Top Official’s Daughter Charged with Fraud – Redaction Takes Center Stage
BROOKSVILLE – On January 11th, RNRF received information that an employee of a local Target Department Store would face felony charges for stealing nearly $2,300 from store registers. It turns out that the suspect who allegedly stole the cash was the teenage daughter of a prominent elected official.
According to Target loss prevention officers, 18-year-old Jenna Lynn Barbee stole a total of $2,282.94, over the course of several weeks, dating back to December 12th 2015. On the evening of her arrest, Jenna was transported just a few miles away to the Hernando County Jail, where she was charged with 1-count of Organized Fraud and later released on a $1,000 bond.
If the suspect’s name rings a bell, that’s because she is the daughter of Hernando County Clerk of the Court, Don Barbee. Of course news of the arrest devastated Barbee and with all arrests being public record, Barbee knew that word of the incident would soon make headlines. RNRF considered running the story immediately but we wanted to make sure “all bases were covered” before announcing such a high profile incident. But that didn’t stop Tampa Bay Times reporter Dan DeWitt from taking aim and firing a few rounds at the former Assistant State Attorney and the Sheriff’s Office.
In an article published on January 21st, Dewitt raised concerns over Jenna’s heavily redacted arrest affidavit (TIMES ARTICLE). Dewitt questions why Jenna’s name, address, and date of birth were redacted from the affidavit and why Jenna’s mugshot was not posted on the Jail website. Don Barbee and Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson, Denise Moloney explained that Florida law allows for Law Enforcement, former and current, Judges, prosecutors, and their families to be exempt from public record. Barbee further explained that he is both a former prosecutor and FBI Agent.
Dewitt’s sources say that the law allows for certain redactions but that it’s not required. At this point, Dewitt’s point becomes clearer – did Sheriff Nienhuis and Don Barbee intentionally prevent Jenna’s identity from becoming public record and was it to avoid embarrassment or to protect the Barbee family? Several RNRF viewers, Target employees, and even Grace Fagan, General Counsel, Fifth Judicial Circuit asked when we would be exposing the “scandal.” Fagan says “You should run with it – People should know.” Fagan went on to say “…it bothers me that the entire incident disappeared! The statute he references protects addresses, so that crazy defendants and the like cannot locate you as a DCF attorney, state attorney, judge or police officer – Not to completely eliminate any trace of an arrest. Her home address should have been redacted (arguably) but not the ENTIRE incident!!! That’s shady!” Fagan explained that even Judges have had their own children arrested in the past and their mug shots were in full disclosure. Fagan recalls the arrest of Kristin Howard, daughter of Citrus County Circuit Judge Richard Howard – Kristin was arrested in 2014 for DUI and her record is still available for viewing. Howard hired an attorney, pled guilty to reckless driving, and completed the terms of her probation like the average defendant, without the help of her father.
I asked Nienhuis if the allegations were true, that he went over and above standard protocol, he replied “Regarding this incident, my people advised that the law allowed (some would say encouraged) the redaction of all personal information of the child of a current or former law enforcement officer and prosecutor. Mr. Barbee falls into both of these categories. Since the subject arrested in this case specifically requested an exemption under this law and since we can never get the information back once published, my people recommended that we redact all the information listed in the statute as exempt from disclosure under the public records law. I agreed with their assessment and told them to follow the law and to err on the side of caution when proactively posting the arrest online and when proactively sending the daily arrest reports to the media.” NIenhuis explained why he would “err on the side of caution” with anyone in Jenna’s position “If we did otherwise, it would open us up for criticism or liability if the spouse or child was harmed as a result of our release (especially when we are doing the release simply as a courtesy).”
Barbee fully concurs with Neinhuis’ explanation, stating “I have spent approximately 20 years putting people in jail for some very serious crimes. Unfortunately, my career choices place my family in serious danger.” Barbee went on to defend his position by saying “Applying the statutory exemption has nothing to do with me being an “influential daddy” and everything to do with protecting my family.”
Regarding the arrest of his daughter, Barbee says “18 year olds do stupid things and unfortunately mine is no exception. She will be facing the consequences of that decision for the rest of her life.”
Many question the motive behind Dewitt’s article – claiming that he used Jenna as a pawn to criticize her father, as the Times often does with conservative leadership in Hernando County. With the current election cycle picking up speed, political mudslinging from both sides of the isle will certainly become more apparent with all forms of media.
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