On September 02, 2001, at 2:26 A.M., my son, Shawn McMillan, 26, was driven to the Helen Ellis Hospital in Tarpon Springs, FL, by Rita Nordmark and her intoxicated brother-in-law, Dan Nordmark, an off duty Corrections Officer. A bullet from the officer's gun had ripped through Shawn's brain. Officer Nordmark alleged the wound was self inflicted. The facts indicate otherwise.
Sgt. James Allen MacKenzie of the Tarpon Springs Police Department began his official Police Report with these words: "At 2:39 hours on September 2, 2001, I was called at my residence in reference to responding to a shooting at Helen Ellis ER with ‘Special Circumstances.’” "Special Circumstances" was the code used by Sgt. MacKenzie to identify the drunken owner of the gun as a fellow member of Law Enforcement.
When police realized the suspect was a cop, "Special Circumstances" apparently took precedence over the investigation and dictated the actions taken by the Tarpon Springs PD as they ignored routine police procedures; failed to conduct Gun Residue Tests; failed to administer alcohol or drug tests on Officer Nordmark, who was so intoxicated he could barely stand up; failed to question credible witnesses; and failed to pursue a single lead or to impound the car. Instead, they obtained peroxide from the hospital ER and instructed Rita Nordmark to begin cleaning out the blood (evidence) within two hours of the shooting. Although three police officers and the emergency room nurse searched the car for the missing weapon, no one could find it. It later mysteriously materialized on the back floorboards. Police declined to lift prints; instead, they obliterated them.
Tarpon Springs police began conferring with the Medical Examiner's office about the shooting even before Shawn died. The ME, Charles Siebert, Jr., (the same medical examiner who sided with police in the notorious Florida Boot Camp Case), immediately concluded the manner of death was suicide, although there was no evidence to support that determination.
Several experts have disputed that ruling. Crime Laboratory Analyst Supervisor, L. Parker reported that a determination as to whether the gunshot wound was or was not self inflicted could not be made from Shawn's clothing and other items; Forensic Expert, T.A. LaVoy, who worked for many years with the FDLE, stated that Dr. Siebert's conclusion of suicide was not valid. Stuart James, another well known Forensics expert, also found the determination of suicide invalid, and the Former Deputy Commissioner of the FDLE has continued to maintain his belief that Shawn's death was not suicide.
Even the Probable Cause Panel for the Florida Medical Examiner's Commission reported, after a thorough investigation, that my request to have “suicide” removed from Shawn's death certificate was not unreasonable due to the actions of the Tarpon Springs police.
Shawn was as far from suicidal as anyone could be. He had worked with me in my law office most of that day and was in high spirits. After we left the office, we went to a clothing store. Shawn was full of jokes and laughter while he tried on suits, ties and shirts for his new job with American Express. I dropped him off at the Ale House Restaurant at 5:30 P.M. to meet some acquaintances. They proceeded from there to the British Pub to play pool. That’s where they ran into Nordmark, another casual acquaintance, who offered to give him a ride home. First, however, Nordmark and his best friend, Bernie Dillman, wanted to go to the Palms Bar and Grill for Karaoke. Shawn accompanied them there and then back to the Pub, still looking for a ride home.
The day after the funeral, Sgt. MacKenzie threatened me with arrest if I spoke to the authorities, press or attorneys about Shawn’s death. By then, MacKenzie already had told the press that Officer Nordmark could not possibly have shot Shawn because sensitive blood tests conducted by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office proved that there was no trace of Shawn's blood on Nordmark's shirt. Later the Sheriff’s Office and their attorney determined that those Luminal and Phenolphthalien tests were not performed. At that point, Maximo Sanchez, the Tarpon Springs police officer who took the shirt to the lab, admitted that the only test ever conducted on Dan Nordmark's shirt was a visual exam. A forensic report to Tim Whitfield, the Sheriff’s Office Forensics Supervisor, and Sandy Jacobs, who was alleged to have conducted the tests, also confirmed that the chemical tests were not conducted. Both stated that, if Ms. Jacobs had performed such tests, she would have drafted the required Forensics Report specifically describing her participation and all results and would have notified the FDLE regarding her use of Luminol.
When the TSPD learned that I had been given this information, Ms. Jacobs abruptly changed her story and tearfully claimed that now she suddenly remembered conducting the tests. She could not explain why she had not drafted the required reports.
I don’t know whose shirt, if any, was submitted for testing, but if Shawn’s blood wasn’t on it, it could not have been the shirt that Dan Nordmark had been wearing. Shawn was a big man, and nurses couldn’t get him out of the car, so Nordmark crawled into the backseat, reached his arms up under Shawn's arms and around his chest and dragged him from the car and up onto the gurney. Shawn's profusely bleeding head was pressed against Nordmark's shirt during that process. There’s no way that shirt could not have been saturated with Shawn's blood.
This fact was confirmed when two of Dan Nordmark's friends, (one a Pinellas County Sheriff’s employee), testified separately under oath that Nordmark told them that the police had taken his shirt after the shooting because it was covered with Shawn's blood. Although everything on Shawn’s person, including his Chapstick and pocket change, was photographed and listed as evidence, Nordmark’s shirt, (which was described by Sgt. MacKenzie as “the most conclusive piece of evidence in the investigation”), was not.
The police reports are riddled with lies and omissions that completely conceal the events of that fateful evening. Nordmark and Dillman had very good reason to conceal the truth. While at the Palms, the two inebriated men had become furious at Kimberley, the Karaoke lady. The terrified woman gave a sworn statement that she feared for her life and for Shawn’s when he tried to protect her from the belligerent men, who followed her into the parking lot, yelling obscenities while she loaded her equipment. She and other witnesses described Nordmark and Dillman as violently angry and "evil." Chief Assistant State Attorney, Bruce Bartlett, brushed aside that testimony.
About twenty minutes later, at the British Pub, where they had gone after being evicted from the Palms, Dan Nordmark brought out his firearm and drunkenly waved it about in front of witnesses. He jammed the slide several times in his efforts to load and cock it. He then handed the gun to Dillman, who fired it at an adjacent gas station and occupied mobile home park. The frightened bar patrons fled the premises in fear of being killed.
The name of the British Pub, the events that took place there, and the identities of the witnesses to those events were withheld from police reports. The Nordmarks asserted that they had been at a different bar that night. Later, when caught in that lie, it was explained that they were confused about the name of the bar due to all the excitement at the hospital. It’s highly unlikely that the Nordmarks would have forgotten the name of the British Pub. The Nordmark family owned the British Pub!
I naively believed the FDLE would expose the truth and seek justice. Instead, they followed the Blue Code and protected law enforcement. By then, Dan Nordmark and Bernie Dillman were claiming that they had been too intoxicated to remember their own actions. Between them, they came up with at least five versions of how Shawn supposedly ended up with Nordmark’s gun in his hand. Later, when Nordmark was deposed, he took the Fifth Amendment literally hundreds of times, and Dillman never showed up for any of his scheduled depositions. Their many lies and conflicting statements seemed irrelevant to the FDLE.
The FDLE seemed to help them come up with new stories. Dan and Rita Nordmark originally stated that Shawn was seated in the center of the back seat and was leaning forward between them, giving Rita directions to his home, when he was shot in the head. However, an FDLE agent asserted that a hair found on a car window proved that Shawn was sitting by the back passenger window, out of range of the gun, if Nordmark had been holding it. That hair fragment was found one full month after the car had been scrubbed with peroxide at the hospital, scoured with Oxyclean at Rita Nordmark's home, then scrubbed with commercial cleaners and paint thinners and detailed by Carsmetics, Inc. Since the hair had no follicle, it could not be successfully tested for DNA. The best conclusion that experts could reach was that the hair came from a male, who probably was African-American. (Shawn was a blonde Caucasian.)
More than fifty friends and family members who knew and loved Shawn wrote to the State Attorney insisting that Shawn never would have killed himself. Many spoke about his keen intellect, kindness, integrity and happy disposition. Others described Shawn's dismay about people who committed suicide and how he could not understand why anyone would do that to themselves or to their loved ones. They told about conversations with Shawn regarding his plans for the future and his excitement about starting his new job. One of the attorneys that Shawn worked for wrote about spending time with Shawn just twelve hours before he was shot. He stated that Shawn was upbeat and happy and there was absolutely no indication of any depression or imminent suicide.
All of those people were ignored by the State Attorney’s Office. None were interviewed or even acknowledged. Instead, the authorities portrayed Shawn as a loser and utter failure with no reason to live. They were so intent upon proving Shawn’s “instability” that they went so far as to investigate which books he checked out of the library and triumphantly reported that he hadn’t paid a fine for an overdue book. (He hadn’t paid the fine because he was dead.)
Their hateful words about Shawn and our family have caused devastating sorrow in our lives. The manner in which this case was handled defies all reason. At night I dream about holding my beautiful blue-eyed son as he dies, with his younger brother's ear pressed against his chest, listening as Shawn's heartbeat grew fainter and fainter. I wake up with tears on my cheeks, crying out for my son, and I feel unbridled rage at what members of law enforcement did to cover up the truth. By the time the Tarpon Springs PD, the FDLE, the Medical Examiner and the State Attorney's Office were finished with our family, our hearts and lives were shattered forever. Any trust we had in law enforcement is gone. I will never understand why corrupt and dishonest police officers and violent drunks were protected by the authorities while my son's reputation was destroyed by their treacherous attempts to justify a determination of suicide without a single piece of credible evidence. The authorities have made a mockery of our legal process and violated the rights of all Floridians by protecting corrupt members of law enforcement in a shooting with "Special Circumstances."
Michaela E. Mahoney, Shawn's mother