In 2013, Bessman Okafer murdered Alex Zaldivar, while Okafer was in the Orange County Jail home confinement program awaiting trial.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that during overnight hours, no one monitors those on home confinement. Any violations in the program would not be discovered until the next day.
At the time, it was big news in Orlando.
“The professional standards report also said that the corrections staff had not been aware of the number of Okafor curfew violations until January,” wrote the Sentinel. “‘Staff provided no explanation as to why they did not elevate the severity of the issue higher’ once they became aware of it, the report stated.”
When then-Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs finally learned about the failures, she shut down the program, with several jail staff members fired or forced to resign.
Two recently unearthed memos seem to show then-Public Safety Director Jerry Demings knew about this issue back in 2003 but never did anything about it. The memo (see below) reference a meeting in Demings’ office.
Last week, Channel 9 News re-examined the story, criticizing “all involved” — and essentially giving a pass to Demings, the former Orange County Sheriff now campaigning for Orange County mayor. In this case, the buck should have stopped with Demings, but in the latest story, he blames jail staff.
The situation leaves many questions unanswered — and unasked — by local Orlando media.
Demings says he trusted his jail staff and didn’t bother following up on the memos. Should that be considered acceptable for the person in charge of such a program?
Five years after the death, as Demings was running for Sheriff, a 2008 financial report shows two maximum political contributions from the monitoring company over which he had input on their contract.
Which leads to another question: Is it possible that Demings is covering for a political donor?
What were the circumstances that prompted the 2003 meeting? Was it due to violations? And, if so, why wasn’t this reported to the BOCC?
A final question pertains to home confinement violations since the 2003 death: How many of those incidents put other lives at risk?
After a poorly supervised program resulted in a fatality — that could have been prevented — questions like these take an even greater urgency.
Generically blaming “all involved,” and giving a free pass to the head of the program, just doesn’t cut it.