TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office responded after families turned to 8 On Your Side seeking justice after their daughters disappeared.
In 8 On Your Sides’ Missing People of Color: Ensuring Justice for All series, the parents of three missing minority women said they feel forgotten and overlooked. This comes after the worldwide spotlight on one missing woman’s case has magnified the racial disparities from law enforcement, the media, and the public when it comes to missing person cases.
“White women and white girls are dramatically overrepresented,” criminologist Zach Sommers said. “They make up about half of all news stories written about missing persons. It found that African-Americans who go missing receive less coverage or less likely to appear in the news at all.”
Veronica Reyes-Diaz, Cieha Taylor, and Kelly Vazquez are all women of color who went missing around the same area, around the same time and each case has similar, yet peculiar, details.
“It should have been treated at least as a suspicious scene and not just move the car and walk away,” said Canitha Taylor, Cieha’s mother.
Lost and frustrated, Canitha wants answers surrounding her daughter’s odd disappearance. 8 On Your Side went straight to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
“You have a running car, in the middle of the street, with personal belongings inside, front door open, does that not trigger, ‘this doesn’t look right?'” asked WFLA’s Deanne King.
“I understand the family’s frustration with that, but I don’t have the intimate details of the investigation in front of me,” said Amanda Granit, the public information officer for HCSO.
8 On Your Side asked to interview Sheriff Chad Chronister about these cases and about the racial disparities surrounding missing person cases but was told his schedule was too busy. News Channel 8 also asked to interview any of the detectives on the case and was told they could not speak to the media. Granit agreed to an interview.
King asked if it’s standard protocol for detectives to not report suspicious scenes.
“I can tell you that the day she was reported missing is when they went back out, located that car, and then took that car in to do the full work up on that car,” Granit said. “As for standard protocol, as the public information officer, I don’t have information on all of our standard procedures.”
News Channel 8 obtained the standard operating procedure for missing person cases, but this particular situation is not included. Neither is when they call the FBI for help. According to Granit, that is on a case-by-case basis.
Granit said HCSO did not reach out to the FBI to help with the Taylor and Vazquez cases. However, the FBI did help with the Reyes-Diaz case. She said their role was to help track Reyes-Diaz’s cellphone records. Granit also told 8 On Your Side the sheriff’s office does not believe the cases are connected.
“How is the sheriff’s office ensuring that all of these cases get the same amount of attention?” King asked Granit.
“We also have supervisors who are checking all of these cases. It’s not just taking a deputy at their word that they have done everything they can,” Granit said.
“How is the sheriff’s office ensuring those detectives creating those checks and balances don’t have an innate bias when they approach these investigations?” King asked.
“We have annual trainings that goes into that making sure our detectives and our entire civilian and sworn population aren’t falling into those categories. It’s something our sheriff will not tolerate and if he ever heard of it happening, that person would not have a place here,” Granit responded.
As far as the sheriff responding to research showing law enforcement does not investigate missing people of color the same way as other cases Granit said the following: “I think the sheriff cares greatly about people of color and all missing persons cases. This is his community, this is where he raises his family, he can relate to these families on that level.”
According to Granit, HCSO does not have a separate missing person’s unit. The department has a criminal investigation division where part of the deputy’s responsibility is investigating missing persons.
Currently, HCSO is investigating 87 missing person cases.
On Thursday in the Missing People of Color: Ensuring Justice for All series, 8 On Your Side will talk with a former FBI agent and a missing person’s expert to get their take on how these cases have been handled. Join us from 4:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.