DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Headline Surfer was not able to report on a timely basis a violent Deltona home invasion or updated news on a motorcycle fatality because the Volusia County Sheriff's Office has eliminated the internet news outlet from its media email distribution alert notifications.
This is among the draconian steps taken in the seven days since Michael J. Chitwood was sworn into office to single out Headline Surfer for exclusion in receiving timely information about news events the largest law enforcement agency in Volusia County is dealing with. The VCSO has three civilian staffers whose main responsibility is facilitating the needs of the media in reporting breaking news that impacts public safety.
Collectively, those three PIO staffers are collectively paid $200,000. And while their mission is to assist in the timely release of news, the public information office run by the senior PIO, Gary Davidson, is doing just the opposite when it comes to Headline Surfer.
Because Headline Surfer has been removed from this electronic notification the only way Headline Surfer can try and keep pace with its news competitors is to literally check the Sheriff's website constantly to see if something has been posted that merits immediate attention for a story or see what other media outlets are reporting and then report it second hand. Either way, it puts Headline Surfer in a situation where its news gathering efforts are compromised and marginalized. In the past seven days, Headline Surfer has had to play catch up on a gas station robbery, an undercover drug sting, a store robbery, the death of a motorcyclist and this home invasion.
The news on a home invasion in Deltona is the most egregious example to date. Here was the lead to a story published at 11:39 a.m. today in the online version of the Daytona Beach News-Journal and headlined, Deltona man beaten, burned in home invasion:
A press release was posted on the Sheriff's website at 11:15 a.m. and the News-Journal and several of the Orlando TV stations pounced on it because they were alerted by the VCSO's media email notification, which Headline Surfer had been included for nearly nine years before Chitwood was sworn into office last Tuesday. Headline Surfer had last checked the sheriff's website at 11 a.m. and there was nothing about the home invasion at that point.
More on the overt VCSO attack on Headline Surfer will follow this synopsis of what occurred in Deltona:
Deputies responded to the scene at 3067 Mapleshade St. around 11:15 p.m. Monday and found the victim, 42-year-old Rayborne Nesbitt, in a nearby yard. Nesbitt had lacerations and burn marks on his back and head area.
Nesbitt told deputies he was in bed around 10 p.m. when he heard a knock at his door, went to answer and found four males wearing masks. He said three of the suspects had guns pointed at him, and all four pushed their way into the house, demanding money. Nesbitt said the suspects took turns beating him and burned him. The suspects left with cash. Nesbitt was taken to Florida Hospital Fish Memorial in Orange City, where he was treated for his injuries.
The above description was contained in a news release posted at 11:15 a.m. by the Sheriff's public information staff at volusiasheriff.org. All media outlets on the email distribution list were sent a copy of the news release in their inbox simultaneously to the posting. Headline Surfer was not among them.
Through a public records request, Headline Surfer received a copy of the media email alert distribution list on Monday and this media outlet was omitted. Neither Davidson, who is paid a salary in excess of $101,000 annually to facilitate the needs of the news media nor Sheriff Johnson have explained why Headline Surfer was removed.Headline Surfer was also removed on the Sheriff's website which lists 16 other media outlets and their links.
Headline Surfer had been a recipient of the press releases in its email since the internet news site was initially launched on April 7, 2009, as NSB News, accessed via NSBNews.net and then rebranded on March 1, 2012, as Headline Surfer® and accessed via HeadlineSurfer.com.
Neither the sheriff nor his main PIO Davidson has acknowledged Headline Surfer has been removed. Attempts to reach them by phone have proven fruitless. Either calls go to voicemail or are picked up by a secretary who says they will call back, but the calls are not returned.
But all that changed after Chitwood took office on Jan. 1, replacing then-Sheriff Ben Johnson, who retired after 16 years.
Editor's Note: This story is being updated.