Questions have surfaced whether a local police department compromised Heartland Crime Stoppers and everything the confidential tip line stands for by leaking the name of an anonymous tipster.
A Polk County woman claims she's living in fear and plans to sue the Winter Haven Police Department. She says convicted criminal Bernard Roberts learned she tipped off police after the Winter Haven Police Department and the State Attorney released her name as a witness in court documents.
Her attorneys at Lilly, O’Toole & Brown just put the police department on notice that they plan to sue. They claim Roberts is using friends to harass her, demanding to know why she “ratted him out,” and threatening to hurt her when he gets out of prison.
Heartland Crime Stoppers insists there's no way police got the tipster's name from them, but now fear it will hurt other cases and make people reluctant to come forward with information.
Crime Stoppers says the anonymous tips are crucial in helping to solve thousands of cases and help families get justice.
“We solved the case, because the community cared enough to come forward,” says Sheriff Grady Judd.
Judd says a $10,000 enhanced reward and Heartland Crime Stoppers tip lead to the arrest of 71-year-old Charles Lewis, the driver who reportedly confessed to plowing down and killing Jessica Enchautegui-Otero and seriously hurting Deputy Adam Pennell, then just taking off.
“She was a sweet girl. She was my life,” says Jessica’s father, Reinaldo Enchautegui.
“It’s painful, but support for the community and my family is what got me through it,” says Deputy Pennell.
Judd says that tip is holding the accused hit-and-run driver accountable.
“He’s 71. He will spend the rest of his life in prison, as he should,” says Judd.
Heartland Crime Stoppers says in 2016, they received 2,797 tips, resulting in 205 arrests, helped seize $22,440 in stolen property and drugs, and given out $89,665 in reward money.
Heartland Crime Stoppers Executive Director, Chip Brown tells 10News that they did have two tips on the arrest of Bernard Roberts, but insists the name of the tipster did not come from the non-profit.
They don't ask for a name, don't have caller id, can't track an IP address for an online tip, and even the reward money is set up through a bank for the anonymous tipster to receive in cash.
Crime Stoppers fears hundreds of criminals could still be in our community with families still searching for justice, if tipsters don't trust they'll truly be anonymous.
“There are still people out there who care about a complete stranger. They take it into consideration that it's someone's child, that it’s someone's father,” says Leigh Whitehead.
Whitehead's grateful for the Crime Stoppers tip tip that lead to her cousin's accused killer. Accused hit-and-run driver Lester Deloach allegedly ran down Brian Branch and left him to die.
“He could've saved him, because he didn't die from the impact. He laid face down in a ditch full of water and drowned,” says Whitehead. “Just thankful to get the answers that a lot of families don't get. They don't get that closure,” says Whitehead.
The Winter Haven Police Department won’t comment on how the tipster’s information got out, since the department has been put on notice that they’ll probably be sued.
Heartland Crime Stoppers says the only name in their report is the suspect's name.
When you dial the toll free tip line at 1-800-226-TIPS, your tip information is received by a Crime Stoppers operator.
To report a web tip: http://www.heartlandcrimestoppers.com/index.aspx.