Drug smugglers, illegal fishermen, lost video, all part of Palmetto High teacher's death case

rdymond@bradenton.comSeptember 11, 2013 

MANATEE -- The Manatee County Sheriff's Office looked into the possibility Palmetto High School educator Pat Mullins was killed by a shotgun blast after he surprised a ring of drug smugglers on the Manatee River.

The theory didn't pan out. said Lt. Darin Bankert, supervisor of the homicide unit of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff's office also investigated the possibility Mullins, who went missing in his small boat Jan. 27 and was found dead in the water Feb. 5, was killed and his body attached to a boat anchor rope when he came across fishermen using illegal gill nets.

That idea also was later discounted, Bankert said.

The sheriff's office also pulled surveillance video from three locations on the Manatee River, including Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton, Regatta Marina in Palmetto and the CSX railroad bridge in Bradenton.

None of the videos showed Mullins' boat, although some video from CSX was lost, Bankert said.

Sheriff's divers also tried to find a shotgun in the water, but did not, Bankert said,

All of these theories, leads and actions have led to dead ends in the case of Mullins, whose body was found in deep water off Emerson Point with a fatal shotgun wound to the head,

The Manatee County medical examiner ruled the manner of death -- homicide or suicide -- undetermined.

"These are things Mrs. Mullins and her family brought up and we checked out," Bankert said Tuesday of the drug smuggling and illegal fishermen theories.

The case is still in need of a breakthrough piece of evidence, Sheriff Brad Steube said Tuesday.

"This is still a death investigation," Steube said. "Because we don't know if it's a suicide or homicide, we follow the evidence. I understand the frustration of the family. Who else would you blame but us? We are willing to take that. But I will say we are just as frustrated. This is an open case on our books, not only for the Mullins' family, but for our personnel."

Mullins fundraiser

The Mullins family, nearly all of whom support Jill Mullins' belief her husband was killed and his body sunk, are holding a fundraiser from 1-6 p.m. Sept. 28 at King Ranch on Caruso Road for reward money to catch the killer. The event will feature live music, smoked mullet, raffles and a silent auction, Jill Mullins said.

For those who can't attend, checks for the reward can be sent to "Mullins Reward Fund," 6611 Proctor Road, Sarasota FL 34241.

There was no drug-smuggling activity on the Manatee River the day Mullins went missing in his small boat, according to an investigation by Sgt. Steve Barron, a sheriff's office narcotics expert, Bankert said,

After checking out a half-submerged houseboat in the mouth of the Braden River with illegal gill nets, Sgt. Ed Boles of the sheriff's office marine unit reported finding no signs of recent human occupancy, Bankert said.

Mullins said she is not convinced the theories are wrong about her husband's death.

"I believe there could be something there," Mullins said of drug smuggling. "I would like to know how they checked it out. Their report says they asked one person about drugs on the river. As for the boat, there is no time listed for when they investigated in the complete records they sent me."

Mullins also wants the sheriff's office to check her husband's clothing, which she says they still have in evidence, for blood.

"I know it's not apparent to the eye, but I believe tests could pick it up," Mullins said.

Mullins has hired a Sarasota attorney to push the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to pick up the case.

"I think we need someone competent on the job," Mullins said.

Lost video most frustrating

Of all the frustrations for Mullins, the most painful is the CSX railroad bridge surveillance video.

"It could have shown someone on the boat with Pat or someone else piloting the boat," Jill Mullins said.

Bankert said a CSX worker in Bradenton downloaded video incorrectly to the laptop of Detective Darryl Davis of the sheriff's office.

"It was corrupted," Bankert said.

After realizing the images were corrupted, Davis called CSX for a copy of the original disk, Bankert said.

"There was still some corruption," Bankert said. "But by the time we found out the second set of video we received was corrupted, the originals had been recorded over. The system is on a loop. It is not a failure on our part. It was a technology issue with CSX."

A phone call to the CSX was not returned by deadline.

"I don't agree with that at all," Mullins said Tuesday. "I believe that the video was not obtained immediately after Pat's disappearance. In fact, they did not get it until his body had been found. And, Detective Davis told me he had possession of the video but he had to wait until an information technology person at the sheriff's office had to come back from a two-day period away to download it.

"They did not look at it quickly enough to know it was a problem," Mullins added. "If they had done their job efficiently they may have had it before even Pat was dead, but they did not do that."

List of near misses

The list of near misses in the Mullins' case doesn't end with drug smugglers, illegal fishermen and lost video.

A witness saw a Stumpknocker-brand 16-foot boat fitting the description of Pat Mullins' craft traveling out of Terra Ceia Bay at 6:20 p.m. Jan. 27, the day Mullins was reported missing.

Unfortunately, the witness can't remember anything about the person driving the boat,

"The witness recalls the boat had a green Bimini top because he liked the boat," Bankert said. "He could say there was one person on board, but was not able to identify that person."

Mullins said she called the witness and got a different story.

"I spoke to the person and he told me he told the sheriff's office he was not 100 percent certain it was our boat," Mullins said.

The odd thing about the Mullins' case is despite all its publicity there has not been a single call from the public, Bankert said.

Anyone who knows anything that would help authorities solve the case is asked to call Bankert at 747-3011, ext. 2213 or e-mail darin.bankert@manateesheriff.com.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.

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