Tuesday, October 23, 2018
News Roundup

Pinellas detective dressed as Progress Energy worker in search of marijuana

A Pinellas sheriff's detective says that in an effort to seek out homegrown marijuana, he donned a Progress Energy uniform as a "ruse" and then entered a homeowner's property without a search warrant.

The deputy's comments came in a formal interview with an attorney representing people charged with growing marijuana.

When the Tampa Bay Times showed the interview transcript to Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, he quickly disavowed the tactic.

"I was appalled by it," Gualtieri said Wednesday. "I think it's wrong. It's not what we should have been doing at all." He said he did not know of the incident until contacted this week by the Times.

Gualtieri said that he instituted a new policy Wednesday preventing deputies from using corporate uniforms without permission from their own supervisors and "express written permission of that corporate entity."

While wearing the uniform, Detective Paul Giovannoni found no evidence of marijuana, and the resident of the home was not charged with any crime.

But the revelation follows others about tactics the Sheriff's Office used while investigating "grow houses," and conducting surveillance on the Simply Hydroponics shop in Largo. The Sheriff's Office used a camera outside the store, which has since been removed, to gather information on customers. In one of the investigations, a deputy was suspended for five days for mishandling evidence.

Attorney John Trevena, who conducted the interview of the detective, called a deposition, called it "indicative of problems with the narcotics unit at the Sheriff's Office that go beyond just this trespassing incident. … It is apparent now that this is a rogue unit, and there needs to be an outside agency to investigate."

A law professor who reviewed the deposition at the request of the Times, Bruce Jacob of the Stetson University College of Law, said "that's obviously an illegal tactic to pretend that you work for Progress Energy to get on someone's property."

Generally, law enforcement officers need a search warrant to enter someone's property without their permission.

In the transcript, Giovannoni said, "I did attempt, one time, to make contact with a gentleman, I did have a Progress Energy shirt on, and he led me to the rear of his property — actually he led me to the side of his property, and that was it."

When Trevena asked him why, the detective said, "It was just as a ruse, in an attempt to see if — if he didn't let me back there, to see if I smelled marijuana."

Giovannoni said he didn't think he actually called himself a Progress Energy employee, but said the resident probably assumed he was one.

Giovannoni acknowledged he had not sought a search warrant. Early in the interview he denied using a uniform in this way, but he brought it up himself later, saying he had forgotten it.

The sheriff said he spoke to the detective's supervisors about the incident Wednesday, and provided this account:

Gualtieri said Giovannoni never intended to go to the resident's back or side yard. But Giovannoni did intend to get the resident to open his front door, in hopes of glimpsing or smelling marijuana plants inside.

But Gualtieri said the homeowner began asking about problems he was having with his power usage, and went around the house to the meter. So Giovannoni went along, essentially caught in his own ruse.

But even going to the front door in a phony uniform wasn't proper, Gualtieri said. If he had been in a deputy's uniform, the resident could have decided whether to open the door. This way, he didn't know he was opening his door to law enforcement.

Gualtieri called it "contrary to good policing and respecting individual rights and it's wrong." If the detective had smelled marijuana and used that information to get a search warrant, "I don't think it would pass constitutional muster," said Gualtieri, who also is a lawyer.

That sounds a different note from another sheriff's employee, Cpl. Michael Sciarrino, who gave a sworn interview with Trevena. Asked about the uniform, Sciarrino said, "I don't think that that's improper because Progress Energy would have the right to go up to their own meter during normal business hours to do it, so that's where I was falling under the assumption that he would be able to do that."

Although Gualtieri criticized the tactic, he was less quick to criticize his detective. "He's a young detective who I think thought he was just being creative," Gualtieri said. "I put more responsibility with the supervision." He said he wanted to think about whether to discipline anyone.

Giovannoni said in his deposition that he got the uniform from a Progress Energy employee.

Progress Energy spokeswoman Suzanne Grant called this "an isolated case of an employee acting alone without approval or authority," and contrary to policy. She said Progress Energy "doesn't permit or support anyone, including law enforcement, to pose as employees." She said customers can call the utility's customer service numbers to confirm an employee's identity.

She said the worker who supplied the uniform no longer works for Progress Energy, but declined to say more.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8232.

Comments
Grammy Award winning Christian vocalist performs in Sun City Center

Grammy Award winning Christian vocalist performs in Sun City Center

Steve Green, Christian vocalist, will perform at Trinity Baptist Church. He's celebrating 31 years in the Christian music industry.
Updated: 3 minutes ago
Pinellas substitute teacher brings a gun to school, and is escorted out

Pinellas substitute teacher brings a gun to school, and is escorted out

Police removed a substitute teacher from Largoís Anona Elementary School on Tuesday after discovering the teacher was in possession of a gun, according to the Pinellas County school district.In a call to parents, principal Ann Welsh said the substitu...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
Ruskin motorcyclist crashes, fatally struck while lying on road

Ruskin motorcyclist crashes, fatally struck while lying on road

After colliding with a boat trailer on US-41, a motorcyclist was ejected from his vehicle and lying on the road. He was then struck by another vehicle traveling northbound and died from his injuries.
Updated: 19 minutes ago
Lazydays acquires Tennessee RV Supercenter

Lazydays acquires Tennessee RV Supercenter

SEFFNER ó Lazydays Holdings Inc., the Seffner-based RV dealership, is acquiring Tennessee RV Supercenter, the company announced Tuesday. The deal, for which financial details were not disclosed, is expected to finalize within the next two months. "We...
Updated: 21 minutes ago
Whatís behind Yanni Gourdeís strong start for the Lightning

Whatís behind Yanni Gourdeís strong start for the Lightning

Yanni Gourde has a simple goal this season, and it's the same one he had last season: Play 82 games.The Lightning forward knows how much each game counts. Gourde was just short of the NHL's cutoff to count a rookie season two years ago. So he wa...
Updated: 25 minutes ago
Land O'Lakes man killed after losing control, striking utility pole

Land O'Lakes man killed after losing control, striking utility pole

A Land O' Lakes man was killed while speeding northbound down County Road 583 when he lost control of his vehicle, veered into the shoulder and slammed into a utility poll.
Updated: 27 minutes ago
Residents continue to find flaws with Upper Tampa Bay Trail reroute

Residents continue to find flaws with Upper Tampa Bay Trail reroute

A developer hopes to rezone land around the trail for an apartment complex, but the plan has drawn opposition.
Updated: 1 hour ago
The president says itís okay, claims Tampa man accused of groping woman on flight

The president says itís okay, claims Tampa man accused of groping woman on flight

A Tampa man accused of groping a woman during an airline flight said "the President of the United States says itís okay to grab women by their private parts," according to a criminal complaint.Bruce Michael Alexander, 49, grabbed the woman at least t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bucs agree to terms with former Cardinals linebacker Kevin Minter

Bucs agree to terms with former Cardinals linebacker Kevin Minter

Two days after losing Kwon Alexander and Jack Cichy to  season-ending injuries, the Bucs agreed to terms with former Cardinals linebacker Kevin Minter following a workout Tuesday.Minter, 27, played in nine games last season with the Cincinnati B...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Man fatally shoots stepfather, then himself in Tampa apartment, deputies say

Man fatally shoots stepfather, then himself in Tampa apartment, deputies say

TAMPA ó A woman concerned that she hadnít heard from her husband came home Tuesday to find that her adult son had shot the man and then himself, authorities said.Juan Luis Hernandez II, 30, fatally shot his stepfather, Michael Edward Kurz, and then h...
Updated: 1 hour ago