October 28, 2012
In his words, below Eric Johnson provides an in-debt account of the political retaliation he continues to endure as a result of his actions to expose Absentee Ballot fraud in the City of Hialeah – featured in CBS 4 Eliott Rodriguez’ News piece: http://miami.cbslocal.com/2012/10/26/determined-firefighter-taking-on-illegal-boleteros.
By: Eric Johnson
Hialeah may be in the news a lot now. But the political shenanigans there have been rampant for decades and have made me a target of political retaliation from elected officials for the last three years plus.
As a 10-year firefighter with the city, I stumbled upon information in 2009 about absentee ballot fraud in the city (of Hialeah) – principally the public housing units – and its ties to elected politicians. As the Vice President of the Fire Union, I became an outspoken critic of such unethical and illegal tactics – which include the shake-down of elderly residents threatened with the loss of benefits – and publicly spoke out against this corruption of the process in public meetings and, subsequently, via TV news and in newspapers. I also took the information and documentation, I had of ties between the absentee ballot corruption and the highest elected officials in the city, to law enforcement authorities at several agencies in the hope it would resolve the situation, and maybe, restore some semblance of democratic principles.
And, that is just one reason I became a target and why I have been retaliated against and illegally investigated in violation of my constitutional rights of free speech. Most recently, the city has investigated my personal Facebook page in violation of my rights and in an effort to defame my name.
This issue recently became a national story when a private investigator provided information to authorities in relations to these “boleteras” or ballot brokers or runners inside the city. While the woman he followed – a woman I had reported to the Miami-Dade Public Corruption Unit last year for the same selling of absentee ballots – was arrested on charges she tampered with at least two ballots (and let me assure you she tampered with more) the media and state attorney’s office were more interested in who hired the private eye as it was believed this was political. Rest assured this was not politically motivated at all. I am an AMERICAN CITIZEN who believes in democracy and will defend it to the death as hundreds of thousands have done already.
Weeks after the news broke, as the city was ending my “conduct unbecoming” Facebook inquiry, it occurred to me that it was the perfect time to release that I had hired the private investigator. Sure, this was a bold move on my behalf. But, I am not going to back down simply because the city tries to intimidate me with a bogus investigation and tries to limit my constitutional right to free speech. Being harassed daily by local media, as they thought I hired the private investigator, I thought that by publicly acknowledging my ties to the P.I, the city would have no reason to think that their tactics would work and might reconsider their hostile approach to my work environment and the heightened level of scrutiny I was unfairly put under. Boy was I wrong. The disclosure just turned it up a notch. After all, the city unlimited taxpayer money money to pay the cost of their unjust probe.
Following, I was advised by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that someone at the Hialeah Police department had been running my name through FCIC and NCIC. As you know running someone who is not under investigation or without official justification is illegal. Especially since my actions were not illegal. They (FDLE) also relayed this was illegal. In fact each time my information was searched without justification a misdemeanor was committed that could ultimately cause a police to lose their police certification.
Hialeah has long since had a history of using their officers as pawns in political retaliation cases.
Several months back upon arrival to function for the Hialeah mayor to endorse Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez – where I had an invitation as a citizen and union vice president for Hialeah Firefighters local 1102 – I was advised by the Hialeah police: I was not to enter the building, as I had been banned by the Gimenez campaign. When the event was over the Mayor (Gimenez) asked why I was not upstairs and I advised him of what happened… He reacted with shock and stated those were not his instructions. Later it was learned, the police orders came from a police commander inside Hialeah who received his instructions from a non-sworn individual with the Mayor of Hialeah’s knowledge.
My union president spoke with the person who was responsible and that individual stated that I, journalist Elaine de Valle, former detective Ricky Garcia and George Morffiz were banned, because we were critics of the administration. if needed, they are all willing to provide sworn statements. Furthermore, both the journalist and the former detective have incidents of their own, where they were followed and harassed by police at the behest of the mayor and his assistants. FDLE agents explained to me that this is an abuse of authority and unlawful orders as the property owner did not ask us to leave the premises and no trespass order was given. I then requested a response as to why I was banned from the event by police orders through public records request and received a response that said: we have no records of any events transpiring with your name, and it was held on private property. This again was purely retaliatory.
The Facebook incident that occurred with me was most disturbing though, and frankly a move by them that has been described to me as actionable, as it seems to be a bogus complaint that was falsely created from the inside in order to defame and discredit me and, perhaps, create a false reason to fire me for political retaliation. I have always used my Facebook page as a social media tool – as it has been designed – to expose the level of corruption within Hialeah and, naturally, not everything was friendly about it. We did not have a media policy in our city or a Facebook policy for employees until this week. The social media policy clearly defines all actions I have taken to inform employees, citizens and the MEDIA on what is really happening inside Hialeah. The Policy dictates restrictions of free speech and directly goes against the NLRB’s ruling in recent months.
In reading you will see it has a semblance of a communistic rule where there can be no harmful information released about the city. It further rewards and promises protection to anyone who brings information forward about someone violating the policy. An “anonymous” complaint arrived at the city of Hialeah’s police chief about my children being shown in pictures possibly consuming alcohol (photos that showed children holding sealed bottles in a family setting. Daddy, take a picture!!!). In the same letter, I was compared to a member of another fire department who had been accused of using his Facebook page to make racially-charged remarks about Trevon Martin and President Obama and it was asked to be investigated. Again a month later another apparent anonymous complaint related to my Facebook page arrived by telephone to a major in the police department. It stated that on my Facebook page my children were riding and ATV with no helmet and they demanded an investigation. The Department of children and families were again contacted and refused to investigate the matter.
It is amazing how all these complaints are completely anonymous but yet my personnel file only shows commendations from the public for my treatment and compassion.
This is just one example of several bogus investigations that are really shake-downs and illegal and improper use of a police department by the political establishment. The media was all over it. A reporter from channel 23 who arrived at the office said: “How low can the mayor’s office go?”
I inquired as to why?
She stated that the mayor’s office called and promised an exclusive into this story if they would come and report it. A Channel 7’s TV reporter stated the same thing to me, but he said he would not be doing a story about my children only the Facebook page as someone in the mayor’s office hinted I was a racist against the Hispanic population. By the way: I am married to a Hispanic and chose to work for Hialeah. The city did not come knock on my door. My love and respect for the Hispanic community led me to Hialeah and it is low that I am being portrayed as a racist against the very same people I choose to serve. For the first time in the history of the city, the mayor’s office called a press conference to explain and expose the possible CRIMINAL investigation into the union’s vice president’s Facebook page.
The facts of the case were: My kids and I were at a Hawaiian party in Orlando at my sister’s house and my two boys stood behind a table posing with bottles that are obviously still sealed and not consumed. I placed a caption on the picture: “young rednecks in training… LOL”. That was for my community. My community gets it. The second picture shows my 6-year-old in the back of my truck who fell asleep with his head on a corona box. I placed a caption that said something to the effect of “the morning after LOL”. He was tired from the trip and the vacation. Inside the Corona box were wine glasses my sister had given us to take back to Miami. We have another wine glass box on top of that one, but we used the Corona box for the extras, because it is harder and has the cardboard retainers so the glass does not break. After the media’s involvement, pictures and story went viral, the city was embarrassed that they looked like fools and announced on Spanish-language radio that there would be no criminal charges; however an administrative investigation would go on in the fire department. The issue was turned over to the fire chief, with whom I have had many differences.
But before it was turned over, when it first became a police investigation; something happened after a 911 call where a car was swallowed up by a sinkhole in the western part of Hialeah. Because the media went to the scene, several politicians also showed up for their sound bites. This is where the Facebook photos or printouts from my profile page first surfaced. The chief of police, appointed by the mayor as a civil service sergeant, appeared with a stack of these documents and proceeded to hand them to the mayor’s chief of staff. A council member who was on scene came over to view the pictures and writings also. They passed the pictures around after the police chief stated to the Chief of staff, “I don’t know if you have this already.” They all joked in a circle as the mayor’s chief of staff stated “We have plenty to fire this guy already.” More laughter. I already have sworn statements about this incident.
The city Fire Chief handed the investigation over to internal affairs which ironically enough created a conflict of interest in itself. The investigator assigned to my case was an investigator who I sabotaged an illegal investigation into regarding another city employee (again politically motivated) two years prior. Once this investigator was made, the incident was made public after a public records request into an investigation involving that employee was answered with a response that no investigation was occurring.
During my internal affairs interview, I was asked why I called the media, on May 10th, to report this Facebook thing and promptly I corrected him by stating the mayor’s office did and that was verified by reporters from Channel 7 and also Channel 23 who said the mayors’ office promised them an exclusive. I also inspected my IA file and told the officer: please do not perjure yourself as I think I know where this stack of pictures came from. They came from the police chief and the mayor’s chief of staff. My investigation was officially closed out on August 21st. It was reported by another IA team member that the officer conducting the investigation put in for an immediate transfer from IA as his job could be on the line also for not playing along. September 13th, 2012, a written recommendation was made by the Fire Chief to the mayor suggesting a three day suspension and a written reprimand for alleged conduct. On September 25th I met with the mayor and apologized for any embarrassment my interview may have caused him as it was not intentional, but there should be no punishment as there was no crime. The final decision was made on October 17th, 2012, revealing a two day suspension with no factual evidence against me except for the obvious political retaliation. It was stated that I was being suspended for an interview I gave Channel 7 after the mayor called a press conference announcing I was under criminal investigation, and how I speak Spanish. It is true. I do not speak Spanish, but I try my best as my job is to serve and NO MATTER WHAT I do just that. Now the stories reported to the media by the mayor’s office are about pictures on Facebook and he is trying to have me accused, charged and tried in the court of public opinion.
I have been followed, tires slashed, rocks thrown through windshields, anonymous disgusting mail received, fictitious characters defaming me, scrutinized, blasted all over the news nationwide and my reputation has been damaged in the local community, due to these actions inside Hialeah. I am currently working with Miami-Dade Police Public Corruption detectives, the State Attorney’s Office and FBI over absentee ballot (AB) fraud which has become a national issue since the Hialeah “bolleteras” were arrested. I have been reached out to by local officials, state officials all the way up to congressional figures over the Facebook incident and the AB fraud and have been advised to get an attorney “immediately”.
No monetary damages have taken place yet in my employment setting, but again it has come from many different sources that say the only way to stop this is by filing suit. A whistleblower suit, constitutional violations suit and civil rights violation suit. Please see attached video when the city was advised of falsifying a budget and purposely ignoring lawsuits after illegally imposing cuts to the general employees. That is call theft and it is to the tune of 10 plus million dollars.
My civil rights have been violated, my constitutional rights have been violated and the obvious political retaliation and harassment accompanied with a hostile work environment gets harder to deal with every day.
|Hialeah City Council Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v200V0GchTQ|
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