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Probe into 'unarrest' of Riviera Beach city council member becomes long, costly

'I don't know why our member is still at home,' president of the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association says
Posted at 2:21 PM, Feb 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-08 18:16:44-05

RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — It's been five months since Riviera Beach hired a security agency to review the "unarrest" of a city councilman on domestic abuse charges.

It's costing the city thousands of dollars, so why is the probe taking so long?

Capt. Rochelet Commond arrested Councilman Douglas Lawson in August after surveillance cameras caught him and his fiancée shoving each other in the elevator and parking garage of Marina Grande high-rise condominium.

Councilman Douglas Lawson and his fiancée held a news conference in September 2021
Councilman Douglas Lawson and his fiancée held a news conference in September 2021 about the incident.

Chief Nathan Osgood ordered Lawson "unarrested" and Commond was fired.

Commond was then "un-fired" and placed on leave where he has collected almost $50,000 in salary to essentially sit at home.  

"I don't know why our member is still at home," said John Kazanjian, the head of the union that represents police officers in Palm Beach County. "It's crazy."  

The Palm Beach County state attorney found Commond had probable cause to arrest Lawson, though it did not file charges against Lawson because his fiancée said it was not a case of domestic abuse.  

Capt. Rochelet Commond of the Riviera Beach Police Department
Capt. Rochelet Commond of the Riviera Beach Police Department

"When the state attorney wrote back to the city of Riviera Beach that there was probable cause for arrest, that's done," said Kazanjian. "It's closed."  

While Commond was put on administrative leave, Osgood remains on the job. 

"He should be terminated," Kazanjian added. "Absolutely be terminated." 

In the wake of the incident, Riviera Beach hired the Miami security firm Blue Prints 4 Safety to investigate Lawson's "un-arrest."

That investigation could cost the city more than $50,000. If you add in Commond's salary to stay home, that is $100,000 charged to taxpayers.  

Officials with the city of Riviera Beach say the investigation has taken so long because Blue Prints 4 Safety ran into snags involving the availability of witnesses and officers.

Below is a statement released by the city of Riviera Beach regarding the matter:

"The City anticipates the investigation to be completed sometime this month. Unfortunately, circumstances outside of Blue Prints 4 Safety's control have made the outside firm's ability to conduct timely interviews impossible and have caused delays in the investigation's progression, which began in late September 2021. The union has made several parties available for interviews in early 2022, including Officer Culver, who was slated to be interviewed in February. The City looks forward to the conclusion of the investigation and will share the findings with the public upon its completion.

The City entered into a contract with the outside firm in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, ending on Sept. 30, and paid $15,420, less than the $25,000 contracted for. In the current fiscal year, the City has paid $11,640. The City has two outstanding invoices for $23,400. If the amount exceeds $25,000 for the current fiscal year, the City Council must approve the excess payment. The City cannot provide a set dollar amount, because the investigation is still ongoing."

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