Pasco-Hernando law academy fires three over handling of case of instructor who had a sexually explicit video of a student

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco-Hernando Community College has cleaned house at its law enforcement academy following an internal investigation into a part-time instructor who had a sexually explicit video of a female student.

The college said its investigation revealed, among other things, that sexual relationships between part-time instructors and students at the academy were not unusual, that officials at the academy in Dade City were aware of the problem and they did nothing about it.

PHCC fired three academy officials: Criminal Justice Training Center director Dan Griffith, program coordinator Jim Lefevre and part-time coordinator of the evening program Greg Schnake.

Interim officials have been appointed, and the school said it will immediately begin a search for permanent replacements.

After an inquiry from the St. Petersburg Times in June, the college revealed that it had recently fired part-time academy instructor Jeffrey Gattuso. The official reason was inappropriate use of college computers.

A male student in Gattuso's class used a classroom computer to check his own e-mail during a class break and found Gattuso's personal e-mail account on the screen. It contained an explicit video showing a female student whom the male student recognized.

He forwarded it from Gattuso's e-mail account to another one to preserve it. A week later, another instructor noticed the student seemed upset. The student said he felt intimidated by Gattuso, who had reprimanded him harshly for a minor uniform violation. That's when he mentioned the video.

Gattuso was confronted about the incident but did not admit anything, the college said. But based on information provided by the student — including the e-mail forwarding trail that traced the video back to Gattuso's Hotmail account — Gattuso was terminated on the spot.

In early July, the same week the allegations at the academy came to light, Gattuso also was fired from his job as a state prison guard. He had worked as a sergeant at Polk Correctional Institution. Department of Corrections officials said during a shift on April 9 in which Gattuso was in command of the control room, he failed to reset the fence alarms and left areas unguarded.

He began working for the Corrections Department in 2000, first at Florida State Prison, then at Zephyrhills Correctional Institution. In 2002, according to his termination letter, he received a written reprimand for conduct unbecoming a public employee, and in 2007 was suspended for 10 days for negligence.

Gattuso is the brother of former Pasco sheriff's Deputy Robert Scott Gattuso, the subject of numerous internal investigations during his 20-year career. Scott Gattuso was fired once by a previous sheriff but appealed and was reinstated. In one investigation from 2005, he was accused of filing a false insurance claim on a personal vehicle. His former wife told the Times that Jeffrey Gattuso was involved in the scam. Scott Gattuso was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.

PHCC's investigation into the sex video spanned four months. The results were released this week. Among the findings:

• Program staff members were aware that sexual relationships between part-time instructors and cadets were not unusual in the academy but they took no action to address the issue.

• Program staff members mishandled allegations regarding Gattuso's inappropriate conduct with a female cadet in a previous Law Enforcement Academy class. Instead of following standard college policy, Griffith placed Gattuso on a "secret probation." This disciplinary action was not documented or reported to college administrators.

• Program staff members failed to fully cooperate in the investigation by withholding pertinent information in the initial stages. After the discovery of the video and termination of Gattuso, a perfunctory investigation that included interviews with cadets in the Law Enforcement Academy was conducted without notifying college administrators. These interviews were conducted without guidance by the college's administration or attorney, and information gathered in the interviews was not properly recorded or filed.

The college also said that the matter has prompted it to begin reviewing, updating and revising all program procedures, including personnel policies and the Law Enforcement and Corrections Academy cadet manual.

"It is clear that there have been problems associated with the former administration of the law enforcement and corrections programs," PHCC spokeswoman Lucy Miller said in a statement. "New leadership at the academy will re-emphasize the importance of adherence to college policies and procedures and the need for the utmost professionalism and integrity of the program."

Pasco-Hernando law academy fires three over handling of case of instructor who had a sexually explicit video of a student 10/28/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 28, 2009 11:14pm]

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