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Florida Center for Government Accountability WINS court fight to unseal investigation of Daytona Beach Shores cops 

A Circuit Court judge on Monday morning  issued an oral ruling that will unseal public records involving the investigation of two Daytona Beach Shores police officers who hand-cuffed their three-year-old son and twice briefly confined him in a city holding cell in a bid to potty train him. 

The ruling by Judge Mary G. Jolley triggers the release of key documents in the bizarre case involving Lt. Michael Shoenbrod and Sgt. Jessica Long, including a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report that according to the State Attorney’s Office recommended criminal charges for the pair.  

Jolley’s ruling came during a Monday hearing prompted by a motion filed by the Florida Center for Government Accountability (FLCGA), which argued that the records had been improperly sealed by the court in March. 

“We won; we got everything we wanted,” said Michael Barfield, FLCGA’s director of public access initiatives, of the hearing. “A lot of records will now be unsealed and what the police officers did to their minor child will not be swept under the rug. [Officers Shoenbrod and Long] invoked the judicial process as if they are entitled to some special privilege. They’re not, any more than you and I.” 

The police officers’ attorney, Michael Lambert, filed a petition to seal the case in March. It was revealed during Monday’s hearing that it was Volusia County Judge Robert A. Sanders Jr. who not only ordered the case sealed but also hid the petition itself from the public as well.   

Attorney Linda Norbut  represented FLCGA and the Daytona Beach News Journal at the hearing, where she argued that the “super-sealing” of the case ran contrary to Florida public records law.

“Private individuals in these situations can’t conceal these records from the public. so certainly two cops that have been under investigation where there is certainly a heightened public interest can’t expect to keep those matters secret either,” said Norbut, who is with the law firm Thomas & LoCicero. “Any public record that’s not independently exempt should not be sealed.”

Lieutenant Schoenbrod told a Florida Department of Children and Families caseworker that he and Sgt. Long confined the son they share in the jail during two successive days last October. It was during the second jailing that the boy was handcuffed, began crying, and promised “never again to poop his pants.” 

“He was crying,” Schoenbrod told the DCF worker. “I was getting the response I expected from him.” 

Jolley’s ruling nullifies court orders to keep secret not only the contents of the FDLE case but also the findings of a professional standards investigation conducted by the Daytona Beach Shores Department of Public Safety.  

“Somebody thought that they were entitled to a special form of justice that doesn’t exist and that by merely invoking the judicial process they could seal public records in their entirety,” said Barfield. “That’s a road into darkness. Today there’s been a U-turn.