Two Florida sheriff’s deputies arrested last week for sexually assaulting a minor deny any wrongdoing.
However, at least one of the deputies allowed himself to be video recorded having sex with the girl, who is at least 13 years old.
Although Escambia County sheriff’s deputies Mark Gene Smith and Walter Michael Thomas are currently sitting in jail, their mugshots are not being released for their own protection, said Sheriff David Morgan in a press conference Monday.
Meanwhile, two Okaloosa County paramedics, Leah and Douglas Manning, a married couple described as “swingers” who participated in the abuse are still at large.
According to the Pensacola News Journal:
“What we’re dealing with is not your standard case,” Morgan said, fielding questions from the media. “We’re dealing with minors, and their names and all the specifics of the case are not releasable.”
Morgan said a provision of the Florida Statutes allowed the officers to request their photographs be withheld for the protection of the officers and their families.
Some details of the allegations against Smith and Thomas were made available through their arrest reports.
In late September or early October of 2014, Thomas allegedly visited spouses Leah and Douglas Manning. A victim allegedly identified the Mannings as “swingers” who had multiple sexual partners.
The victim said that Leah Manning invited her into a bedroom where she engaged in sex acts with Thomas while Douglas Manning recorded the abuse with his cell phone, according to the report.
The victim also reported multiple instances of abuse while visiting Smith in the summer of 2014. The incidents were reported through a child abuse hotline in February. Following an investigation, Smith and Thomas were arrested Friday.
According to Morgan, an anonymous tip came from the Gulf Coast Children’s House, a non-profit organization dedicated supporting child abuse victims, helped to break the case open.
Escambia County Police are still on the lookout for the Mannings, who have outstanding warrants listed for sexual battery and child neglect. The two sheriff’s deputies are in the Escambia County Jail with bond set at $150,000 for Smith, and $170,000 for Thomas.
Although the extent of the relationship was no elaborated on, Sheriff Morgan says Leah Manning knew the two arrested deputies from her time as a nurse in the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.
According to police, the Mannings were last seen in the area of 200 Berg Street in Pensacola and are said to be driving a 2013 red Chevrolet Camaro (Florida Tag #M596YZ).
UPDATE: Florida public records guru Joel Chandler, who runs FOGWatch (Florida Open Government Watch) said while there is a provision that allows the photos of cops not to be released, there is no requirement that prevents the release of photos, indicating that Sheriff Morgan is simply protecting his own.
Section 119.071(4)(d)2 of the Florida Statutes, (2014) exempt from disclosure the photographs of sworn law enforcement officers. While they are exempt from disclosure they are not exempt and confidential, and that’s important distinction. A law enforcement agency, such as a sheriff, can release photographs of sworn law enforcement officers. In fact, virtually every law enforcement agency, including the Sheriff of Escambia County, does exactly that. If you have any doubts about that fact, simply visit www.escambiaso.com.
If the Florida Legislature had intended to prohibit the disclosure of the photographs of LEOs it would have made those records exempt and confidential. The simple fact is the, Sheriff of Escambia could release the photographs of his deputies. Instead, he’s decided not to. I can only speculate as to why he would make that choice.