Citizen 1: Kent Stermon Was the Florida Politician’s ‘Bestie’

 

 

CITIZEN 1: KENT STERMON WAS THE FLORIDA POLITICIAN’S ‘BESTIE’

In the evening hours of Tuesday, Dec. 6, Jacksonville, Florida’s mayor, Lenny Curry, watched the election returns for the Georgia U.S. Senate race with frustration as the crackpot he supported lost. To the majority, Herschel Walker was a hypocrite who couldn’t be trusted, lying about having law enforcement credentials, an abuser and cheater even to his own family members.

To others, he was the perfect candidate. He played football. He had bravado. He pretended to be Republican. He’d pose for photos and tell stories of a renowned past. Did we mention he played football? 

More importantly, Walker would have been the ideal surface politician. Creating great photo opportunities and lucrative fund-raising prospects, he would be the face-guy and allow those around him pulling the strings to govern. This model doesn’t just exist in the recent Georgia election; it’s right here in Jacksonville and a statewide and national epidemic. 

As CNN and others declared Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock the winner, Curry drowned his sorrows with his depressant of choice. It had been a rough couple of days for the beleaguered mayor as our city sobbed through another week of senseless violence. Not only had another child been murdered—this time a 13-year-old boy—but a local football coach was shot 10 times while heroically acting as a human shield protecting children in his custody. The kids were leaving a city facility on the way home when they were gunned down. 

In response to the shooting, Curry and newly-elected Sheriff T.K. Waters assembled politicians and politically-inclined preachers to stand together for what they called a press conference. In reality the stunt was just a glamorized photo shoot. No new words were said. No new promises delivered. The same old broken promises remained. Neither the sheriff, nor the mayor visited the victims at the hospital before getting cameras ready.

Historically, Curry campaigned on a “tough on crime” platform. At the press event, he repeated his empty promises to invest and support the new sheriff and State Attorney’s Office, still not understanding that a city cannot remedy murder rates through arrests alone. The man who has his own JSO security detail once again reassured Jacksonville that he would “continue to work to ensure that Jacksonville is a safe place to call home.” Moments after returning to his home, Curry had already moved on to tweet about more important topics—his fantasy football team.

The Stats 

Numbers don’t lie. Curry assumed office on July 1, 2015. In his 7 ½ years of service, over 1,000 people have been killed. According to reports from “The Florida Times-Union,” Jacksonville surpassed the overall 2021 homicide count in late October. The 13-year-old subject of Curry’s press conference was the 153rd homicide of the year; the 11th homicide victim under the age of 18.

According to “Times-Union” reports, in 2015 there were 113 reported homicides, 120 in 2016, 137 in 2017, 126 in 2018, 158 in 2019, 177 in 2020 and 128 in 2021. These numbers are a sobering reminder of the true work that needs to be done. Work that does not included staged pictures and stale campaign rhetoric. But, as a lame duck, Curry can simply bide time until it’s time for Daniel Davis to assume the position. 

Until then, the mayor spends most of his time privately and publicly influencing local and state politics, as he did as the former GOP head of Florida. There were once internal talks of him running for congress, but support for him transitioning into another office at this time is non-existent. So, he has recently been campaigning for rules demanding city elected officials to resign before running for a second city office. After all, if he can keep getting his small disloyal series of friends in office, he can find further opportunities to network. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Stop the hate

Curry’s week was particularly bad. Exacerbating the historic violence is an undercurrent of racism and hate. On the morning of Sept. 11, a neo-Nazi group unveiled Swastika flags and antisemitic banners on an interstate overpass. In October, Jacksonville made headlines, not for the Florida-Georgia game, but for another antisemitic message scrolling outside of the stadium. More were broadcast on city buildings. Instead of speaking out, Curry posted about his personal “trolls” on Twitter. 

Last Tuesday, an airplane flew over City Hall with a banner of a confederate flag, which said, “Curry, Stop your hate!” It was attributed to sshfl.org, a Tampa group called Save Southern Heritage. The same group also stationed men carrying confederate flags to march up and down the steps of City Hall. That same day, a bullet was shot through the windows of City Hall that houses the mayor’s office. It is unknown if it was intentional or just an artifact of the heightened violence.

Curry is so unpopular, he often blocks comments from his social media posts, something WJCT host Melissa Ross recently questioned on her morning radio show, First Coast Connect. On Dec. 13, her panel debated the mayor’s immature use of the app and Ross added, “and not turning off replies, too. That’s something else which is apparently illegal for a public official to do.”

Curry’s hate isn’t partisan, as it comes from both sides of the political spectrum. Back in 2020, Curry teamed up with another athlete, former Jaguar Leonard Fournette. They held a press conference regarding confederate monuments that litter Jacksonville. Curry was initially booed. In response, he promised, “I’ve heard people … I’ve evolved.” The mayor said about removing confederate monuments, “The others in the city will be removed as well. We hear your voices, have heard your voices on a number of issues. Bodycams, economic opportunity, infrastructure.” While Fournette has since been traded away, the majority of monuments to the confederacy still exist. Economic opportunity and infrastructure in the underserved communities remains unevolved. 

The people to Curry’s left would openly mock him for the lies about removing confederate monuments. The people to his right would turn their backs on him because they wanted as many decorated seditionists in as many parks and schools named after them as possible. On issue after issue, Curry’s silence has alienated.

Curry retreats even more frequently to Twitter, his favorite bragging and bullying ground. Some say posts mock veterans or overweight people, while others are divisive and political. Many of the posts, some say, are clearly attributed to an overindulgence of alcohol. Others say Curry is the ultimate “Karen.” 

Instead of making good on his campaign promises or visiting the people who need him the most in this city, Curry spends taxpayer time producing a podcast from his mayoral suite. City employees complain Curry has delegated too much of his work to Brian Hughes, a scorched-earth, do-anything-to-win consultant/lobbyist-turned Jacksonville’s chief administrative officer. Others point to the influence of Kent Stermon, a high-profile political donor and friend to Curry.

Folio Weekly” was the first to introduce you to Kent Stermon in its story entitled, “Mike Drop” from June 15, 2022. Read that full story here

Delete the Tweet

Florida Times-Union” chief mensch, Nate Monroe, was the first to fire an election night round at the thin-skinned lame duck mayor about his endorsed candidate’s defeat. “Worth noting,” Monroe tweeted, “@LennyCurry… visibly backed [Hershel Walker]…” Monroe attached one of the receipts, a photo of a fundraiser thrown by Curry and his good friend and political operative Kent Stermon. 

 

Citizen 1

Curry’s co-host, Kent Stermon, excelled at bundling money and influence for political candidates. He aligned himself with multiple sheriffs, Mayor Curry and Governor Ron DeSantis, once bragging, “It’s good to be the governor’s bestie.” 

In T.K. Waters’ recent election, Stermon bragged that access to Waters came through him. Some said they met nearly daily. Stermon’s influence over the Sheriff’s Office began with then-sheriff Mike Williams. Both held each other out as great friends. Stermon would be dubbed, “Citizen 1” around JSO, and when needing a call sign, other officers would refer to him as “SO1A,” the alternate to the sheriff. 

The prior “Folio Weekly” article discusses Stermon’s connections in greater detail. His continued control from Williams to Pat Ivey to Waters infuriated others who supported Waters. They held meetings in which Stermon’s name was frequently disparaged. When Williams found himself jurisdictionally disqualified as sheriff, Stermon’s “bestie,” Governor Ron DeSantis, appointed another Stermon ally, Pat Ivey, as interim sheriff while simultaneously endorsing T.K. Waters as his successor. His access was seamless and increasing.

In fact, Stermon was not only citizen one in the governor’s office, and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, but Governor DeSantis reassigned Williams to head the Northeast Florida region of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), the state law enforcement branch responsible for overseeing law enforcement statewide. The parts were in place to give Stermon immense power and protection.

Not saying one could befriend enough leaders to be immune from prosecution, but Stermon’s allies were staunch in their defense of him. Fraternal Order of Police leaders Steve Zona and Randy Reaves took to Facebook frequently to call Stermon their best friend or thank him for “rides.” Other politicians posed with him in front of private jets. Stermon would frequently use these relationships to gain power within the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the political structure. 

 

They came up with enough negative attack ads and GOP-coordinated efforts for Waters to win the right to finish Williams’ term. It would be a red wave locally, as DeSantis, Rubio and Waters shared the ballot. Stermon would tell potential supporters to reach out to him directly if they needed access to Waters. 

 

Pound sand, chump

Local attorney (and publisher of “Folio Weekly”), John Phillips, also is frequently on social media. Some might say his career was built on a combination of media and social media promotion of himself and his cases. He currently represents a former officer with Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in a case against the city for wrongful termination. 

Evidence was stacking up that Stermon, former undersheriff Pat Ivey and others had their own system of promotions and demotions based on nepotism more than merit. During his investigation, Phillips said he was told to obtain the data from Kent Stermon’s access badge and said that all major promotions went through Stermon. Phillips said, “I thought this was impossible. In the post 9/11 era, how could a civilian have not only that much power, but access? We sought public records requests and responses were delayed. I admittedly took to Twitter to bring some light to the issue.”

On the night of the Georgia election, Phillips responded to Nate Monroe’s tweet about the party Curry and Stermon hosted for Walker: “Rumor has it, there have been some changes to Stermon’s unfettered badge access at JSO.” Phillips could not get the city to confirm or deny whether Stermon actually had an entry badge to JSO facilities but had heard enough witnesses say so, he floated the theory. Further, a source told Phillips that morning Stermon’s unfettered badge access to Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office facilities apparently ended after T.K. Waters’ election. This was likely due to JSO’s criminal investigation of Stermon and the scrutiny of the situation overall as the city’s Office of General Counsel was in the process of responding to public records requests. 

Curry was apparently incensed by Phillips’ tweet. Known for going on weeknight Twitter tirades (aka “drunk tweets”), the mayor fired back at 10:03 p.m., “You aren’t worth a reply as you are a media whore with no compass. But you mention my friend Kent, and I am compelled to reply. Pound sand, chump.” And in an immediate follow-up, the mayor added, “2. Only a few know your charade.” He later promised to continue the attacks the next day, only to delete most of his tweets upon the arrival of business hours at City Hall.

Mayor Curry is often the last to know what is going on in Jacksonville, so Phillips responded, “And please talk to your general counsel about our public records request. It’s late. Why did a private citizen have pass card access to JSO?” And, “It’s one thing to debate. Or even spat but… this is truly unprofessional and juvenile… He can’t even keep his comments open. It’s just wild.” Phillips ended with, “We have an arbitration scheduled for the wrongful termination of a JSO officer we represent. He probably is going to regret that tweet much like the one he deleted which praised officer Tim James who was arrested and let go after our involvement…”

 

 

46 hours

Curry’s tweets were sent at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 6. Once City Hall opened for the day on Wednesday, most of the mayor’s tweets from the night before disappeared, particularly those defending Stermon and referring to him as a “friend.”  It seems Curry is fine with revisionist history, even when it is his own words and his own version of the truth. Of course, Curry also could have been warned that he went too far in a number of ways. 

Horribly, less than 46 hours later, medical staff was notified that Stermon’s heart rate monitor stopped. His family was alerted that it may have fallen off. Calls were made. Eventually, Stermon was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound inside his vehicle parked at the Mayport Post Office around 8 p.m. on Thursday Dec. 8. JSO officers knocked on doors and made private calls letting people know of the tragic death. Many also spoke publicly for the first time about the ongoing investigation. Things were about to come out. Bad things.

People at the highest offices across Florida formulated their statements of condolences, as is common in the Twittersphere. At least one person hit send on a condolence and then later deleted it after news of the investigation was known. His friend Lenny Curry made no statement.

The Lie

Before Stermon’s death, JSO was asked repeatedly to disclose Stermon’s authority, access and history of badge swipes. JSO denied it existed. On Aug. 30, 2022, Sheriff Pat Ivey’s office responded to a request from Aug. 18, 2022: “After a diligent search, our office has located no records which are responsive to your request.”

Additionally, WJCT was also told Stermon badge access records did not exist, according to Melissa Ross. She said on Dec. 13’s edition of First Coast Connect, “We should note that during the sheriff’s campaign, WJCT news made a public records request trying to confirm whether Kent Stermon had JSO access as a civilian and was basically told ‘no,’ by the former administration, the Mike Williams administration.” She noted, “a trove of records appeared” after the suicide.

Phillips sent in public records requests seeking all communications and badge accesses related to his case. Responses were delayed time and time again.

This isn’t the first time JSO has been accused of malfeasance related to public records, but an outright false representation is different. They often forget the emphasis is on “public.” These are the public’s records. 

Stermon’s Access

Only after his death did the truth come out. Indeed, after the Twitter spat, JSO produced nine pages of over 700 entries by Stermon into JSO premises. They showed Stermon used JSO facilities as his own personal playground. This included various zone precincts, jails, gun range, protected airport entries and JSO’s main offices in the Police Memorial Building. The private employee badge also allowed Stermon to access the JSO parking garage where he had his own private parking spot. 

In a town which has rejected citizen review boards, one private citizen could come and go from the most secure buildings in the city as he pleased. He did so at all hours and on holidays. Phillips’ investigation revealed claims that Stermon attended SWAT intelligence meetings, as well as meetings which decided terminations and demotions. 

Phillips told “Folio Weekly,” “The messages we received and rumors we heard got so rampant, we couldn’t distinguish between fact or fiction. We needed officers to step forward and make complaints in their own names, but many were afraid of retribution. Officers were concerned for jobs and retirement, lives and families. Further, Stermon’s power extended to three sheriffs locally, the mayor, the governor, and it was the current head of FDLE [Mike Williams] that saw him gain so much power.” 

Current and former officers expressed concerns internally as Stermon ran amok. Some tried to report it, but he exhibited too much intimidation and control. Stermon went from being knighted as Sheriff Mike Williams’ Citizen of the Year to a private citizen with unprecedented access to police facilities. More came forward after Stermon passed away.

Stermon Under Scrutiny

Phillips provided evidence one officer reported being punished for standing up to Stermon when “Citizen 1” insisted on wearing clothing falsely identifying him as a police officer. Impersonating an officer is a felony, yet officers reported Stermon was allowed to wear police insignias during ride-alongs.

The abuse of power did not stop there. Another officer recounted a story where Stermon told an ally in the Sheriff’s Office that he had never seen a dead body up close. He was given the opportunity on a “ride along” and was widely rumored to have taken a photo as his own evidence of his role as a fake homicide detective. People described Stermon as having the “blue flu,” as his obsession grew despite no FDLE certification, policing background and no desire to complete it as he had all of the benefits without needing to work his way up. 

Citizens have to apply to JSO’s Civilian Observer Program to request a ride along or go behind the scenes. It is highly regulated. Unlike public access to JSO patrols, Stermon had VIP access for him and his influential friends. Further, it is believed his badge access allowed access to the protected trinity within JSO—narcotics, integrity and intelligence. The mere presence of a citizen at crime scenes and with access to investigations and evidence could hinder prosecutors and obstruct justice in Jacksonville at an unspeakable level. Yet, everywhere Phillips turned there were rumors about Stermon’s carte blanche at JSO, and no one wanted to address it.

One confidential source recounted, “When I was promoted to lieutenant, a group of other female supervisors met with me to warn me that [Stermon] does not like female officers, and it’s best to steer clear of him. From what I was told, he would attempt to discredit me if I crossed him. They told me about their experiences with him. So I avoided him as much as I could.”

The source continued, “[Stermon] likes power and control so he used JSO as his playground. He would dress up and play police officer and would take officers/supervisors on private plane trips to watch major sports games. That sort of thing. He was in tight with all the staff and of course the FOP [Fraternal Order of Police].”

Another confidential source recounted, “When I was a lieutenant, I received a call from the third floor because one of my officers would not allow Stermon into the garage. Stermon asked my officer, ‘Don’t you know who I am? I just forgot my card so just let me in!’  My officer refused because Stermon didn’t have proper ID. I told the staff the officer was correct in his actions. But we [supervisors] all knew Stermon had full access. Stermon was also allowed to wear police equipment and shirts identifying him as a police officer when he did ride alongs. A female lieutenant advised him to take it off. Stermon called the third floor, and the female lieutenant was told to never speak his name and don’t speak against him wearing police equipment. She was told she would get in trouble if she even spoke his name.”

This access was allowed because when Stermon was not playing police officer he bundled money and powerful people for Sheriff Williams, Sheriff Waters, Mayor Curry, Governor DeSantis and others. He took credit for being at the hand of power, which was bitterly resented. That may be fine if you don’t live in a glass house, but Stermon lived in a very fragile house and did so dangerously. Yet, his secrets were protected by the most powerful people in Florida. Temporarily. 

Not Just JSO

Stories of Stermon’s impropriety extended decades. Another confidential source who reached out to Phillips detailed the story of a 20-year-old who worked for Stermon’s company Total Military Management in 2006. She said in a message shared with “Folio Weekly,” “I was dumb, young and scared. After a conversation I had with Kent [Stermon], he would call me into his office and ask me inappropriate questions about my body and sex life. He would then tell me if I told anybody nobody would ever believe me, and he’s a powerful man in Jacksonville, and I’d never work again in that town.” 

Other former employees of Stermon reached out to Phillips with similar stories of cover-up of sexual harassment and abuse of power. Stermon allegedly would use non-disclosure agreements and promotions to reward those who kept his secrets and threaten those who wouldn’t. He’d brag about his influence and bring his political friends to the office. Phillips’ investigation continues, as he noted, “It’s hard to know what is true at this point. However, we have heard the same stories so many times they are in some ways self-authenticating. People are gaining courage now.” 

Another victim described the power dynamic between Stermon and the women in his employ would inevitably worsen. She recounted, “Then one day I found myself sitting in front of his admin and HR where he asked me to sign a piece of paper that said I HIT ON HIM and made HIM feel uncomfortable. After that I decided to leave Florida … I can’t believe those ladies fell for it. Or if they just followed through to keep their jobs.”

Suicide

Citizen 1 was also not happy with Herschel Walker losing. Walker would have given him an ally in Georgia and the U.S. Senate. However, Stermon had other issues at that time. He had recently been released from the hospital. Upon leaving, he remained on remote monitoring. He told some friends that he was stepping away from politics and deleted his social media accounts. He told those close to him it was to focus on family. In contrast, according to records obtained from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, he was speculating to his own family if his life was worth living. While all of that could be true, Stermon became aware that he was being investigated for his past relationships and improprieties with women. His access was shuttered. His friends were going into the shadows. 

T.K. Waters made the announcement, “Mr. Stermon was the subject of an active investigation by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, which began a few weeks prior to his death. This investigation remains ongoing at this time and will continue until its completion. As with all active investigations, there is limited information available to release at this time. However, as soon as this investigation has been completed, all applicable information will be available for release to the public.” 

Folio weekly did a public records request for, “all files, investigations and reports related to Kent Stermon’s ongoing investigation by JSO, even if redacted.” We received an edited, short report. Two patrol officers, K.T. Nelson and J.C. Allen responded to an undisclosed address on November 30, 2022. Body cameras were worn. They were “notified of a potential crime from a different date, which is identified as Friday, November 18, at 2 PM. Sergeant C.D. Jackson was notified, as well as an undisclosed officer who, “advised he will be taking over the investigation.” It’s worth noting the report states, “Any Children under 18 Involved as a Victim?: No.” The fact is, we don’t know. And shouldn’t guess. JSO leaks are sensational.

Stermon’s wife reported Stermon suffered a stroke on December 5 and only arrived back home on December 7. On December 8, he was found in his locked car at the Mayport post office. The police report notes, the family, “Checked their entire residence for any possible handwritten notes, left by the victim; including every family member’s email, but it yielded negative results.” His phone had been turned off and his social media shut down. Some very desirable information died with him.

Like most things out of the mouths of the misfit mafia of Northeast Florida politicians, Waters’ altruistic promises remain in question. Once one of Stermon’s greatest allies, Waters leads an investigation of him which is complicated by his years of access and influence. JSO leaks indicate some of the investigation is sexual in nature; other rumors concern the relative ages of the victims. Regardless, JSO is split into factions. Many officers want this investigation done by an outside agency to avoid all appearances of impropriety. That concerns others because it would typically involve FDLE and its local leader, Mike Williams, who was the one who gave Stermon the unfettered access in the first place.

What accesses and accolades are elected officials giving to people simply based on political favors? In a post-9/11 world, security of government offices is fundamental. Or is it? Does the city care about the liability exposure? Or should we all just pound sand? 

Politicians seem to be made of Teflon and can win re-election despite notorious allegations of impropriety. If we do not pay attention to murder rates and do not care about the company our elected officials keep, we are failing ourselves: as voters and as citizens. We hope T.K. Waters will get this right and move us forward as a city. We hope the FBI and Department of Justice peek in on Jacksonville. We need the oversight.

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