West Palm spokesman posts police secrets online

Posted at 11:37 PM, Sep 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-14 23:37:07-04

A scheduled drug buy in Jupiter, a secret gambling operation with the feds and the identities of confidential informants: It's not the kind of information that should ever be made public.  

But it was.

For at least three days last week, the handful of emails was available for anyone to download on the city's new  "#tranparency" web page.  The city has taken the emails down and leaders are now in full damage control.

"I am horrified, just horrified," said West Palm Beach City Commissioner Paula Ryan in response to the emails being made public.  "Everybody makes a mistake.  Everybody is entitled to a mistake but these are major mistakes," she told the Contact 5 Investigators.

The emails were posted on the web page as part of the city's most recent online effort to be transparent with the media.  It was an idea initiated by city spokesperson Elliot Cohen, who is notorious for keeping a tight rope on information relayed to the media.  Cohen started the web page shortly after he was called out for inaccurately telling the media how the city's troubled surveillance cameras work. 

The emails were part of the city's response to a recent public records request by Contact 5 Investigator Katie LaGrone who requested emails pertaining to the city's  surveillance system.

In response to LaGrone's request, Cohen made available more than 2,000 emails.  Among them, an email describing an upcoming drug buy involving a Jupiter business man.  The email names local officers and deputies involved in the sting as well as DEA agents.

Another email names several ongoing sting operations being handled by the city's police department including the names of officers involved in those operations.

"How you can just submit information up on the website in an effort to be transparent without a system in place to be sure everyone is protected and we're not disclosing info that puts people's lives in jeopardy?" asked Commissioner Ryan who plans to discuss the issue during Tuesday's commission meeting.

WPTV/NewsChannel 5 has decided not to post any of the emails because the emails are so sensitive in nature.

"We are concerned with the safety of our officers," said Sgt. Dave Lefont from West Palm Beach Police Department in response to the email posts.

Police leaders and city staff are scheduled to meet Tuesday morning to discuss "the entire process of fulfilling public records request," said City Administrator Jeff Green, who spoke to the Contact 5 Investigators by phone on Monday. 

"It was mistake that happened, it shouldn't have happened but it really had nothing to do with my communications director who just puts out the information that he gets, " said Mayor Jeri Muoio.

Monday afternoon she posted the following statement:

Elliot is not responsible for ensuring that public records requests do not contain inappropriate material.  The individual departments, which are the custodians of any records being requested, are responsible for checking the content. Elliott simply passes on the documents he receives from the departments.  In this case, it appears the departments did not have the opportunity to review the information before it was released, as a result it is essential that we review our process to see if any changes need to be made. 





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