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Wreck Bar Mermaid Sues Broward Sheriff's Office for Invasion of Privacy

Whitney Fair in full mermaid regalia at the Wreck Bar in Fort Lauderdale
Photo courtesy of the Aquaticats
Whitney Fair in full mermaid regalia at the Wreck Bar in Fort Lauderdale
Finding herself vilified on TikTok by a self-styled witch and spotting a Broward County sheriff’s lieutenant literally climbing her wall, Whitney Fair was at her wits’ end.

She had no idea being a mermaid could be so stressful.

The trouble had nothing to do with the actual mermaid shows she performs at the historic Wreck Bar on Fort Lauderdale Beach. The 41-year-old Fair enjoys swimming in what’s billed as America’s only underwater burlesque show.

She likes to hear the audience when she swims past the pool’s portholes in her costume fishtail. The fact that she can’t see the bar patrons through the glass relieves some of the pressure of performing on often-packed Friday and Saturday nights.

The part-time job at the iconic ocean liner-shaped B Ocean Resort, formerly known as the Yankee Clipper, also provides her and the other so-called Aquaticats a regular social outlet.

“I’m a bit of a homebody and an introvert,” confesses Fair, who also works as a voice actress and yoga instructor. “So this job has allowed me a consistent way of dressing up and being around people once a weekend.”

It was from the social side, however, that her misery came, specifically in the form of a fellow Aquaticat named Mia Mellies. “Mermaid Mia,” as she called herself, joined the cast in 2015, two years prior to Fair, and had ascended to a leadership role in the group. The two had a falling-out and ultimately Mia was fired in August 2018.

Mellies’ departure began what Fair describes as a three-year nightmare of harassment and conflict that now is on its way to a federal courtroom.
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Broward Sheriff's Office Lt. Jeff Mellies
WSVN-TV (Channel 7) screenshot
It began with online attacks from Mia and her husband Jeff and became worse when the couple moved in next door to Fair’s home in Fort Lauderdale. More than once, her security camera captured video of Jeff Mellies on her property, including a clip that shows him climbing up a ladder on the side of her house and tampering with said camera. Another clip shows the couple accosting her at the foot of her driveway, where Mia Mellies later can be heard screaming, “I hope you fucking die.”

Fair says the scariest part of it all is that Jeff has the power of the badge: He’s a lieutenant with the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

“How do you call the cops on the cops?” she asks.

It didn’t make it any less unsettling that Mia spoke in her TikTok videos of placing spells on her enemies and claimed she and Jeff were “practicing pagans” who performed nude rituals in their backyard. A Coral Springs firefighter by trade, Mia has also described herself as an “initiated first-degree witch in the Celtic tradition.”

Fair says the scariest part of it all is that Jeff is a lieutenant with the Broward Sheriff’s Office. “How do you call the cops on the cops?” she asks.

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Fair eventually went to the police, but the harassment continued. She consulted local attorney Gary Kollin, who suggested she put in a public-records request for all searches made by police and other officials for her state-protected driver’s license information — something all Floridians have a right to find out about themselves.

The results showed that Jeff had used his BSO computer to run Fair’s name on the Driver and Vehicle Information Database (DAVID), a confidential state database accessible only by police and other public officials. The frequently abused DAVID system contains driver’s license photos, vehicle information, driver history, social security number, and other restricted personal data.

Federal law forbids public officials from accessing driver-license information for anything but official purposes and provides civil recourse to anyone whose information has been improperly accessed.

And it wasn’t just Fair. State records reveal that Jeff Mellies, who has a large tattoo of his BSO badge on his right bicep, also ran DAVID checks on Marina Anderson, who owns the mermaid show, and a fellow performer named Janelle Smiley. All of those searches were conducted in 2018, while Mia Mellies was still swimming at the Wreck Bar.

The lieutenant listed “criminal investigation” as the reason for the searches. State law enforcement records also show Mellies ran a restricted criminal background check on Smiley; Fair suspects he did the same in her case. BSO began an internal investigation of Fair’s allegations, according to the agency’s correspondence.

On February 22, Kollin filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on behalf of Fair and Smiley that alleges Jeff Mellies violated the law and the plaintiffs’ privacy rights when he conducted his DAVID searches. Also named as a defendant is Broward Sheriff Greg Tony, who Kollin claims has failed to properly monitor the agency’s DAVID use. (A copy of the complaint is embedded at the end of this story.)

New Times' request for comment from Sheriff Tony was expressly rejected by BSO. “The Broward Sheriff’s Office makes it a practice not to comment on pending litigation,” emailed sheriff’s spokesman Cary Codd.

Kollin's complaint also alleges that Jeff Mellies brought Fair and Smiley “into public scandal with great humiliation...in the form of shame, degradation, mental suffering and...damaged reputations.”

Messages left on Mia Mellies’ cellphone for comment from her and her husband were not returned. New Times also unsuccessfully sought comment from Jeff Mellies through the BSO's media relations department. A detailed voice message left with the lieutenant’s attorney, Tamatha Alvarez, also went unreturned.

To understand how the clash of mermaids became a federal case, though, it helps to return to the edge of the Wreck Bar pool and a 2018 squabble between the two women that troubles the waters to this day.

A Poolside Squabble

Like most of her fellow underwater performers, Fair doesn’t take the mermaid aspect of the show very seriously. For Mia Mellies, though, being a mermaid was a lifelong dream.

That’s how she characterized it when she was featured in a 2014 Sun-Sentinel story about “merfolk” — those who revere the fictional creatures and celebrate “mermaid culture.” The article came out a year before Mia began performing at the Wreck Bar, but she was already working parties and events as “Mia Mermaid.”

A cosplay enthusiast with her husband, Mia told the newspaper her mermaid persona was an offshoot of her pirate re-enactment group. She said she’d been fascinated with mermaids since she was a little girl in Puerto Rico — so much so that she “almost drowned” in a pool at the age of 10 after putting duct tape on her feet to emulate a tail.

“I think all girls are fascinated with being a mermaid,” Mia told the Sun-Sentinel. “It’s the mysterious woman who’s unobtainable, who’s alluring to men.”

She was surely a head-turner at the mermaid show. Fair says it wasn’t just Mia’s striking bleached-blond hair, full figure, and expertly applied makeup that made her stand out, but also an unmistakable charisma.

While Mia identified with a fiery Puerto Rican persona, Fair cultivated an aesthetic more of the California variety (a state where she lived for a year after growing up in the Midwest). Whereas Mia was into Wicca, Fair engaged a secular spiritual side. She believes wholeheartedly in karma and tellingly chose the name “ZenDen” for her recently established Airbnb company.

The two women got along fine at first. Fair says it wasn’t until a year into her tenure, in July 2018, that the two came into conflict. It began in earnest when Fair left an informal group chat led by Mia. She felt the texts, filled with criticism of Anderson and other Aquaticats, had become toxic.

But leaving the chat only raised the tension. Fair found herself arguing with Mia over little things — like part of a costume Fair had retrieved when it was left behind after a show. Mia, who organized the costumes for the team, texted Fair to drive it over to her house in Plantation right away. Fair refused, saying she’d return it before the next show.

“You’re making a huge mistake,” Mia texted.

“Are you threatening me?” Fair replied.

Mia texted back “lol,” before writing, “No snowflake I’m not threatening you, I’m just stating the obvious.”

On July 18, 2018, Fair tried to reconcile with Mia via a 13-minute, 45-second voice memo.

“We’re getting each other hyped up about the wrong things, like about negative things,” Fair says on the recording, which she saved. “Constantly complaining, which again I’m guilty of, we’re all guilty of. ...It’s something that I don’t want to be a part of.”

In rehashing the issues, Fair told Mia that Jeff, who accompanied his wife to the shows and often videotaped her performances, had been uncharacteristically unfriendly and had filmed Fair while she introduced the show to Wreck Bar patrons in a way that she felt was “intimidating.”

In her own voice-memo reply, Mia claimed her husband “never came from a negative place.” On the contrary: He cared about the Aquaticats and watched out for them during the show.

“Jeff is extremely protective of all of you,” Mia contended.
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Mia Mellies, erstwhile Aquaticat
Screenshot via TikTok
Fair says the tension only grew, leading to a poolside altercation at the edge of the pool.

As they were about to start a show on August 25, 2018, Fair says, she overheard Mia talking about her nearby with another Aquaticat, repeatedly referring to her as an “asshole.”

This time, Fair boiled over.

“I’m tired of hearing you yap, yap, yap, yap,” she recalls telling Mia.

“Well, you hate everyone here,” Mia responded.

“I don’t hate everyone here,” Fair retorted. “I hate you because you’re a bitch.”

“That’s it, you’re done,” Mia said authoritatively.

Fair then said the words she says she has beaten herself up about ever since.

“Well, why don’t you lose a few pounds and then call me?” she told Mia.

That was over the line and all the mermaids knew it. Fair says the words came out of her mouth only because Mia constantly spoke of “losing a few pounds.” She says she didn’t consider Mia to be overweight, but she knew it was a verbal blow that would land.

“I just snapped,” she says. “I’d been gaslit and bullied.”

The argument was quickly quelled, but it marked Mia’s last day as an Aquaticat. Anderson, the owner of the mermaid show, fired her for what Fair says was an accumulation of issues. Anderson declined to comment for this story.

Mia herself recounted the blowup and her firing in a video posted last year. She claimed Fair, whom she routinely called “Crazy Eyes,” was a “twist” who had instigated the dissension in the group. She said Fair made the weight comment knowing that she has body dysmorphia, a condition that causes its sufferers to obsess over perceived flaws in their appearance.

“Fucking evil cunt,” Mia said of Fair. “Anyway, I was so pissed off, I jumped out of the pool, and I didn’t swim. I called [Anderson] and told her what happened. Couple days later, I was fired. That bitch is still swimming.”

After the firing, Mia and Jeff began attacking both Fair and Anderson (and, to a lesser degree, mermaid Smiley) on social media. In November 2018, Jeff published a Facebook post that Fair found particularly mortifying.

“And to think we had all of [the mermaids] in our home and treated them like family,” he wrote. “We never held the fact that Whitney was a convicted-felon drug dealer who spent time in prison against her.”

In a subsequent TikTok video, Mia claimed Fair was restricted from owning a company because of her criminal record.

“She can’t really have a business in Florida,” Mia claimed in the video, “because she has had previous law enforcement entanglements which required her to spend a lot of sleepy overnights at a big institution with prison bars in them. You know what I mean? Like, I’m not talking about ‘I got arrested on a weekend.’ I’m talking about hard time.”

Fair, however, does own a legal business in Florida. She’s registered to vote and hasn’t done “hard time.” She says the only arrest in her life was a marijuana charge at the age of 18 that involved a small amount of cannabis — about a quarter-ounce. It occurred during a traffic stop on a road trip from California in the tiny panhandle town of Guymon, Oklahoma, where the book was thrown at Fair and a friend; she says both spent about a week in the local jail.

Part of the deal, she says, was that the felony case would be expunged after two years — meaning the record is now inaccessible to the public. Law-enforcement personnel, however, would likely have access to it via the restricted National Crime Information Center database.

Fair suspected that Jeff used his law-enforcement status to access the hidden information and smear her with a distorted version of it. When she requested the DAVID information from the state last year, she also submitted a request from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for criminal background checks conducted on her. FDLE refused to release the results, citing an active criminal investigation. Neither Fair nor Kollin knows what that investigation might be.

Fair suspected that Jeff used his law-enforcement status to access hidden information and smear her with a distorted version of it.

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Smiley, the co-plaintiff in Fair’s lawsuit, did receive her FDLE results, and they showed that Jeff Mellies had run a criminal background on her the same day in March 2018 that he’d run the DAVID check.

Despite repeated online attacks from Jeff and Mia, Fair didn’t return fire in kind. Instead, she says, she did her best to avoid the couple completely.

Then in November 2019, more than a year after Mia’s exit from the Aquaticats, the unthinkable happened: The couple moved into a rental home right next door to Fair in Fort Lauderdale.

Suddenly only a six-foot-high fence separated her from the Mellieses.

“I was like, this is a really bad joke, because already at this time I was looking over my shoulder all the time because of these people,” Fair says. “I was already scared.”

Separately, both Jeff and Mia Mellies have claimed — Mia in videos, Jeff in a police report — that the move was coincidental, but Fair says she felt as though she were being hunted. She initially looked for other places to live.

“This is super weird and it’s super scary,” she remembers thinking. “But it’s clearly happening for a reason, and I’m not going to run from these people. So I stayed.”

What the Security Camera Saw

Fair installed a security camera on the side of her house that faced their property, a decision that itself resulted in more conflict. Mia complained in one of her TikTok videos that she felt “violated” by the presence of the camera, in part because she and Jeff were sometimes “skyclad” — a term for nude associated with witchcraft — while in the backyard.

“We are two practicing pagans, so we do ritual work and practice and celebrate holidays back there,” Mia said. “Sometimes skyclad — you know what I mean.”

Fair says she never spied on the couple next door, but in August 2020 the camera did capture Jeff on her property at night, then scrambling back over the fence back into his yard. She says another video caught him looking over the fence in an area near her bedroom.
A few days later, the same camera caught the BSO lieutenant not only on her property but scaling a ladder he found there up the side of her house. The video clearly shows the bald, white-bearded Jeff, wearing a military-style T-shirt, climbing up to the security camera and placing duct tape over the lens.

Fair says that although she found this terrifying, she didn’t go to the police because she feared they might protect one of their own. She did, however, remove the tape from the camera and affix a “No Trespassing” sign to the side of her home.

On Thanksgiving 2020, the camera captured someone on the Mellieses’ side of the fence reaching over with a rake to knock down the sign.

That was when Fair decided to go to the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.

“I had no choice,” she tells New Times. “It was getting worse.”

The department issued Jeff a verbal no-trespass warning — meaning that if he came onto Fair’s property again, he could be criminally charged with trespassing. She also went to the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s internal affairs division, which in January 2021 sent Fair a letter confirming that BSO was investigating her complaint.

The next major flare-up occurred on April 4, 2021, when the Mellieses confronted Fair at about 8 p.m. at the foot of her driveway, complaining about colored lights Fair had installed on her property.

Fair was accompanied by her business partner, Pablo Caceres, who recorded the confrontation on his phone. When Caceres brought up Fair’s trespassing allegation, the lieutenant went on the verbal attack.

“Trespassing is a misdemeanor, you stupid fuck,” he said. “You can’t do anything about that. You have to show intent.”

Mia piped up, “He’s a cop, you douchebag.”

Jeff then called Fair a “nefarious fucking cunt.”

“Lying piece of crap,” Mia added. “Felon.”

“Get rid of these lights because they are bothering us,” Jeff demanded. “We’ve done nothing to you. If you want your house to look like a fucking whorehouse, do it on the other side of the property.”

Caceres told Jeff he was intimidating Fair.

“How’s it intimidating?” Jeff responded. “You’re a pussy. You’re a pussy. We can’t talk amongst ourselves?”

“I can talk with somebody that is not screaming at me,” Caceres countered.

As the couple walked away, Fair’s security camera captured Mia yelling back at Fair.

“You fucking dirty sullen cunt!” she screamed. “Oh, by the way, how was prison, Whitney? How many months did you do in prison, you piece of shit? I fucking can’t stand you. I hope you fucking die!”

The encounter marked the first time they’d interacted since the fracas at the Wreck Bar pool.

The following day, Jeff approached Fair once more, this time walking onto her property, where he again complained about the lights. When the allegation about being on her property at night near her bedroom window arose, Jeff called her insane and told her she wasn’t “pretty,” according to subsequent police reports.

Believing it was an explicit trespass on Jeff’s part, Fair again called the Fort Lauderdale Police Department (FLPD). Because she didn’t want the Mellieses to see her with the cops, she met Ofc. Kerri Hagerty on April 5 at the Galleria mall. There she told Hagerty the entire story and voiced her opinion, then unconfirmed, that the Mellieses had used restricted law-enforcement information to attack those whom they didn’t like.

Fair also shared the new developments with BSO internal affairs. On April 8, the agency issued a letter to Jeff Mellies ordering him to cease and desist from any contact whatsoever with Fair, including on social media, and to refrain from “personal visits, harassment, annoyance, threats, telephone calls, or intimidation.”

The BSO ordered Jeff Mellies to cease and desist from any contact with Fair, and to refrain from “personal visits, harassment, annoyance, threats, telephone calls, or intimidation.”

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The day Mellies received the letter from BSO, he called the FLPD to get his side of the story “on the record.” He told police that the problem with Fair stemmed from a motion light on her security camera that was so bright it was an annoyance. He also claimed Fair was using the camera to record him and his wife in their backyard.

He admitted he’d gone back onto Fair’s property and argued with her. He also admitted he had climbed the ladder at her home months before. He said he intended to unscrew the light bulbs from Fair’s motion sensor but noticed the camera and decided to tape it over.

The Mellieses also had a lawyer send Fair a “cease and desist” letter of their own. The May 6 missive from attorney Bruce Trybus demanded that Fair remove the security lights and camera from her property because they violated the couple’s “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Fair responded in a letter to the attorney, asserting that her security equipment was lawfully placed and had never been used for voyeuristic purposes. Jeff Mellies’ documented intrusions on her property only proved the security measures were necessary, she wrote.
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"I want justice," says Whitney Fair.
Photo courtesy of Whitney Fair
“I am trying to live my life without encountering daily hostility and harassment from you and your clients,” she stated.

It was a low point for Fair. She says she’d become so plagued by anxiety that she couldn’t eat; her weight dropped to 105 pounds, and she fell into despair.

“This is never gonna end, I can’t get away from these people,” she recalls thinking. “I literally have to move out of state. I didn’t know what to do. I felt stuck. You just feel helpless when this is happening to you and nobody can help you.”

Desperate, she searched online for local lawyers with experience in police misconduct and landed on Kollin. But after hearing Fair’s story, the attorney told her that as terrible as it may seem, a civil trespassing case wasn’t worth filing.

As he broke the news to Fair, he made a last-second suggestion that she investigate whether Jeff had improperly checked her driver’s license information and criminal background.

“That little remark at the end of the phone call changed everything,” she says.

“Okay, We Have a Case”

In May of last year, Fair submitted her public-records requests for the DAVID and criminal background searches performed on her. She also persuaded fellow mermaid Smiley, whom Mia also occasionally attacked on social media, and their boss Anderson to submit identical requests.

When the results came back in June, Fair called Kollin.

“Okay, we have a case,” Kollin told her.

The first order of business was to report the findings to BSO internal affairs, a procedure that marked Fair’s third visit to the agency. Shortly thereafter, on July 16, BSO sent Fair a letter informing her that her previous complaint was being closed on the grounds that “no misconduct issues can be identified.”

Fair says she was shocked that BSO found everything Jeff had done — smearing her on social media, coming onto her property, tampering with her security camera, shouting obscenities at her out in the street — didn’t at least constitute conduct unbecoming a law enforcement officer.

But there was positive news in the same letter. Broward Sheriff’s Lt. Johanna Palacio wrote that a new internal investigation had been opened into the alleged abuse of the DAVID system. According to Palacio, Fair would be notified when the investigation was complete.

No word has come from the agency, which doesn’t discuss open internal affairs investigations.

Though Jeff Mellies was ordered to leave Fair alone, that didn’t stop his wife, who continued posting attacks on Fair, as well as on Anderson and Smiley, on social media.

“I won’t stop talking about them and making fun of them until they discontinue their fucking hate campaign against my husband,” Mia says in one TikTok video. “You would think they would come after me, but that’s not what evil people do. Evil people want the person they are attacking to suffer watching their loved ones suffer.”

“I won’t stop talking about them and making fun of them until they discontinue their fucking hate campaign against my husband,” Mia says in one TikTok video.

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In a September 4, 2021, Instagram post under the handle “fire_witch_siren,” Mia wrote ominously that the “north remembers bitch, and it’s coming for house Zen.”

In a TikTok video, she painted Fair, Smiley, and Anderson as anti-American and anti-law enforcement. Mia, who hasn’t been shy about her support for Donald Trump, says in the video that she was offended that in an Instagram post that coincided with the end of the war in Afghanistan, Fair didn’t mention the deaths of 13 soldiers in a terrorist attack.

“They hate this fucking country and everybody that serves it,” Mia said. “We need to stop supporting these people...and they’re fucking businesses...and the Wreck Bar. Stop supporting them. They hate this fucking country, and they’re not shy about admitting it.”

Fair says she counts law-enforcement members in her own family but believes police officers must be held accountable when they do wrong. She has more recently moved away from the house next door to Jeff and Mia, and she’s still performing each weekend at the Wreck Bar with Anderson, Smiley, and the other aquatic dancers.

She worries about how her ex-neighbors will react, now that they've learned of the lawsuit.

“I’ve told people that if anything happens to me, then it was definitely them,” Fair says. “Who knows how she’s going to retaliate? Who knows what’s going to be online next? There’s no accountability.

"For a long time, I just wanted them to leave me alone. Now I want justice.”
Bob Norman serves as editor-in-chief for FLCGA News, a publication focusing on investigative reporting produced by the nonprofit Florida Center for Government Accountability. This story was reported in partnership with the FLCGA.