Police: Criminal Allegations at Shelter 'Unfounded' [INCIDENT REPORT]

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Press Release: United Way of the Big Bend

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., March 19, 2013 – United Way of the Big Bend and The Shelter today expressed appreciation for the diligence and thoroughness reflected by the Tallahassee Police Department in its investigation of recent allegations brought against The Shelter. While both organizations have initially reviewed TPD’s Report and are relieved that all of the allegations were determined to be “unfounded,” they also announced a continued intensive and comprehensive effort to make significant improvements in the operation of The Shelter.

The United Way and The Shelter’s board of directors expressed “deep concern” about elements of the TPD report that raised additional serious management issues in the operation of The Shelter -- including a pattern of inappropriate contact and treatment of some clients by staff. The Shelter Board has also completed its own internal investigation and has already begun making significant changes to its operations, including firing two employees, placing its executive director on leave and hiring four women to serve in overnight, evening and daytime operation positions.

In an effort to continue moving forward, last week, United Way of the Big Bend, in conjunction with The Shelter's board leadership, announced that an expert consultant on homeless shelters and related operational issues is being retained "to conduct a thorough and independent review of the protocols, policies and procedures of The Shelter and to make appropriate recommendations for positive change" at the facility. The purpose of the study is to determine what “best practice” models should be embraced for emergency shelters for homeless people, and to make change recommendations to the Board of Directors of The Shelter and to United Way of the Big Bend.

The selected consultant group includes Dr. James Wright and Dr. Amy Donley from the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Social and Behavioral Sciences, who are seasoned experts in the field of homelessness, having conducted effective studies of this kind throughout Central Florida. They are the authors of Poor and Homeless in the Sunshine State: Down and Out in Theme Park Nation. The new study will be completed by April 30, 2013.

United Way of the Big Bend, The Shelter, the City of Tallahassee and Leon County all have a strong belief that this community must have an emergency shelter that is fully operational and provides a safe environment for this significant at-risk population. We will continue our collaboration to improve the continuum of care throughout the Big Bend.

By: Lanetra Bennett
March 19, 2013

Tallahassee, FL - Accusations of sexual harassment and mistreatment at The Shelter in Tallahassee are not grounds for criminal charges.

That's the conclusion Tallahassee Police came to. The department has decided there's not enough evidence to prosecute staff members there.

Eyewitness News was the first to break this story last month when a local pastor went undercover. Today, police released their investigative report.

Tallahassee Police were called in to investigate after missionary Renee Miller made several allegations against The Shelter back in February. 2013

Officer David Northway says, "On the evening that Mrs. Miller was at the Shelter, at that time determined that there was no crime being committed. After leaving, Mrs. Miller then posted her information on the website, on blogs."

In her blog, Miller wrote that when she went undercover at The Shelter, she was sexually harassed and treated poorly by shelter staff.

"There was definitely inappropriate things going on." Miller says.

Officers say while they did find several improprieties during their overall investigation into The Shelter, they say nothing is considered "criminal."

Police questioned 22 people in their investigation into the Shelter. While they admit that their 32-page report does reveal improprieties, they say there is no evidence that anyone broke the law or was a victim of any crime.

However, the report says a female client told Miller that an employee at the Shelter said he would pay her for sexual favors.

The woman indicated to investigators that staff members were known to be verbally abusive, but, officers say there were no criminal offenses committed against her since she denied ever being propositioned for sex.

Miller says, "There's a difference between something being immoral and unethical versus being illegal. Not everything that's really bad is something that somebody can be arrested for or should be arrested for. So, TPD did their job and I think the board is doing their job."

Miller recalls one of her experiences while being undercover. She says, "I saw the gentleman and he shoved me. He said, move and then he reached in the dryer and that's when I fell."

Miller did not press charges on that employee.

Another instance in TPD's report says a staff member at the shelter said they "heard" another employee tried to have sex with a client, but, the client wouldn't do it because they didn't have a condom.

The report says when officers asked the client, they told them that they did perform sexual acts in the bathroom with the employee referred to as "Mike."

However, "Mike stated he has never heard about a staff member having sex with a client or propositioning a client for sex."

Miller says, "What I reported on in my story wasn't anything of a criminal nature, it was just definitely immoral and unethical and poor treatment."

Tallahassee resident Michael Gavin is an advocate for the homeless, and has had to use The Shelter's services himself in the past. He says, "There are some good people at the Shelter. But, like in any organization, you got to weed out the people who give you a bad name. So, they're in the process of doing that now and I applaud them for it."

The United Way of the Big Bend and The Shelter released a statement this afternoon expressing their appreciation for TPD's thorough investigation.

Leadership members say they are bringing in a consultant to review protocols, policies and procedures of the Shelter to make positive change.

Miller says, while no criminal charges are filed, she says she has accomplished what she set out to do, and that's get positive changes at the Shelter.

TPD has completed the criminal investigation surrounding the allegations at the Shelter. After interviewing the parties involved and consulting with the State Attorney’s Office, TPD investigators have concluded there are no criminal charges and have closed the case “unfounded.”

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