Pulse: A Timeline of Public Records Requests with the City of Orlando
Shooting victims have been suing Barbara and Rosario Poma for negligence and illegally transferring the Pulse property after the shooting to hide assets from victims in the midst of litigation.
Despite this, Barbara Poma has still been able to start a nonprofit (the OnePULSE Foundation) in less than a month following the tragedy and continues to use the photos of their loved ones to collect donations and create a false narrative of a unified "Pulse family" as part of a new business endeavor that has been revictimizing for the shooting victims who do not support the construction of a privatized memorial/museum complex and that continues to fracture the LGBTQ+ community.
Barbara Poma has painted herself as a victim of the shooting and even has access to online support groups meant exclusively for survivors of mass shootings. She has even admitted to not personally knowing any of the victims and rarely visiting the gay nightclub she owned.
In fact, Barbara Poma was also not even in the United States at the time of the shooting and was safely vacationing in Mexico when four Mexican nationals were murdered at a themed Latin Night at Pulse—a business fenced in with an illegal 6-foot fence that survivors had to jump over to escape.
Public records show that Pulse was not even permitted to have a dance floor, charge cover, or operate as a nightclub.
This truth is a grim signifier of how transnational inequality, racism, sexual oppression, nationhood, local governments, and the nonprofit industrial complex continue to operate together to kill Black, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ people, while propelling—and even assisting— white, straight, and well-connected business/property owners to profit off their murder.
In the following clip from The Roach Show, "Pulse Nightclub Mass Shooting - What Really Happened?" Barbara Poma describes being in Cancún, Mexico on a "mothers-daughters trip" at the time of the shooting.
In 2021, Barbara Poma was acknowledged for her ability to turn a public tragedy into a privatized tourist attraction by shamelessly being given a new position on the board of directors of Visit Orlando—the official tourism association for Orlando that brands, markets and sells Orlando as a global tourist destination.
Her husband, Rosario Poma, also found a position on the Board of the Orange County Sheriff Foundation—a nonprofit formed to bring together charitable donors, community leaders and nonprofit organizations for non-tax based philanthropic efforts for the benefit of Orange County Sheriff's Office. Orlando Police Chief John Mina was elected Orange County Sheriff in 2018 despite leading a police response to the mass shooting that was highly criticized.
What also odd about Rosario Poma's recent support of the Orange County Sheriff, is that prior to the shooting at Pulse he was on the other side of law enforcement as a character witness for Jesse Maali—dubbed by an FBI counterterrorism specialist as "the boss of I-Drive" and who died while preparing to stand trial for money laundering; charges that came following an investigation conducted in partnership with the Orange County Sheriff's Office.
Public records also show that Mina's officers lacked access to accurate building plans of the Pulse nightclub (because they did not exist due to the unpermitted renovations) and had to draw the building's layout on a piece of paper that was wet with sweat using information provided by an employee who was on the phone with victims trapped inside. The City of Orlando never had accurate building plans on record. Even the building plans released to the public did not depict the building's unpermitted second story office where victims were trapped for 35 minutes as people were being slaughtered below.
You can view many of these public records here. However, these do not include some of the more recent documents we have received since we published our report.
To date, there has been no formal or official investigation into these issues.
For nearly two years, we have been requesting public records, combing through them, connecting the dots, and posting our findings online. We've also been organizing to get these records out to the public, to stop the Poma's from exploiting mass shooting victims, and make sure they are held accountable.
The following timeline was created to document the barriers to public transparency set up by the City of Orlando. These not only include the sheer cost of the records, but the tactic of stalling and using irrelevant legal statutes and legal jargon to prevent the timely release of records they do not want the public to see.
The City of Orlando has also charged us hundreds of dollars for legal reviews of the public records that we have only had to turn around and fight in order to get the records we requested without redactions that are not required by law.
This timeline is meant to empower crime victims and activists to not only hold their municipalities accountable, but to help prevent public corruption and unethical practices. It is also meant to inform the journalists and the public of what the process has been like specifically with the City of Orlando in the event that another mass casualty event strikes and so past reporting can be revisited.
August 15, 2019 - Called the City of Orlando's Permitting Division to ask if Pulse had unpermitted renovations prior to the shooting and to get the building's approved building plans. Spoke to Rosemary Culhane, who was incredibly helpful and did the research on her end to provide me with information an documents. She confirmed that Pulse's renovations were not permitted. The last approved building renovation plans were from 2003, prior to Pulse's opening when it was converted from a restaurant.
August 16, 2019 - Began combing through the City of Orlando's "Pulse Tragedy Public Records" document dump, which includes thousands of unorganized documents, dozens of photographs, and hours of audio/video files that were released between September 1, 2016 and May 31, 2019.
August 19, 2019 - Wrote to Representatives Anna Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith about OnePULSE Foundation removing "community grants" from their mission statement, despite raising money for victims with this in their mission for years. They did nothing. The OnePULSE Foundation's tax documents show that only $1,000 was given in community grants. We do not know who this money went to and if it actually went to victims of the shooting.
September 20, 2019 - Submitted by first public records request through the Next Request system. Request #19-7023.
September 20-30, 2019 - Reached out the the Orlando Police Department Public Information Officer (PIO) and the City of Orlando PIOs via phone and email, asking the following questions that were never answered. PIO Karyn Barber forwarded my questions to the Records Department, despite the fact that they were not a records request:
At what time(s) did the Orlando Police Department contact the City of Orlando for floor/building plans for the Pulse Nightclub on June 12, 2016?
At what time(s) did the Orlando Police Department receive the floor/building plans for the Pulse Nightclub on June 12, 2016?
Did the floor/building plans that were provided on 06/12/2016 accurately depict the Pulse Nightclub building’s layout?
If not, what other sources did First Responders and SWAT Team members utilize to get information about the building’s layout?
How many officers, first responders, and SWAT Team members were aware of the inaccurate floor plans? Who were they?
When did the Orlando Police Department address this issue with the City of Orlando and/or the Permitting Division? What were the outcomes of this conversation?
What new policies and/or procedures have been put into place to prevent these issues from happening again in the future?
Did the Orlando Police Department ever launch a criminal investigation into permitting issues at the Pulse Nightclub? If not, why?
Did the Orlando Police Department ever launch an investigation into overcrowding at the Pulse Nightclub? If not, why?
Was an injunction ever placed on the Pulse Nightclub property to prevent interior modifications after 06/12/2016? If not, why?
September 30, 2019-June 10, 2020 - Continued to collect public records, organize, and together we published on the Community Coalition Against a Pulse Museum (CCAPM) website the report, "They Knew: Hard Evidence That Poma's Legal Violations and City Failures Led to Further Injury and Death at the Pulse Nightclub."
The following public records were notable for the extended amount of time it took to receive them, the cost, and times that "no responsive records" turned out to be a lie, resulting in the City of Orlando keeping records out of the public eye:
#19-7409 - Please see attached PRR. Requester would like transcripts of the communications form the command center during the Pulse incident on June 12, 2016 from 2:00 am-5:30 am.
I sent this request to the OPD PIO, who in turn submitted it to the Public Records Department. It took 4.5 months for the City of Orlando to close the request claiming "no responsive records."
A year later, on February 17, 2020, as part of record request #20-1532, they provided me with the following:
June 12, 2016
0202 S73 received from O753 (Gruler) reference active shooter with multiple victims 0228 Lt. Smith initiated a full SWAT callout
0242 Full ESU/CNT call out initiated
0250 MCC/CNT Trucks en route
0310 MCC/CNT on scene at Orange/Pennsylvania 0318 MCC/CNT operational
0356 Throw phone is ready to go
0402 SWAT asking for water from ESU
0433 MCC/CNT was relocated to Orange Avenue and Harding just south of the target (Pulse)
0433 DC Anzueto and Sheriff Demings at MCC
0442 Per Captain Velez CNT has not spoken with suspect for approximately 50 minutes; Suspect previously spoke with Sgt. Brennan who proclaimed his allegiance with ISIS & has made peace
0454 Mayor Dyer 1097 in MCC
Requests for emails to/from Gus Benitez, the lawyer for Rosario and Barbara Poma, took 4 months to receive.
#19-7599 (made on October 10, 2019) was closed on January 10, 2020, in which I requested: All communications (emails, text messages) with the keyword: CUP2003-0012. Date range: 06/12/2016-12/31/2016.
There were no responsive records, however, I found out on October 6, 2021—after I had to fight for them to provide documents without redactions—that their search did not include email attachments. The City created a timeline dated June 19, 2016 that contained these search terms (see #20-1368 and #20-7970)
June 10, 2020 - Submitted the following questions to the Orlando City Council. None of them were answered.
Why was Pulse allowed to operate for over 10 years as a nightclub in violation of its approved conditional use? Records show that Pulse owners were not allowed to have a dance floor or charge nightly covers. They did both for over a decade, and were never stopped despite documented complaints and violations.
What is the city’s protocol for handling businesses that violate their CUP? Was this protocol followed for Pulse? If not, why?
Why was the dance floor at Pulse never removed and why wasn’t it ever addressed in subsequent inspections? Most shooting victims were murdered on this dance floor, which city officials asked Pulse owners to remove as early as 2003/2004.
By 2010, multiple city departments knew about Pulse’s unpermitted renovations and building code violations. The city has claimed that it was “working with the owners” to get the building into compliance. However, this was never done. Why—for six years—did the city never force the club into compliance, cite/fine the owners, or shut the business down because of these unpermitted renovations? In short, why did the city not enforce its own laws when it came to Pulse?
In 2010, Tim Johnson of the Permitting Division was emailed updated floor plans that showed major unpermitted interior modifications to Pulse. Why did the city never inspect the building to document the scope of the unpermitted work, which included electrical and plumbing work, and to ensure there were no life safety issues? Without building inspections, how can city officials state that there were “no life safety concerns” to reporters asking about Pulse’s unpermitted renovations in 2016
Why aren’t there transcripts of communications from the Orlando Police Department’s control center? I question the legitimacy of internal investigations if they have not resulted in the detailed transcription of all police communications during the shooting—specifically from the command center(s). I requested these and was told by the Records department that there were no responsive records.
Is the City aware that the floorplans provided to the media and the FBI do not accurately reflect the interior of the building as it was on June 12, 2016? The building’s second-level where hostages were trapped was omitted from those plans.
Why did Tim Johnson, of the Permitting Division, tell fire inspectors that new building plans of Pulse were not needed, overriding the Orlando Fire department’s fire inspection protocols, which require the review of updated floor plans when buildings are renovated?
Public records show a number of occupancy-related violations at Pulse, including frequent overcrowding, despite the City’s multiple written warnings to track occupancy at all times. Evidence suggests the club was over capacity on the night of the shooting. What was the documented number of people in the club at the time of the shooting? Did law enforcement know the number on the nightclub’s clicker counter? Were any photographs taken of the clicker counter as evidence?
First responders did not have access to Pulse building plans and had to hand-draw the layout of the building based on observation and verbal information collected during the active shooting. Records show Pulse’s most recent (2010) building plans were never recorded in the city’s official record system since they were modified through unpermitted renovations. Why didn’t first responders have access to accurate and up-to-date building plans of Pulse? At what time did law enforcement seek Pulse’s building plans on June 12, 2016? What building plans were given to the Orlando Police Department and when were they given?
Records indicate that the occupant load for Pulse changed multiple times throughout the years, even though the square footage of the building never increased. What were the reasons for each of these fluctuations? Why did the occupant load not remain a constant?
Did the city document building code violations AFTER the shooting? Records show that the windows required to maintain 15% transparency along Orange Avenue were covered-over by an unpermitted outdoor bar and the height of the unpermitted fence was in violation of city code—just to name two code violations that are clearly observable. Records also show that at least one inspection was planned by Fire Marshall Tammy Hughes after the shooting, but no documents have been released as to the findings of any post-shooting inspections. If inspections occurred, will the city release all the documents pertaining to these?
Why has the City’s Public Information Officer and Permitting Services Division refused to answer any questions related to Pulse? How are we to get answers to any future questions we might have? Will the City set up a community liaison who will work with us and the public to get the answers that we need since the city’s PIO’s are not answering questions and are instead forwarding them to the Records department, effectively squashing any efforts for transparency and accountability as our questions are NOT requests for records.
April 29, 2021 - Sent an email to City Attorney Mayanne Downs and the entire City Council again asking for records that were being withheld from me using an irrelevant court order as the basis for denying my records request.
And the work continues...
We are still in the process of attaining records, with 8 open records requests. The earliest of which was made on March 30, 2021 and cost $2,306.90. This was for:
UNEDITED, UNREDACTED, AUDIO-ONLY of all body cam footage of responding law enforcement on scene at the Pulse Nightclub Shooting on June 12, 2016 from 2AM to 5 AM. This includes, but is not limited to:
1. Of. Gargano (Bell Isle, but City of Orlando has complete footage)
2. Of. Cornwell (Bell Isle, but City of Orlando has complete footage)
3. Of. Brian Figeroa
4. Of. Tyler Olsen
5. Of. Luke Austin
6. Of. Jeff Rine
7. Of. Matthew Davis
8. Of. Andrew Bishop
9. Of. Ricardo Duenas
10. Of. Graham Cage
11. Of. Adam Gruler
12. Of. Justin Wilkins
11. Lt. Scott Smith
12. Of. Michael Napolitano
14. Of. Timothy Stanley
15. Lt. Jonathan Bigelow
16. Of. Ann Mislang
17. Serg. Ira Morris
18. Of. Raul Rivas
19. Of. Felix Monroig-Santiago
20. Of. Daniel Robertson
21. Of. Brandon Tabaczynski
Below are some of the priciest public records requests we've submitted and the associated cost.
#21-2778 - All files contained on the: 1 Flash Drive Containing Complete FDLE Investigation; and
1 Flash Drive Containing Pole Camera Video as documented on the OPD/FDLE Internal Investigation into Pulse response FOR IR #16-46. Cost: $1,202.98
#20-3701 - All emails to and from Cassandra Lafser, sent and received between June 12, 2016 and June 15, 2016. Cost: $1,014.50
#20-5795 - "All emails to and from Roderick S Williams <firstname.lastname@example.org> that were sent/received between June 12, 2016 and June 15, 2016.” Cost: $1,623.20
#20-5825 - "All emails to/from Kevin Edmonds between June 12-14, 2016.” Cost: $730
#20-5832 - "All emails sent to/from Ruth McLemore Price between June 12 and June 16. email@example.com.” Cost: $1217.40
#20-7922 - "All emails sent to or received from Mayanne Downs <Mayanne.Downs@gray-robinson.com> between June 12, 2016 and August 1, 2016.” Cost: $4236.00
#21-1259 - "I am requesting all emails Jody Litchford sent between June 12, 2016 and October 1, 2016.” Cost: $1217.40
Keep hounding the City.
Ask in different, but specific ways. Broad requests have high costs, even if they are for emails or records that are already digitized.
Read the legal statutes and make sure they apply when denied a public record. Do not assume that they are being honest or that the legal team knows what they are talking about. Do not be intimidated by legal jargon, court orders, or laws. Read them and if they do not apply, follow-up and provide the reasoning. A lawyer would do the same thing, but then charge you for it. You can do this and email the City Attorney for free.
Get the City Council and as many people involved as you need to; on all levels of the government. If you need to call a public official out, do it with everyone CCed on the email. This also ensures it's part of the public record.
Do as much communication via email and not over the phone. This ensures that you have the proper documentation.
Follow-up to everything. If a public official ghosts you, keep a record of it.
It might take years to get what you're looking for. Have patience and be committed to the work and the mission.
Push out the records to the public and to the media in whatever way you can, but keep it short and concise. Give them only the records that are direct and easy to understand. If they want the more complex version of something or the "whole story," they will reach out to you.
Call the Records Department and talk to a human being. They are usually really friendly and just want to do their jobs. Sometimes, you get newbies—especially when you've been at it for years.
If you come to a roadblock, keep pushing. Get others to help and request the same records. Get others to contact city officials via email and ask questions.
Politicians are not your friends and city workers often have their hands tied or are required to protect the City's interests, which are not always aligned with the best interests of its residents.