OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — Benched Osceola County Commissioner Fred Hawkins will not face criminal charges after being accused of impersonating a law enforcement officer if he completes a pretrial diversion program, per an agreement with the State Attorney’s Office.
The diversion includes an impulse control class and paying for the cost of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation.
The announcement comes as just-released evidence in the criminal case against benched Osceola Commissioner Fred Hawkins is giving us new insight on what led to the moment between him, and a former HOA security guard, that eventually led to Hawkins' arrest.
Hours of interviews include an inference by the Osceola County Sheriff, Russ Gibson, that Hawkins tried to coach Gibson into telling FDLE agents that Gibson requested Hawkins attend the Turnberry Reserve HOA election on his behalf. Calls to the Sheriff were not returned.
Investigative Reporter Karla Ray listened to those interviews, including Hawkins in his own words about how and why he flashed a Special Deputy badge.
It’s been nearly a year since then-Commissioner Fred Hawkins was caught on body camera video showing that badge to security officer Ailyn DePena, and saying “I’m with the Sheriff, you’re about to get arrested.” Now, we’re hearing what Hawkins told Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents about the incident.
“You try to help a situation, and now your political career, and you may face charges, you think, wow, I’m just trying to be a good guy here and help out,” Hawkins said during a June interview with investigators.
Hawkins says he pulled out his Special Deputy badge, which he has since given up, in an effort to make the security officer recognize he was not just a random person attempting to enter the Turnberry Reserve HOA election meeting in November 2019. He also says he was hoping it would encourage her to get the attention of a deputy who had already gone inside the meeting.
“It was a reaction to, how do you get this lady to realize you’re more than just a county commissioner?” Hawkins explained. “This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like that, and again, it was a situation where I think it was going to turn bad.”
Hawkins told FDLE agents he requested Sheriff’s Office presence at the heated election on behalf of Turnberry residents, following a series of 9 Investigates stories about turmoil within the community. He made that request through a call to the sheriff, Russ Gibson, himself.
“Did he say, ‘I’m calling you in as a Special Deputy?’ No. We had a casual conversation, where I said, we need help, this is a public safety type deal,” Hawkins said of the conversation with Sheriff Gibson.
But in his own interview with agents, Gibson implied Hawkins tried to coach him into saying that he was there at Gibson’s request.
“The things he was saying about [that I] directed him to go to the meeting on my behalf, and represent me there, would be great if I would say those words, and I couldn’t I didn’t even acknowledge that, there was awkward silence on the phone,” Gibson said to FDLE agents in May.
Hawkins is running for State Representative in District 42, where he faces off against Barbara Cady in the November election. Hawkins said in a statement, “I am glad to get this behind me and have said throughout this process that I was innocent of this allegation. The fairness of the criminal justice system and my faith in these proceedings serve as a reminder that a person is innocent until proven guilty. I look forward to continuing my campaign for House District 42 based on my record of principled and community-based leadership.”