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Court records show Fort Pierce officers tried to ‘cover up’ patient beating of Lawnwood Regional Medical Center

City commissioner calls for more oversight
Posted at 9:51 PM, Jun 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-12 00:16:20-04

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Newly released court records reveal more information behind allegations that two Fort Pierce police officers tried to cover up the beating of a patient at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center.

Former K-9 Officer Albert Eckrode, who resigned June 5, has been charged with felony battery, official misconduct, and lying in an official report about the commission of a crime.

Officer Monica Frederic, who is on administrative leave, is also charged with lying in an official report about the commission of a crime.

Court records show Officer Eckrode and Officer Frederick tried to make up a story to defend Eckrode’s beating of a patient. Records suggest Officer Eckrode also tried to have the patient arrested for battery on a law enforcement officer as a result of his fabricated story.

Their body cameras were not rolling, but surveillance video inside the hospital captured the interaction.

As a result, Fort Pierce City Commissioner Reggie Sessions is calling for a city ordinance to tighten up on body camera rules and oversight.

On Feb. 20, 2020, arrest affidavits show Fort Pierce police officers took a man into custody after a complaint that he was highly intoxicated. He was arrested around 10:51 in the morning and taken by officers to Lawnwood Regional Medical Center for a health and mental evaluation. The patient was known to law enforcement for being verbally abusive.

Officer Monica Frederic was at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center working an off-duty detail as security for the hospital, assigned to the room where the intoxicated man was taken. Officer Eckrode was also working an off-duty security detail at the hospital and stationed at the Emergency Room entrance, according to records.

According to records, the patient told investigators that he was being “lippy” with Officer Frederic, a black woman, and used the N-word multiple times. The patient told investigators that Eckrode entered the room and was challenging him to call Frederic the N-word again, “as if enticing him to do something he didn’t want to do,” according to the affidavit.

The patient said Eckrode slapped him a couple of times in the face, and ultimately began hitting him with a closed fist. The patient sustained a bruised eye, cut lip, and swollen ear. The patient said he needed plastic surgery on his lip. Surveillance video shows the patient did not fight back, nor did he use any kind of violence to provoke Eckrode’s punches.

The surveillance video is the only proof of what happened inside the hospital room.

Court records state three officers in the room turned off their body cameras. Frederic and a third officer told investigators they did not want to record a conversation between the doctor and the patient, following HIPAA rules. But after the doctor and patient were finished discussing medical information, and before Eckrode became violent with the patient, Eckrode asked the other officers if their cameras were off, according to records.

Frederic told investigators, “I should have known something was going to happen when Officer Eckrode asked if [our] cameras were activated.”

The third officer in the room at the time of the alleged battery told investigators that he was “stunned” and that “his heart and jaw dropped.” He thought to himself, “oh my god, this is not how you handle things. He told investigators that Officer Frederic told him to write a report in a certain way about the incident. The third officer said Officer Frederic told him that Officer Eckrode asked her to write in her report that the patient kicked him. Colvin refused to do so, telling investigators that he told Frederic that he “wasn’t covering-up” for this.

After the incident, court records read that Officers Eckrode and Frederic walked outside to a fourth officer who was in her patrol car. Eckrode told her they had probable cause to arrest the patient for battery on a law enforcement officer. The officer was skeptical of the story. Eckrode told her that the patient had spit on him and kicked him from a chair. Then, he said he delivered a “reactionary” blow to the patient.

Frederic wrote in her initial report that she observed spit smeared on Officer Eckrode’s eyeglasses. In the affidavit, Frederic admitted that prior to sending her initial report, she allowed Officer Eckrode to review it. She eventually told investigators that stating the patient spit at Officer Eckrode “was an inaccurate reflection of what happened.” She wrote a second report that made no mention of the patient spitting at or kicking Eckrode.

“So had it not been for the recording in Lawnwood, we wouldn’t know to this day what happened,” said Commissioner Reggie Sessions. “When you have officers who are saying to hell with the rules and the regulations, I’m going to cover it up like what happened here, that needs to be handled.”

Sessions worries body cameras, too often, are not catching criminal activity.

WPTV found between 2016 and 2018, nearly a dozen internal investigations surrounded the misuse of body-worn cameras. Eight had sustained findings.

“We spent a lot of money on those body cameras. Why aren’t they being used? There are no excuses why they shouldn’t be used,” Sessions said.

Now, he wants to propose a city ordinance requiring officers to upload their video of every citizen encounter to a server after every shift. He wants there to be rules outside of the police department to ensure there is an opportunity for outside review.

Sessions says the ordinance would give the city an opportunity to bring concerns over body camera use and compliance to a judge to decide if an officer not using their camera is doing so maliciously, or not recording by accident.

“We’ve got to put something in place with some teeth to make sure that these officers have these body cameras on,” Sessions said.

Fort Pierce Police Chief Diane Hobley-Burney said the third officer, who is not facing criminal charges, is a part of an internal affairs investigation looking at why the body cameras were not turned on.