We’re all attuned today (actually I should say “re-attuned” since back a couple of decades ago “arrested while being Black” was a part of popular culture and media discussions but disappeared into the deep emptiness of conservatism) to the Black Lives Matter movement and rightly so.  Statistically, Black men, women and children are far more likely than their White peers to wind up arrested, imprisoned or dead for committing the same crimes or no crime at all.   This holds true for Latin Americans as well.  But one of the fundamental aspects of this phenomenon is how far police departments will go to protect their own.  No one disputes the fact that police officers face potentially deadly situations and confrontations on a daily basis unlike the rest of us.  That’s their job and it’s a tough one requiring instantaneous life and death decision-making.  (Like the shooting of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, for example).  But when there is a suspicion that police officers might have acted illegally or acted against their own force’s policies and regulations, rarely are they called to account for their actions. 

The Frontline/New York Times documentary, “A Death in St. Augustine” I’ve posted here is from November 2013, and is the tale of a St. Augustine, Florida, police officer’s story of innocence and un-involvement in the suicide of his girlfriend or the benign or deliberate complicity of the St. John’s County Sheriff’s Office in protecting their own from homicide charges, depending on your point of view. The story begins, at least with the St. Augustine police’s involvement, with a 9-11 call made by Officer Jeremy Banks who claimed that his girlfriend, Michelle O’Connell, has just committed suicide.  When other officers arrived on the scene, Office Banks was accompanied by another officer to a police car for the conduct of an interview after two hours of being consoled by his friends at the scene.  His story was that Michelle had taken his service revolver and shot herself in the mouth.

That Michelle and Jeremy had a violence prone relationship was well known to both family and friends.  In fact, while attending a concert the night of her death, she tweeted to her sister and friends that she was going to break up with Officer Banks that night.  As St. Augustine police officers arrived on the scene, they accepted Officer Banks’ story that Michelle had committed suicide with his service revolver and proceeded under this scenario from then on.  The family, on the other hand, was not convinced that Michelle had committed suicide particularly knowing that she would never leave her young daughter, Alexis, an orphan.  She wrote a letter of instructions to her family regarding the care of her daughter should she die on a sky diving trip she was about to take some time before her death.

Initially, the St. Augustine Sheriff’s Office simply dismissed the possibility that Michelle’s death was not a suicide but murder at the hands of her boyfriend.  The family, however, was not convinced and mounted their own investigation into the matter that eventually caused Florida Governor, Rick Scott, to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate the matter.  In the end, however, Officer Banks was cleared of any suspicion or wrongdoing.  the family's efforts are still ongoing. 

But here are a few facts that the family’s own investigation revealed:

1. Only Michelle O’Connell’s fingerprints were found on Officer Banks' service revolver even though it was the gun he carried every day.

2.  A wound on O’Connell’s right eye was determined by the St. Augustine police to have been caused by the “gun kick”  (the gun had to have been held upside down to result in this wound) but the family’s investigators could not duplicate the action and, in fact, in all the tests the gun only kicked away from the face, not towards.

3.  Officer Bank’s service gun included a mechanism (retention holster) that you had to know how to use in order to remove the gun from its holster.  In fact, when the Frontline crew interviewed Dr. Bulic, the country medical examiner, and asked him to remove the same type gun from its retention holster, he could not. 

4.  Nearby neighbors who heard a fight (shouting, female screams for help) and the gunshots were never interviewed by the St. Augustine Police Department until forced to much later.  The Sheriff’s Report included the “fact” that both women were pot smokers. This allegation was later removed from the report.  Both passed polygraph tests during the family’s investigation.

5.   The Frontline/NYT investigator’s found that the manner in which the investigation was handled by the Sheriff’s Office clearly involved several conflicts of interest. 

6.    The Florida State’s Attorney who was asked to investigate the case, appointed former Medical Examiner, Dr. Steven Cogswell, to review the case.  Dr. Cogswell had previously concluded that Secretary of Commerce, Ron Brown, had been shot in the head prior to the 1996 plane crash in Croatia that killed him and all on board.

7.  The Frontline/NYT investigators concluded that if Michelle O’Connor had held the gun upside down, the shell casings would have been found on the opposite side of her body as opposed to where they were found at the scene. 

Because Michelle O’Connor’s death while she was packing to leave her police officer boyfriend was ruled a suicide, there was no Grand Jury inquiry into her death.

A more complete list of the anomalies of this case is available from the family’s web site.


The investigation into the death of Michelle O’Connell was a joint undertaking by Frontline and the New York Times.  The documentary is here in case the video above is removed for copyright violations. 

The New York Times' excellent print piece on this matter is here: 


As a part of reforming our justice system as a result of the attention police departments are receiving of late with the deaths of Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and others, it is important to recognize that the penchant for “protecting their own” is also an area that needs to be explored.  You will not find any national data on the rate, number, or characteristics of police-caused deaths.  Such information is not kept by local police departments in any collated form nor by the states nor at the Federal level.  As a step to correct this situation, Obama has proposed that deaths at the hands of police be recorded in a national data base.   

The Sheriff in the case, David Shoar, has been praising Office Banks at public meetings and police gatherings since the death of Michelle.  For my money, the cause of Michelle’s death remains unresolved.  Frankly, the whole thing stinks. 


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