St. Johns County Sheriff responds to O’Connell death investigation

By Scott Johnson, General assignment reporter, sjohnson@wjxt.com
Elizabeth Berry, Evening assignment manager, beth@wjxt.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 05:44:28 PM EST
Updated On: Nov 26 2013 07:25:45 AM EST

VIDEO: Saint Johns County Sheriff is answering questions about Michelle O'Connell.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -

The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office posted documents from the investigation into the death of 24-year-old Michelle O’Connell as a response to the New York Times and PBS' Frontline investigation into the 2010 shooting death of the St. Augustine woman.

While three medical examiners agreed that O'Connell's death was a suicide, some family members continue to believe St. Johns County Deputy Sheriff Jeremy Banks had some involvement in her death.

Question after question that Sheriff David Shoar would not answer in the New York Times were answered in detail in the documents Shoar posted on the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office website Monday. 

One of the questions was how Deputy Jeremy Banks gained access to the investigative file before being interviewed by a detective. 

The sheriff answered, “No one was disciplined for “allowing” Banks to view the report because at the time he accessed it there were no restrictions placed upon it.”  The sheriff added, “This was actually a lesson learned for us and now it is standard procedure to restrict access.”

Jeremy Banks and Michelle O'Connell The documentary will not have any of the responses from Sheriff Shoar, like his response to the question about the lack of injuries to O’Connell’s hand, which the Times’ ballistic expert said should’ve happened in a suicide. 

“I have found that often times experts disagree when examining the same case and at times are simply wrong on an issue,” said Sheriff Shoar. 

Shoar added that three sets of experts had three different answers on O’Connell’s injuries. 

The New York Times also hit the sheriff on the amount of money spent in all the investigations after O’Connell’s death. One of the New York Time’s questions asked how much the investigation cost tax payers. 

Shoar responded, “This question is virtually impossible to answer with any certainty. It is safe to say that the cost was significant because the effort required hundreds of work hours.”

The follow up question was, “How much taxpayer money this year went to pay your private outside lawyer, John Kaney, for matters relating to the O’Connell shooting?”

The sheriff’s answer was simply, “$9,498.66”.

Another question centered around the sheriff’s relationship with Deputy Banks’ parents and asking why Shoar was reluctance to come down on the deputy. Many have questioned whether Banks was responsible for O’Connell’s death in a domestic incident.

Sheriff Shoar defended his actions by saying, “During my 33 year career, I have had to investigate and arrest friends, relatives of close friends and relatives of mine.”

Sheriff Shoar also posted letters that he wrote to the New York Times regarding the investigation.

In the letters he writes, “Regarding my interview, I almost feel that it has become inconsequential and that having it would allow you to 'check a box,' so to speak, on your 'things to do list.' I have come to believe that your story has already been written and that the documentary film you are collaborating on is also complete.”

In fact, the documentary is already posted on the PBS website. The sheriff made it clear that he didn’t want to go on the record in a story that already had pre-planned template.

Shoar's letter goes on to say, "Themes that seem to emerge are that Deputy Banks may be culpable in the death of Michelle O’Connell and that the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office may not be sensitive to the issue of domestic violence.”

As far as Shoar’s portrayal in the New York Times, the reporter wrote, “Sheriff Shoar, the most powerful elected official in this North Florida county and a former co-chairman of its domestic violence task force, declined to be interviewed for this article.”

The sheriff also wrote that he didn’t feel that he was being taken seriously by the New York Times. Shoar said he was told by the Times that they wanted to do a “soft interview,” meaning not in depth or investigative. 

Shoar said he was ready to sit down and go through all the facts until he realized that the New York Times already had the article written without his contributions. 

The Frontline and New York Times Investigative documentary airs Tuesday night on PBS nationwide, including at 10 p.m. on WJCT, Channel 7.

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