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Judgment: Riviera Beach broke public records law

Posted at 3:06 PM, Jan 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-24 20:57:32-05

RIVIERA BEACH — Almost a year after WPTV filed a lawsuit against Riviera Beach over missing text messages from the city-issued cellphones of council members, the city and WPTV came to a settlement in which the city acknowledged it had broken public records law.

The city “failed to comply with Florida’s public records laws by failing to respond to WPTV’s request in a timely fashion and by failing to adequately maintain records," the judgment stated.

At the time WPTV made its request, the city did not have a system to backup text messages on a server.

The city told WPTV and the court that it installed backup software to fix that in November 2017.

It turns out, that "fix" was only saving some types of messages. The city now says it is taking steps to make sure all messages are backed up.

It started in September 2017 when three council members suddenly and without explanation fired City Manager Jonathan Evans.

Contact 5 pored over months of phone records of those city council members.

We requested 99 text messages. Months went by and our repeated requests were not answered.

That’s when WPTV sued the city.

“The public deserves an answer,” First Amendment attorney Martin Reeder told WPTV in February. “We need to know whether their business is being done behind closed doors or not.”

Of the 99 requested messages, 82 where from Councilman Terence Davis’ phone.

After the lawsuit was filed the city said the messages on Davis’ phone had been professionally and intentionally deleted.

“Public records sometime tend to disappear, when the folks who have them on their phones or computers are afraid to turn them over because they know the content,” Reeder said.

When WPTV asked to have an expert examine the phone Davis said his phone had fallen into the ocean.

“This is starting to sound ridiculous,” Reeder said. “Obviously cellphones or other mobile devices could fall into the ocean, but I suppose they could also be thrown into the ocean.”

Davis had stated in the past that he has done everything he was supposed to do and blames the former IT Manager, Elvis Mella.

Davis said he gave his phone to the IT manager and the scan failed.

Mella, told WPTV’s attorney that he felt he was being made the scapegoat in this. Mella said he did not delete the messages. He has since resigned.