The SWAT team was suiting up to storm a career criminal’s house when the suspect started receiving text messages from one of the cops.
Officer Robert “Bobby” Edwards sent 20 texts and four calls over three hours. “Delete me from your phone, you know, erase my messages, don’t call me,” he texted.
The officer’s messages helped the career criminal evade the SWAT team and cost Edwards his job, according to Internal Affairs documents released Tuesday.
The planned arrest was called off after the SWAT team lost track of their suspect and the FBI suggested the mission be aborted for “safety reasons.” Turns out the suspect, accused of running a prostitution ring, was also an informant for the FBI. He surrendered the next day.
According to the report: “The evidence in this case indicates that Officer Robert Edwards became privy to the forthcoming arrest of Confidential Informant 1 and in doing so sent insightful messages to” him. The only way the arrest would have been successful, the report concludes, was for the SWAT team to have had “the element of surprise.”
Edwards, 30, won’t face prosecution because the State Attorney’s Office offered him immunity in exchange for explaining what had happened. The close-out memo from prosecutors released Tuesday also said there was insufficient evidence to pursue a criminal case against Edwards.
Edwards, who had been with the department for five years, was placed on administrative leave with pay on Jan. 12 while Internal Affairs investigated. He resigned April 24.
Police began investigating Edwards’ buddy, referred to as “Confidential Informant 1” in the Internal Affairs report, after a woman said he forced her to work for him as a prostitute and threatened her if she tried to leave. His name is not being made public because he is an informant for the FBI in an unrelated case.
The man worked out with two Plantation police officers, according to the Internal Affairs report. Prosecutors said Edwards first met the man in 2010 at American Top Team gym in Sunrise.
Because of the man’s training in martial arts and nine felony convictions from 1993 to 2000, Plantation police decided to use the SWAT team to arrest him on several charges, including sexual battery, according to the report.
“Due to the conflict of interest, in that both SWAT members would be asked to take down a subject in which there may be a camaraderie, the two SWAT members would not participate in the take-down operation,” according to the report.
On Aug. 17, 2011, the SWAT team was instructed to “suit up.” Edwards and the other officer, Brian McVeigh, were sent to a separate room, told they would not be participating because they knew the suspect and were forbidden from using their cellphones.
But the mission was called off after Plantation police lost track of the suspect after he went into a restaurant and had somebody else drive off in his car. The suspect called an FBI agent he knew and told him he knew the Plantation police were about to “hit his house.”
The suspect turned himself in to Plantation police the next day. He said he “knew about the operation to arrest him because [he] had received a phone call from one of his cop friends,” according to the report.
Plantation police began a new investigation and subpoenaed the suspect’s phone records, which arrived in November. “The research into the results indicated that SWAT member Robert Edwards began texting [him] … there would be an exchange of 20 texts messages and four phone calls …” in less than three hours on Aug. 17.
After “Confidential Informant 1” was released from jail, he told an FBI agent that on that August day, he had received a call from his friend at Plantation Police Department asking if he was OK and if he was “keeping his nose clean.”
“In reality he didn’t tip anybody off to anything but because he engaged in communications, there were inferences that existed,” said Edwards’ attorney, Mike Dutko. “Even the most staunch critics would have to acknowledge there’s nothing he did to compromise any investigation because the guy surrendered himself.”
Edwards comes from a prominent Plantation family: His mother is Siobhan Edwards, executive director of the Greater Plantation Chamber of Commerce. His father is Bruce Edwards, a former city councilman from March 1997 through June 2005. And his sister is Katie Edwards, who is running in the Democratic primary in August for state House District 98, which includes parts of Sunrise, Plantation and Weston.
“I’ve always been proud of my son and he served the city well,” Siobhan Edwards said Tuesday. “He’s moved on to a different phase of his life.”
“Confidential Informant 1” knew Edwards’ sister, Courtney. But Edwards told authorities he and the suspect “do not have a relationship outside of the gym and do not interact in a social setting outside of the gym.”
Edwards told authorities they talked on the telephone about future training days together. “Confidential Informant 1” called Edwards “Coach” because Edwards was his mixed martial coach at the gym.
In his resignation letter to the police chief, Edwards expressed his “sincerest apology to you and to the department for an error in judgment on my part that had the unintended consequence of jeopardizing an investigation and exposing my brother officers to potential danger,” according to documents released Tuesday.
Police Chief Howard Harrison said Tuesday he was “disappointed in what took place whether it was intentional or not. Regardless of the intent, the officer made a bad decision and he took responsibility for his actions.”