NORTH PORT, Fla. -- As the community and those involved react to recent developments in the North Port police party scandal, we're learning more about the state attorney's decision not to pursue charges against former officer Melanie Turner. Turner was arrested and accused of sexually assaulting the party host with the help of uniformed Officer Ricky Urbina. Urbina later committed suicide rather than be taken into custody.
Yesterday we told you why the State Attorney's Office decided not to pursue charges against Turner. Today, we combed through the report issued by the office to give you more details about what led investigators to come to that conclusion.
The 11 page memo compiled by Assistant State Attorney Andrea McHugh documents the now-infamous birthday party attended by several North Port Police officers. Based on interviews conducted with 10 party attendees -- including one firefighter, two North Port police officers, and seven civilians -- the state attorney concluded that this wasn't the first wild party the principals attended.
There was also the one at the victim’s home where the group played "Dirty Jenga" (per the report, “The game involved kissing other players, simulating sexual acts with other players, and disrobing”); and the party at Turner's home, where “the victim challenged an off-duty officer, who was a stranger to her, to find a bottle cap in her brassiere by conducting a typical police pat-down.”
In an interview conducted back in March when the story first came to light, a former law enforcement official told us the activities at the parties were part of the norm.
"It’s was [at a] comfort level that cuffs would get taken out, a captain's gun would get taken out, it’s common,” the official said. “Partner-swapping is not such a big deal for them.”
The attendees at the March 1st party even described sharing a group-kiss before the alleged sexual assault took place.
There is also cell phone video taken just moments before the Turner, Urbina and the victim disappeared into a back bedroom. In it you can see Officer Turner handcuffing an off-duty firefighter and then patting him down. Officer Urbina, who is now deceased, is also present in the video. The overt sexual overtones of the party were among the reasons the State Attorney's Office gave for not pursuing the case against Turner.
"My client is very, very disappointed she made a claim against law enforcement seeking their help for a battery against her and that’s not going to be prosecuted,” says the victim’s attorney, Andrea Mogensen. “Obviously that hurts.”
Mogensen says the case should have gone to a court where a jury could decide. She also says that if a law enforcement officer wasn't the center of the investigation things would have ended differently.
But attorney Eric Reisinger, who represented Urbina and Turner during her first court appearance, disputes the claim.
"There was absolutely no special treatments given whatsoever,” he says. “In fact, I think they went above and beyond to make an arrest when I think they didn't even have enough evidence to make an arrest, but I think the sheriff did it to show he wasn't playing favorites."
The Sarasota County sheriff's office says that while they are disappointed the state attorney dropped the charges, they are confident that their investigation was thorough. The North Port Police Department is also conducting a separate internal investigation into what happened the night of the alleged assault.
Finally, it's important to note that the threshold for an arrest and the threshold for prosecution are different. The North Port Police Department send us this statement clarifying their position on the non-prosecution:
“While we are disappointed that this case will not proceed forward, it is important to understand that law enforcement agencies and the state attorney’s office have different roles and responsibilities. We are confident in the decision that was made at the conclusion of the thorough and professional investigation conducted by our personnel. The material facts in this case are not in dispute and any culpability lies solely with the individuals whose willful actions necessitated this investigation. We have great respect for the Office of the State Attorney and remain committed to providing the highest level of service to all victims of crime within our community.”