Two Fruitland Park, Florida, police officers are no longer a part of the city’s law enforcement department due to an FBI report connecting them to the Ku Klux Klan. City Manager Gary La Venia confirmed on Monday that Deputy Chief David Borst has resigned while Officer George Hunnewell’s employment was terminated last week after the police chief was made aware of the allegations.
Police Chief Terry Isaacs describes the department as shaken by the allegations contained in the report. Although Isaacs was hesitant to name the KKK as the group to which the officers had been connected for fear that he was unauthorized to do so, he did describe the group as a “subversive organization.” Although it is not illegal for individuals to belong to the Klan, Isaacs was given the report by the FBI in his capacity of police chief in order to allow him to properly assess how such allegations would affect the department’s perception by the residents of Fruitland Park as well as to consider what type of effect they would have on the credibility of the officers themselves. The group to which the officers are allegedly connected was identified by Ric Ridgway, chief deputy state attorney, as the Ku Klux Klan.
Borst, 49 and a 20-year veteran of law enforcement, also worked as the fire chief of Fruitland Park. Although he denies any involvement with the KKK, after consulting with his family he decided to resign from both positions on Friday. Isaacs revealed that Hunnewell had been demoted from his position as corporal last year and had also been given five “letters of counseling” within the past 12 months, which indicates that his job performance had been substandard – a factor considered by Isaacs before dismissing Hunnewell, of whom Isaacs confessed, “I just had no faith in him.”
Five thousand people reside in Fruitland Park, which is northwest of Orlando by approximately 40 miles. It lies within Lake County, a part of Florida made famous in “Devil in the Grove,” the Pulitzer-Prize winning book that detailed the county’s history of Ku Klux Klan violence in the 1940s and 1950s.
The former police officers’ connection to the white supremacist group was discovered by the Federal Bureau of Law Enforcement as part of a larger investigation, then included in a separate report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. La Venia had no knowledge of what the original FBI report had covered.
City officials have been informed by the state attorney’s office that any cases pending that had been assigned to either Borst or Hunnewell will be reviewed. La Venia offered that Borst had filled a mainly administrative role in the department and had been involved in very little patrolling.
Gretl Plessinger, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, was unable to comment on the contents of the report, citing the fact that it remains “active intelligence.” There was no comment from an FBI spokesman in the Jacksonville office. Attempts to reach the officers, whose connections to the Ku Klux Klan were uncovered in the report, were fruitless, as Borst’s listed phone number is disconnected and Hunnewell’s phone number is unlisted.
La Venia described Fruitland Park residents as surprised to learn of the former officers’ connection to the Ku Klux Klan, saying that the city is “diverse” and “tolerant.” Counselors were made available to all 18 full and part-time officers, many of whom were trained by Borst and are described by Isaacs as being upset. This is not the first time that a police officer for Fruitland Park has been alleged to have connections to the KKK. In 2009, Officer James Elkins left his position after photos of him dressed in a Klan robe and hood surfaced.
By Jennifer Pfalz