A witness tampering investigation in Broward County has led to charges against a man shot during an armed robbery, the man he said shot him and an investigator for the shooter's state-funded defense, the NBC 6 Investigators have learned.
Details of the cases remain under seal, but one of the four men accused is Gentry Chambers, an investigator for the Fort Lauderdale office of the state Office of Criminal Conflict & Civil Regional Counsel.
The office is appointed to represent indigent defendants who have a conflict with the public defender’s office.
In a video posted to YouTube, Chambers described his job for prospective classmates in a college course, saying, “I try to do my best to help people out, to give people a voice that don’t have a voice, to try to get them out of trouble.”
Now Chambers, a state employee, is the one in trouble, accused of going too far.
Chambers, 43, has been an investigator in the office for nearly nine years and “remains a valuable and dedicated member of the office,” his employer said in a statement to NBC 6. He was released from jail on his own recognizance after being arrested last week.
His arrest came six weeks after he notarized a sworn statement from an eyewitness to a shooting allegedly committed by Kevin Peeples, who Chambers’ office was representing.
That eyewitness – who recanted her implication of Peeples in the May 3 statement – is considered the victim of witness tampering case, NBC 6 has learned.
The case stems from the April 1, 2019 shooting of Gerald Pendergrass, 29, outside a Fort Lauderdale 7-Eleven, a crime witnessed by Pendergrass’ then-girlfriend, who told police the shooter was Peeples.
Pendergrass and the woman had given Peeples a ride to the convenience store after a night out in Fort Lauderdale when, police say, Peeples pulled a gun, demanded cash and jewelry from Pendergrass and pulled the trigger when Pendergrass resisted, the bullet hitting him in the torso.
Last week Peeples, 31, Pendergrass, and a third man, Jeremiah Jones, 32, were charged with witness tampering and ordered held without bond, forbidden from communicating with anyone other than their lawyers.
The affidavits supporting the charges remain under seal, hidden from public view.
The state attorney’s office cannot comment on sealed matters.
In its statement to NBC 6, the regional counsel wrote: "Chambers did not tamper with a witness and we are greatly dismayed by his arrest ... It was wrong for (him) to be arrested and for his actions to be likened to the actions of others. (He) committed no crime.”
The office, headed by Regional Counsel Antony Ryan, also said “the prosecution of a defense investigator would have a chilling effect on the role of the defense counsel in the criminal justice system,” adding the office is optimistic prosecutors will drop the charge after further review.
The regional counsel last week sought to withdraw from representing Peeples, stating "the state attorney's office directed an arrest of a member of our law firm for performing work on Mr. Peeples' behalf, thus creating a conflict." A judge agreed and discharged the office from the case.
Chambers’ criminal defense lawyer, Sam Halpern, told NBC 6 his client “did nothing to run afoul of that law… I would be surprised once the case gets a good, hard look by the state attorney’s office that they would pursue” a case against Chambers.
This is the second time witness tampering charges have been brought in Peeples’ case.
Last year, he and an alleged accomplice were accused of threatening the same “eyewitness and family members with murder” if she did not recant, “making it clear to the witness that they had an affiliation with the Bloods” gang, according to an arrest affidavit.
She did not recant then.
But she did last month, in the affidavit notarized by Chambers, writing: “I’m not in fear of my life. I’m not being threatened and I don’t know Kevin (Peeples) or never seen him a day in my life. I was pressured by other people about the shooting. I didn’t see the actual shooting but I heard it.”
NBC 6 reached the witness Monday and she denied knowing anything about Pendergrass being jailed, Chambers being charged or any other details about the witness tampering investigation. “I wish everybody would leave (me) alone about this shooting. I’m not the victim,” she texted. “Gerald is.”