Friends and relatives of the late Sheena Morris, who died in 2009, picketed Bradenton Beach City Hall Aug. 16 demanding law enforcement do more to find out what happened to the 25-year-old woman.
Morris’ death was initially ruled a suicide, but the cause of death was changed in 2011 to undetermined after forensic experts, hired by Morris’ family, said the crime scene could have been staged.
Kelly Osborn, Morris’ mother, has launched a public campaign demanding the case be investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI said the case is not in their jurisdiction, and has declined to investigate it.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has agreed to review the case and ordered the case file sealed last week. A 15-member FDLE board is being assembled to review the case in Sebring, but Osborn says that’s not good enough.
“They are reviewing the case, not investigating the case,” she said to reporters outside city hall.
Osborn said Mayor John Shaughnessy has done nothing to help the case get reopened and expressed frustration over the lack of communication from the city.
“They are putting their hands over their eyes and covering their ears,” she said. “I’m on a journey, and it’s been a long journey. It’s absurd for a family to have to go through this. I want them to know that I’m not giving up.”
Police Chief Sam Speciale has expressed sympathy for what Osborn is going through, but insists his department did a thorough investigation. He said he would reopen the case if there was any credible evidence to suggest foul play. Speciale previously said he stands behind the suicide ruling.
Osborn has said that she has evidence, but she has never presented it. Outside city hall, Osborn said the police already have all the evidence they need.
“When the sheriff’s office processed the crime scene they took clippings of Sheena’s fingernails,” she said. “That evidence is rotting away in a non-environment controlled room at the Bradenton Beach Police Department. They have done nothing with it.”
Osborn said BBPD is trying to cover up its mistakes in the investigation of Morris’ death.
“There’s a lot going on in this town,” she said. “There is a lot of cover up and I’m going to get to the bottom of it.”
Osborn points out past BBPD problems
Osborn said past reports and letters of reprimand on a BBPD officer support her claim that BBPD is inept to handle what she calls a murder investigation.
A month after her daughter’s death, the same officer who responded to the initial disturbance call at the BridgeWalk Resort where Morris was later found dead, was reprimanded for not following procedure in another death investigation.
Officer Mike Bazzell was reprimanded for “not following procedures and good judgment” in the death of a 49-year-old woman who was found in a bathtub by her fiance. Bazzell’s investigation consisted of an “extensive visual assessment of the body,” in classifying it as a natural death, and failed to contact his supervisors.
Osborn said it’s that type of police work that went into investigating her daughter’s death.
“I’m angry,” she told commissioners at an Aug. 6 city commission meeting. “This is absurd. These mistakes made by this department are just not about my daughter. There’s more.”
Osborn called for Shaughnessy to start showing some leadership.
“I’m not responding to this,” said Shaughnessy. “I have nothing to say. It’s under investigation by FDLE. Until that is done, I have nothing to say. When I get all the facts, I will respond and that will be fair to everyone involved.”
Further BBPD issues raised by locals
Osborn wasn’t the only one at the Aug. 16 commission meeting to raise concerns over BBPD’s work.
Patrick Shomo said he saw some reports of burglaries next to his Bradenton Beach vacation home and when he went to check, “I found someone sleeping there while I was gone.”
Shomo said the homeless man is known to police, and when he called BBPD, “I had a rather odd 15-minute conversation where I was told the police would not take complaints over the phone.”
Shomo said the conversation took a bizarre twist when he was told the only way he would get police assistance was if, “I was home at the same time as the lawbreaker, and if he would sign a waiver saying he’s not supposed to be there.”
Resident Jo Ann Meilner also said she had a problem with BBPD. Meilner told commissioners a boat had washed up to her dock and a BBPD officer told her there was nothing he could do.
“I looked all over town for a police officer and couldn’t find one,” said Meilner. “I finally went to the police department and was told if nobody comes by in a couple of days, then I could get rid of it.”
Meilner said she then called the county, “and within a half hour they had responded, got the registration number and contacted the owner. I’d say that’s a bit of a lack of police work on the part of Bradenton Beach. Seems like a pattern is developing.”
Shaughnessy pledged to look into both incidents.