WEST PALM BEACH — As usual, the West Palm Beach media missed the point of the recent prosecution of a made-up assault case against Rick Sessa, a radio talk-show host and former candidate for Palm Beach County Sheriff.
It wasn’t about Sessa’s alleged assault on a Riviera Beach resident who turned out to be a convicted felon and freshly-released DUI double killer jail-bird. The guy, after all, changed his story about the incident several times.
It was about unethical conduct inside the office of Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg.
Prosecutors, you see, MUST by law protect a citizen accused of wrongdoing if the evidence shows the accused didn’t do the crime.
In Sessa’s case, Aronberg’s prosecutors — namely Assistant SA Daniel Reiter and his boss, Chief Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes — allowed for the legal charade to go on for months for no reason other than the hope he knew something in a separate, unrelated case.
That case involves Mark Dougan, a former Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy who fled to Russia after the FBI and Fernande’ investigators raided his house 16 months ago.
Fernandes especially, according to two sources close to the case, wanted Sessa to tie Dougan to a wiretapping incident where a former PBSO sergeant was recorded during a phone conversation talking about how Sheriff Ric Bradshaw assigned him to finding dirt on political opponents and reporters.
As far as we’re concerned, Reiter and Fernandes violated Sessa’s basic rights on several fronts.
And for that, both should be fired.
Their licenses to practice law should be revoked.
The bottom line: If this happened to Sessa, a former cop, it could happen to anyone in Palm Beach County who might stay out a tad late and have an argument with a convicted felon.
Back in March, Gossip Extra reported exclusively Sessa, a retired Riviera Beach Police commander who hosts the Cop Talk radio show on AM 900 The Talk, was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, battery and trespassing.
Out of the blue the 51-year-old Sessa, who uses his show to criticize both Bradshaw and Aronberg, was facing life in prison.
The alleged victim, Donald Flewellen, told cops he was in his condo in Riviera Beach when Sessa and other men burst in and threatened him with a silver-plated gun.
All along, Sessa admitted to having an argument with Flewellen but denied the rest of the story.
Despite gross inaccuracies in Flewellen’s version and giant flaws in the Rivera Beach Police investigation, the state attorney’s office chose to believe the tale. Never mind that, months earlier, Flewellen had been released from a state prison after serving 25 years in the killing of two people in a DUI crash.
By late March, Flewellen’s complaint started to sound even more unlikely.
Details, including the date of the alleged incident and the use of a mysterious, shiny silver-plated gun, were getting easily debunked by Sessa’s attorney and cousin, Steven Sessa.
With the case losing steam, Aronberg’s office dropped the three felony charges.
The end, right?
Hardly. Reiter re-filed, this time accusing the former sheriff candidate of burglary.
By May, Flewellen admitted there was no silver-plated gun involved, and he told prosecutors he wanted to drop the whole thing.
Fernandes and Reiter refused.
However, they did offer Sessa a deal, according to my source: They’d quit prosecuting him in exchange for information about Dougan.
What’s so important about Dougan?
Well, Dougan’s been another thorn in the side of Bradshaw’s administration.
For one thing, he founded the popular website pbsotalk.ru, where citizens and deputies go to criticize anonymously PBSO higher-ups as well as Bradshaw’s job as sheriff.
Nearly two years ago, GoDaddy shut down the site in the United States after a complaint from the Broward County State Attorney about the presence on the site of private information on thousands of Florida law enforcement officials.
Eventually, Dougan re-invented the site from a server in Russia, out of the grasp of U.S. authorities. Dougan left the country after a federal search warrant was served in his Palm Beach Gardens condo and his computers were seized.
The feds have yet to charge Dougan with a crime.
And Fernandes, I’m told, is struggling with his local wiretapping investigation of Dougan.
Still, Sessa refused to rat out his friend Dougan.
“Rick doesn’t know much about Dougan anyway,” the source said. “And the sleazy attempt to make him rat out a friend didn’t sit well with him.”
Caught in a standoff likely to embarrass Aronberg’s office if the case went to trial, Fernandes blinked and allowed Sessa to plead to a misdemeanor battery in July.
Sessa’s plea is listed as “in best interest,” meaning that Sessa didn’t admit guilt. The judge sentenced him to one day in jail, the day he served at his arrest.
Sessa is a free man again.
Some might argue the system worked.
In the end, however, the right of Palm Beach County residents to be free from frivolous and malicious prosecution got a little weaker.