Florida’s top statewide law enforcement agency created a criminal intelligence bulletin against a Democratic National Committee member who is one of the governor’s most visible critics just because of his derogatory social media posts.
DNC member and podcaster Thomas Kennedy is the featured person of interest in a 4-page intelligence document from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) dated July 14th, 2020. He is also a critic of the governor and frequently a political protester.
And he is not alone on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ enemies list.
The DeSantis Administration’s Director of Communications issued a written responsibility statement for directing police action against Kennedy using the enemies list in an email this May for the initial report which led to the discovery of the enemies list during her first day on the job.
A newly released email—in response to a lawsuit against the Executive Office of the Governor—shows that it was actually the Governor’s Director of External Affairs and outgoing Press Secretary who drafted the statement.
They reasoned that Kennedy had protested at a press conference nearly a year earlier, and therefore the Governor’s office could prevent him from attending a public meeting with the state’s chief executive and colleague on the state cabinet, Attorney General Ashley Moody.
Up to six more of the DNC member’s political associates, most likely including this author, made Governor DeSantis’ black list of Floridians banned from being in the presence of the state’s executive officer.
The governor’s office directs FDLE to disseminate an eighteen-month-old “Situational Awareness” criminal intelligence bulletin with numerous local police agencies containing photos of Kennedy.
It includes a three-paragraph description of his political activism, in which the department explains its main rationale for obtaining federal law enforcement data about him and his associates from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.
But the use of federal databases to create a criminal intelligence memo about someone who isn’t deemed a security threat, but rather a threat for the content of their speech is not normal.
FDLE says he is known to plan protests without talking about them on social media, then posting about them later for the public to see. Some of the “direct actions” the FDLE warns about which they call “(sleeping dragons).”
Crucially, for a criminal intelligence bulletin, there is one thing lacking, any allegation or suspicion that Kennedy might commit a crime or harm the governor.
In fact, it says that he has “no known history of violence.”
In order to acquire a heavily redacted copy of the “Thomas Kennedy Situational Awareness” document (as the FDLE calls it) this author filed and has had to prosecute nine public records lawsuits in a legal battle waged against four public agencies.
This report is a result of obtaining five court orders to show cause against the state’s largest law enforcement agency, with a sixth court order against the agency pending.
What is clear from the text of the above bulletin about Kennedy, is that his largest and greatest offense was strolling into one of the governor’s press conferences on July 12th, 2020 during the start of Florida’s descent into a global epicenter of the novel coronavirus disease Covid—19.
That is where he told Gov. Ron DeSantis he is a “disgrace” and should “resign.”
The bulletin’s second page features a copy of one of Kennedy’s tweets prominently displayed with complete social media metrics including a notation that over 1.1 million people had seen his message calling the Florida governor, and also the former Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez an “embarrassment.”
The third page lacks any significant text beyond the phrase “Associates:” sitting atop a large black redaction box.
Circumstantial evidence from police body cameras and other public records requests strongly indicate that this author is on the third page of the governor’s list which police term Kennedy’s ‘known associates.’ Kennedy calls it a “ban list.”
Watch this Miami Police Department body camera worn by an officer who viewed the Governor’s list discussing if he could arrest the author whom he calls a “known associate” and/or Kennedy for asking to enter one of the governor’s press conferences:
The remaining members of the governor’s list of Kennedy’s political associates are unknown.
Nonetheless, those associates are listed as political enemies of the state of Florida for the potential crime of associating with the 28-year-old Argentinian-American who became the youngest elected member of the DNC earlier this year.
Miami PD is still fighting in a Miami-Dade courtroom to keep its body cam video redacted without explanation, even though it is required to disclose in writing why it is censoring the release of this footage.
In the ongoing litigation to obtain this record, FDLE has claimed no less than seven different legal exemptions for partially redacting the document.
Claimed exemptions to disclosure from the FDLE state the bulletin has driver license photographs and signatures, social security numbers, motor vehicle record information, an unpaid statutory fee for releasing criminal justice information, the “criminal intelligence” exemption, the surveillance techniques exemption, and the “Third Agency Rule” restricting access to releasing records from a non-Florida criminal justice agency.
The hunt for this record began when Thomas Kennedy was detained and banned from attending a public meeting at the Port of Miami with Florida’s governor and attorney general on April 8th, 2021 by the Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD).
That countywide agency then refused to release any records of the encounter besides slow-walking their release of the police report calling him a “known agitator” based on a meeting with an FDLE agent the day before the event where an MDPD Sergeant was “given information” about the DNC member.
In Florida, the FDLE’s 1,900 members and $300 million budget are spread across five regional operations centers. The agency is also tasked by statute with protecting the personal safety of the governor. In that regard, it’s not unusual that the agencies would coordinate.
Governor DeSantis’ spokesperson Taryn Fenske went on the record saying the Executive Office of the Governor routinely works through FDLE to instruct local agencies coordinating with their mission to protect the state’s chief executive.
The author filed suit in mid-May to obtain body camera footage from the incident and all other records, emails, and messages. In response, the MDPD released more records including the police radio recording, body camera footage showing that the arresting officer turned off his body camera which is against department policy, a photo image of a paper document with the first page of the “Thomas Kennedy Situational Awareness” bulletin, a PDF document with the first page of the same document, and two emails. Both of the bulletin documents were marked partially exempt and partially redacted, with the Miami agency saying to ask FDLE if we wanted them to release Kennedy’s criminal history information.
When counsel for the author asked the County to produce pages 2-4 of the bulletin, they refused and said they didn’t have them. But an examination of the two emails MDPD produced showed a major irregularity. One of the emails was produced in .msg form as most Microsoft Outlook emails are stored, yet the other “email” was a Microsoft Word document.
It was a dead giveaway of the importance of the record they refused to release.
The “email” in Word format from FDLE Special Agent Dean Wellinghoff to MDPD Sgt. Javier Valdes reads “Hey Sarge, I was asked to send this flyer to you. If you need anything else, let me know.”
However, as anyone knows, an original email contains the attachment inside, but this email doesn’t.
Improbably too, the “email” is dated April 8th, 2021, and 2:58 pm which is hours after MDPD detained Kennedy at the Port of Miami earlier that day. It’s hard to understand why MDPD would need a copy of the criminal intelligence bulletin after acting on the information. But there is no real way to authenticate the time this email was sent until a judge rules on the ongoing court case to force them to explain this unusual document.
Acting on information from those MDPD records, the author submitted four new public records requests to FDLE to their publicly listed media contact email, and that day request to Florida International University (FIU) after a source passed along a tip that they had seen the Thomas Kennedy Situational Awareness bulletin used when Governor DeSantis visited in early June. Additionally, the author made a request to FDLE for the records about their criminal surveillance policy on First Amendment-protected activities.
FIU only responded to acknowledge receiving the request and three weeks later the author filed suit (chronologically, the fourth) to obtain the records, which led to their only response to the request, leaving the rest for a judge to decide (still pending in court).
On June 25th, counsel for the author filed the first of what became a series of five lawsuits seeking the emails sent to the Miami-Dade Police Department, a copy of the Thomas Kennedy Situational Awareness bulletin, a copy of the department’s emails about Kennedy and any other bulletins about him, and for a copy of the department’s policy on surveilling First Amendment activities, and finally for a copy of all of FDLE’s situational awareness bulletins from the start of 2020 to present.
Despite receiving five lawsuits in a three-day period from the 25th through the 28th of June, FDLE didn’t bother reaching out until the end of the week right before the 4th of July holiday weekend, with a looming court date on July 7th. When the morning of the court hearing arrived, Covid—19 intruded on the proceedings when the presiding judge fell ill after participating in the first in-person trial the preceding week. (She recovered, fortunately!)
The threat of a court hearing spurred FDLE to finally begin responding to the public records requests fully two weeks after being electronically notified of the five public lawsuits.
That is when they first released the redacted Thomas Kennedy Situational Awareness document for the first time, along with copies of the FDLE’s criminal intelligence policy which showed recent activity at the highest levels of the department which will be detailed in an upcoming report here.
FDLE also produced the document in a second case which the author is pursuing pro se. In both cases, a Florida circuit court judge will conduct a mandatory in-camera review of the black boxes inside of the DeSantis enemies list and decide if the third page should be unredacted by the year’s end.
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is the Executive Editor of Occupy Democrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and an unpaid senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition and a Director of Sunshine Agenda Inc. a government transparency nonprofit organization.