Picture this: A cop pulls over a driver. But instead of asking for their identification with a gun drawn and watching them reach for it in the car, potentially triggering a reaction, the officer simply scans a placard on the car window. Instead of demanding to know the officer’s badge number or who their supervisor is, the driver simply uses their phone to scan the officer’s badge.
Both parties get the information they need. No one gets hurt.
That’s the idealized vision of The Accountability Badge and My Safe ID, technology that Theo Gibbs, 34, said he’s been developing since the death of George Floyd. The idea, Gibbs told The Daily Beast, is to create more transparency for everyone, while hopefully saving lives in the process.
But Santiago Vazquez, a former Florida law enforcement officer who signed onto the nascent company The Accountability Badge Corporation in recent months and allegedly invested $78,000 to get it off the ground, claims in a lawsuit filed on Thursday that Gibbs, his idea, and his company are full of shit.
“As noble as the Accountability Badge’s mission may sound,” the lawsuit claims, the company is “little more than a fraudulent shelter” and “Ponzi type scheme.”
Vazquez, a former sergeant for the Broward Sheriff’s Office and a failed 2020 candidate to be sheriff, alleges Gibbs oversold the company to line his own pockets.
Gibbs told The Daily Beast the allegations are disheartening, but declined to respond to them in detail, citing the lawsuit. But he said the claims Vazquez made are “far-fetched” and caught him off-guard.
“I’m not that person,” he said. “I did this for creating for the greater good, not for being a part of evil,” he said.
Vazquez declined to comment on the details of his lawsuit, which he filed on behalf of himself.
In the lawsuit, he claims to have met Gibbs in February 2021. He claims Gibbs told him the company was “poised to generate untold amounts of revenue,” and had already produced a “significant number” of the badges and placards for cars. Vazquez also alleges Gibbs said the company was on the verge of signing large government and municipal contracts, too.
Vazquez wrote that after several weeks on the job with the company, traveling for meetings to pitch the company to law enforcement professionals in Florida, he began to question the company’s legitimacy.
He claims there was no business plan, financial statements or other key documents that an “organization on the edge of national success” would have.
Instead, Vazquez claims, the company doesn’t have contracts, and only a “small” amount of the $300,000 in investments the company has allegedly taken in has been used on developing the business. As for the technology touted by Gibbs, Vazquez alleges it is a “fabrication” despite idealistic promotional videos on YouTube that depict jovial police interactions with drivers once they’ve safely exchanged information.
Gibbs told The Daily Beast the allegations are false. “We’re not doing anything that would be in any way unaccountable or requiring a lawsuit in any way, shape or form,” he said.
He said the company, which is based out of Montana, was thought up in his garage after he’d watched the death of George Floyd and the thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters who swelled in the streets afterward demanding police accountability.
He said he came up with the idea to use near-field communication to allow officers to share information about themselves and their police department by scanning their badge. Officers can get information about a driver by scanning a placard they could keep on their car.
After watching videos of police interactions that went south on YouTube, he said he believes the technology would help both parties safely get the information they need. “While your hands stay on the wheel and nobody dies,” he said. “You’re not reaching in the glove box moving a gun out of the way, you’re not reaching in the back seat. It keeps everybody safe at the end of the day.”
Gibbs, who said he is an entrepreneur who previously sold computers on Craigslist, enamel pins on Facebook, and owned and operated a car lot before launching his business, admitted that he’s never taken on anything of such a scale and size.
The company has already created prototypes which have been used in schools to share information between teachers and parents, according to him. But he said they have “leads” for law enforcement agencies, who he claims have been mostly positive about the technology.
He made Vazquez the president and board member of the company, he said, because he was impressed by his commitment to police accountability during his 2020 run for sheriff. “I really, truly thought that he was everything we needed as a representative for the company,” Gibb said.
However, he said he had been previously unaware of Vazquez’s own fatal encounter with a suspect while he was an officer until asked about it by The Daily Beast.
According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Vazquez was one of five deputies from the Broward Sheriff’s Office attempting to serve an arrest warrant for armed robbery and assault on Jonathan Fontanez, 17, in August 2008. Fontanez allegedly grabbed a bat and ran out the back of the home and got into a fight with two deputies who met him there.
The other three deputies later arrived to help subdue Fontanez and at one point, an officer allegedly said Fontanez had his gun. Vazquez fired a shot, killing Fontanez.
A 2010 lawsuit filed against Vazquez and the police department alleged the deputies failed to knock and announce themselves, and that they were not wearing the proper uniforms identifying them as police. They allege Fontanez believed the officers to be intruders and initially engaged them in self-defense. They also claimed he never reached for a gun.
However a judge ruled that the use of force was reasonable and ruled in favor of Vazquez and the sheriff’s office.
A spokeswoman for the Broward State Attorney’s Office said the case was presented to a grand jury who decided not to bring charges against Vazquez. Vazquez, who served for 21 years with the Broward Sheriff’s Office before leaving the department in 2016 as a sergeant, was also cleared by the department for the shooting of Fontanez, according to a review of his internal affairs history.
Gibbs told The Daily Beast that Vazquez never mentioned the shooting to him, which he said was quite serious in light of transparency being the guiding idea behind his company.
“That’s a big deal,” he said, “something that you would probably not want to hide from the corporation that you’re working with for the accountability badge.”
In a text, Vazquez said police officers’ lives aren’t easy and “some will make split-second decisions that will later be scrutinized by their department, the community and the courts.”
“As a law enforcement officer I was accountable for my actions,” he said, adding that he agrees with calls for “police reform, better police training, and more police accountability.”
“That’s what I stood for when I wore the badge and that’s what I stand for now as a member of my own community,” he said.
He did not respond to a question about Gibbs’ claim that he had withheld the information about the shooting.
Without knowing the specifics of the shooting, Gibbs declined to comment further. But he doubled down on pushing back against Vazquez’s lawsuit, which he said is an “exaggeration of events.”
“None of this is true,” he said. “I only did this to help people.”