Medical Examiner's office did not return calls to the Independent News for this story. The Sheriff's Office reported it would hold a press conference because of all the media inquiries but it wasn't scheduled before the Independent News went to press.

The FDLE's Chief Medical Spokesman Tom Berlinger also refused to release any information, after speaking with FDLE investigators.

"This is still an active and ongoing investigation," Berlinger says. "When we're completed with our investigation we will hand off the findings to the local state attorney for follow-up and decision."

But LaDouceur says, after representing Mark Bailey's family, he has lost faith in state law enforcement agencies' investigations of the sheriff's office.

In Bailey's case, Escambia guards severely beat him and broke his neck in January 1999, according to witness statements and an independent autopsy arranged by Bailey's family. But no one was ever charged criminally in his death because an Escambia County medical examiner ruled Bailey's bad heart caused his death.

After a coroner's inquest, an Escambia judge ruled in 2000 that the Escambia County corrections officers' actions caused or contributed to Bailey's death. But prosecutors declined to file charges.

Escambia County and the sheriff's office settled the case out of court in 2002 for an undisclosed amount.

LaDouceur says Driver, who with Lastinger is accused of pepper spraying, beating and using a Taser Gun on Boggon in the shower cell to "give him some attitude adjustment," was also involved in Bailey's death. As in the Bailey case, no one has been suspended or disciplined in Boggon's death.

"There's no mystery about who's around when this stuff happens," LaDouceur says. "The failure of the sheriff to discipline anyone creates an atmosphere that it's OK to violate peoples' constitutional rights. It makes it far more likely that this will happen again."


Family still mourns Boggon's death

Perry Warren says she nearly ran out of her house when she saw a semi-truck coming down the street recently. Then, it suddenly dawned on her again. Her brother Robert Boggon, a truck driver, isn't coming back anytime soon.

"Whenever I see a truck, I think, 'That's him,'" Warren says. "Then I just start crying. It really bothers me to see trucks."

The 65-year-old Boggon died Aug. 29 in the Escambia County Jail, allegedly after being dragged from his cell, stripped naked and forced into a shower cell where corrections officers hit him and shot him with a Taser Gun three times.

Boggon was arrested 11 days earlier after suffering a "mental episode," according to the family and their attorney. He knocked over some boxes and waved a toy replica gun in a local store. Escambia County Sheriff's Office charged him with aggravated assault and criminal mischief.

Boggon's wife, children, siblings and nieces laughed and broke down in tears recently when they gathered at one family member's apartment to recall the man, who they say was the "backbone" of the family.

Boggon loved Western clothes and had more than 40 cowboy hats and big belt buckles. He visited 40 of the 50 states, as a truck driver who was working last for Celadon Trucking Services.

He organized the yearly family reunions in Montgomery with his nine brothers and sisters and their children, after their mother and father died in the early 1990s. He would drop in on family members in Detroit, Orlando, Pittsburgh and Maryland, if jobs brought him in the area.

He witnessed to two nieces and helped them kick their drug addictions.

The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Boggon was a vegetarian, who followed a strict diet. He loved to cook, even frying fish at a recent family reunion, even though it was raining. His favorite drink was a juice called Frutopia.

Estelle Boggon first met her husband in 1955. She smiles as she recalls him begging her to come on the road with him this summer "just for one week." They also took a grandson along.

"He really wanted me on that trip with him," she says. "We were out a whole month. We went within 137 miles of Los Angeles and all over the place."

Their sons, William, Darnelle and Donald, and daughter, Donna, try to remember the good things, too.

William, now 31, recalls his father spending a whole day with him as a child teaching him to play pool. He never beat his father at the game, until playing him a year ago. It was the last time they played.

"He always had an answer for me," William says. "He taught me so much. I remember he would say, 'Don't give what's good to the dogs.'"

Many of his sisters say it was their brother who held the family together.

"He loved to see the family together," says Gloria Crenshaw, a sister who lives in Detroit. "I miss him calling and talking to me whenever he was on the road."

Mary Epps, a younger sister who lives in Pensacola, says it was her brother's idea to have the family reunions. They held the last one in August in Montgomery.

"He said he wanted us to stick together," she remembers. "He said it was our mother's wish. All 10 of us children were still living, until now."

Etna Crenshaw says she couldn't get her other brothers and sisters to visit her in Pittsburgh, where she has lived the past 18 years. But her big brother, Robert, who taught her how to drive, dropped in last summer and spent three hours visiting.

"My other brothers and sisters would say it's too cold and that they can't stand the snow," she says, choking up with tears. "But he called me last summer and says, 'Little sis, I'm in Butler, P.A. How far is that from you?' I told him it was 20 minutes and 20 minutes later he was there. It was a very special visit to me. He gave me a lot of good advice."

Paula White says her uncle helped her fight a drug addiction with his encouragement and positive outlook. Although he would quote the Bible to her, she said he was never preachy or judgmental.

"He told me all I had to do was walk with Jesus," she says. "He would read me the Bible and tell me to leave drugs alone. I didn't believe it at first, but I see it now. He would tell me all the time that he was so proud that I got my life together."

Sharon Crenshaw says her husband, J.C., who was Boggon's brother, is still broken up about Boggon's death.

The two brothers were close, with Robert often helping J.C. install carpet, when he was in Pensacola.

"J.C. told me, 'Sharon I haven't been myself,'" she says. "'Whenever I want to cry, I can't, because I'm so angry,' he said. He can't talk about Robert, right now."

Regina Butler, Boggon's niece, says the family can't move on, until they feel justice occurs.

"I miss my uncle," she says. "We'll keep suffering, until justice is done. The law is not above the law."

Cynthia Wilson, one of Boggon's nieces who has served as the family spokeswoman during the ordeal, echoes that sentiment.

"We're all shocked and under a lot of stress," she says. "It doesn't seem like it's true. Our uncle was our backbone. He helped everyone. We want justice done. We don't want anyone else to lose a family member because they were incarcerated."

duwayne@inweekly.net


Citizen's Review Board For Escambia?

As a result of the Robert Boggon death Aug. 29 in the Escambia County Jail, local activists and citizens are again calling for an independent board to review law enforcement or county misconduct. Elvin McCorvey, NAACP Pensacola Branch president, says, "Here we have a lot of unanswered questions. We need an independent citizens' review board in this county to investigate and tell us what happened." Sheriff Ron McNesby opposed previous efforts, insisting oversight was already in place and that it was his responsibility to deal with problems. Below is an example of Miami-Dade's independent panel.

Miami-Dade Civilian Revew Board

The Independent Review Panel consists of five members appointed by the Board of County Commissioners and four members appointed by these five. Nominations for the first five are submitted to the BCC by the Community Action Agency, Community Relations Board, Dade County Association of Chiefs of Police, Dade County Bar Association and Dade County League of Women Voters. The panel selects the other four, taking into consideration ethno-cultural and gender community representation.

The Independent Review Panel was created by the Metropolitan Dade County Board of County Commissioners in January 1980, and was designed to operate autonomously from county government as an independent civilian "watchdog" agency. The unique combination of police review and "ombudsman" functions within one autonomous civilian agency was the result of a delicate balance and compromise that arose out of the community outrage following the McDuffie and LaFleur police shootings and subsequent riots in 1979. The Board conceived this innovative approach as a means to improve community confidence in all aspects of its government.

At the time of the Panel's inception, the community had little confidence in the Miami-Dade Police Department Internal Review process. The average citizen preferred to believe that, given the opportunity, the officers within the Department would do everything possible to "protect" a brother officer. The Board recognized that only if the public is fully informed can it fairly form an opinion as to whether or not the Internal Review process is in fact responsive and effective, and that establishing the Independent Review Panel was necessary to restore community respect and trust in county government. In authorizing review of complaints against any county employee or agency, the Board recognized the importance of enhancing the ability of the citizenry to gain access to an impartial citizen dispute resolution mechanism, where the continued responsiveness of the county government can be monitored and accountability assured.

The Board decided to establish an independent panel, which incorporates the most constructive aspects of an ombudsman office with the independence of a civilian review format, to create a civilian watchdog agency in the form of the Independent Review Panel. The County Commission assured the independence and autonomy of the Panel from political or administrative influence by delegating the responsibility for the appointment of the executive director to the chief judicial officer of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in and for Dade County. The intent of the Board of County Commissioners was to establish a broad-based, permanent Panel to serve for the purpose of investigating questionable administrative practices or policies and employee behavior, and of conducting comprehensive public hearings on matters within the Panel's jurisdiction.

The Panel's independence from direct political or administrative influence set the Panel apart from any other processes or procedures that existed within Dade County. The Panel members serve without compensation and give freely of their time. Following the creation of the Independent Review Panel, the charter members and the executive director drafted rules of procedure which outlined the stated purposes and goals of the Panel:

"It is hereby declared to be the purpose of these rules and procedures to facilitate the Independent Review process in Dade County, Florida which shall be based on due regard for the constitutional rights of all persons and which shall promote the highest possible degree of mutual respect between the agencies, instrumentalities and employees of Dade County and the people of Dade County.

These rules provide for the impartial, independent, open and prompt investigation and disposition of complaints and grievances in a manner which protects both the public and the county agencies, instrumentalities or employees who are involved in such complaints.

It is a further purpose of these rules to facilitate the ability of the Independent Review Panel to review the established county procedures and policies or general patterns of conduct which give rise to conflict and misunderstanding between the County and the public."

Following its investigation and review of complaints, the Independent Review Panel makes findings and recommendations to the appropriate county authorities regarding revision of policies and procedures, and employee conduct.

The Independent Review Panel is an advisory group, which cannot compel sworn testimony, except in cases of whistle blower retaliation complaints. At its inception, the Board decided that the Independent Review Panel, through its findings and recommendations, could have sufficient input and exert enough pressure on existing agencies so that the investigation would be fair and expeditious. The Panel could accomplish this so long as substantial and continuing support is provided by the County Commission and the County Manager, as well as from the citizens of Miami-Dade County. In essence, the primary goal of the Panel is to allow aggrieved citizens access to internal county governmental investigations. The Panel demonstrates that Miami-Dade County government recognizes that citizens have a right not only to participate in this grievance/complaint review, but also to oversee it through membership on the Independent Review Panel.

Source: Miami-Dade County