After almost 90 days, and after WPTV filed a lawsuit against the city of Riviera Beach for not releasing text messages from the city-issued cellphones of city council members, the city responded.
Contact 5 investigators poured over the phone records of the Riviera Beach city council members, including the three who voted to fire then-City Manager Jonathan Evans.
We found messages between Council Member Terence Davis and Police Chief Clarence Williams right around the secret meeting at Hurst Chapel, text messages between the candidate for the city manager position, Lydia Smith, and Davis the day after Davis motioned to fire Evans.
Per Florida public records law, WPTV requested 98 text messages from the city council members.
Eleven from Councilwoman Dawn Pardo, who fulfilled our request. Six from Councilwoman Lynne Hubbard, who handed over only two messages.
WPTV asked for 82 messages from Davis, who at the time of the lawsuit filing hadn't turned over a single text message.
"Our staff has done their job," Davis said Wednesday. "They're going to all of your public records requests, they're taking their time so they don't miss anything. So you'll get everything in due time, okay?"
WPTV then received a letter from the city clerk's office, saying that a after a thorough search, there were "no records found".
WPTV knows, from the phone records, those text messages existed.
"It's highly suspicious," First Amendment Lawyer Martin Reeder said.
Reeder said if the messages were deleted prior to WPTV asking for them, that would mean the councilman failed to retain public records.
The other option could be Davis deleted the messages after WPTV asked for them.
"That's a criminal offense if you knowingly do that," Reeder said.
Reeder said the city should have asked the phone carrier to produce the text messages.
WPTV amended its complaint against the city, adding a count of either the failure to retain public records or the destruction of public records.
Scripps Only Content 2018