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After admitting child porn, former Tampa officer under state scrutiny

TAMPA — A man who earned a quarter-century of accolades for making city neighborhoods safer but drew criminal charges for downloading child pornography at home won't likely work as a police officer again.

The state panel that certifies law enforcement agents opened a case Tuesday against former Tampa police Sgt. Jonathan N. Gamson after learning that he had pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to a felony.

"If you plead guilty to a felony, regardless of adjudication, your certification is revoked," said Gretl Plessinger, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The FDLE staffs the 19-member Criminal Justice Standards & Training Commission, a body that certifies sworn officers and sanctions those who fall short.

Gamson, 53, retired without notice from the Tampa Police Department at 5:30 p.m. May 20, 2011, his personnel file shows.

Nine days earlier, agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security searched his Valrico home for traces of child porn downloaded from the Internet as part of a global effort to detect child predators.

The agents inspected two computers. They seized one and left the other, a Gateway, behind after capturing details of its Internet history, records show.

On the day of Gamson's retirement, the agents came back for the Gateway, having found more signs of illegal porn sites visited.

It was in the garage.

Minus the hard drive.

"The Gateway computer had been moved," prosecutors said in a court document, "and defendant Gamson, without questioning, told law enforcement that the hard drive was gone because of his concerns regarding someone 'hacking' into his unsecured Internet connection in his home."

On the first computer, investigators found images of five children including a baby involved in sexually explicit conduct, court records state.

Gamson retired quietly and quickly — so quickly that no misconduct was cited in the separation paper that the Police Department completed for the state certification commission. There was a check mark beside "Retired: Not involving misconduct."

At that point, his supervisors had only the suspicions of federal investigators; Gamson hadn't been found guilty or even charged, explained police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

Top brass at the department, including Chief Jane Castor, knew the officer was under federal investigation before his home was searched, McElroy confirmed Tuesday.

"One of the assistant chiefs was contacted by ICE and told, 'We believe one of your officers may be involved in criminal activity,' " McElroy said. "And they had probable cause for a search warrant."

Seventeen months later, on Oct. 23, a federal grand jury returned an indictment: three counts of possession of child pornography and one count of destroying records. Gamson, arrested the next day, was released on $35,000 bail and into the custody of his wife.

Chief Castor and two assistant chiefs discussed the indictment but decided to let the prosecution run its course before commenting publicly, McElroy said.

Monday night, after the Tampa Bay Times drew the link between a porn defendant's plea deal and his police officer past, McElroy researched the history and issued a blistering statement about the officer that spoke of "betrayal" and a "mammoth fall."

She said Tuesday the department has a record of transparency, recalling the day when a police officer got fired for having sex in a squad car. "Good, bad or ugly, we stand up and address it," she said.

But this investigation belonged to the federal government, frequently tight-lipped until verdicts are in hand. And the Police Department didn't want to do anything to jeopardize the federal prosecution, she said.

"In this case it was critically important — and we're held to an even higher standard — because it's one of our former officers," she said.

No internal affairs investigation was launched on the child porn charges. By law, the criminal case had to be completed first, McElroy said, because a criminal defendant can refuse self-incrimination — not an option for police officers under internal review.

Gamson signed a federal plea agreement last week — admitting to one count of possession of child pornography — and it was accepted Monday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Jenkins.

He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. A sentencing date has not been set. He remains free on bail with a nighttime curfew and GPS monitoring.

His attorney did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

In addition to the federal charge and the certification matter, Gamson's police pension also faces scrutiny.

"This will be referred to a special counsel for investigation and evaluation for possible forfeiture," said Detective Richard Griner, chairman of the Tampa Fire and Police Pension Fund.

Gamson receives a pension of $6,253.52 a month.

Times staff writer Philip Morgan contributed to this report.

After admitting child porn, former Tampa officer under state scrutiny 02/05/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 12:02am]

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