Prosecutors have decided not to pursue felony charges against two former Pinellas jail deputies who were accused of official misconduct after an altercation with an inmate.
One of the deputies also was accused of misdemeanor battery for striking the inmate, which several other prisoners said they witnessed. Prosecutors decided not to purse that charge as well.
The decision was made because the inmate "has zero credibility based on his criminal history and testimonial demeanor" and the other inmates provided "inconsistent statements," according to a memo from Assistant State Attorney William Loughery.
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Wednesday he disagreed with that assessment of the inmate. "Is he an angel? Absolutely not. But he didn't lie about this."
Gualtieri stands by the decision to seek charges against his own deputies, but said he understands a prosecutor has to weigh whether there is "a successful likelihood of conviction."
The cases stem from an incident at the jail on Oct. 3, 2013. An inmate, Casio Burton, 28, waved and yelled at a window inside the jail's control room, which is surrounded by thick plate glass and deputy workstations. Burton was trying to get the attention of Deputy Mark Capanna.
As he did, Deputy Klaus Reinert left the room and asked Burton what he wanted. The two began yelling at each other, Gualtieri said in October, using "a lot of profanity, a lot of swearing, a lot of F words."
Reinert returned to the control room and Burton kept at it. When Reinert came back out, he told Burton to shut up and used a vulgar phrase to describe Burton's mouth, Gualtieri said then.
Burton shot back with a similar insult, but tied it to Reinert's mother. Reinert responded by punching Burton below the eye, Gualtieri said at the time.
Reinert was later booked into the jail on a misdemeanor battery charge. He and Capanna also were accused of felony misconduct charges based on allegations they falsified reports they eventually wrote about the fight.
But prosecutor Loughery said there wasn't enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Reinert committed the crime of battery.
It's clear Reinert and Burton were arguing and exchanging vulgarities, which resulted in physical confrontation, "but there was insufficient proof to determine who was the aggressor or if it was just a mutual combat situation," Loughery said.
What about the nine inmates who claimed Reinert hit Burton?
Their statements were inconsistent and sometimes contradictory, he said. Some inmates were located in places where they couldn't actually see the fight.
Asked if the State Attorney's Office was reluctant to follow through on charges against law enforcement officers, Loughery said no. "We would be prosecuting the case if we felt we had sufficient evidence."
Burton has a lengthy criminal history that includes convictions for battery, burglary, drug possession and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Reinert declined to comment Wednesday. Capanna could not be reached. Both deputies resigned last year.