No criminal charges after investigation of Port Richey Police Department

Published February 27 2018
Updated February 27 2018

PORT RICHEY — The city’s police chief is claiming exoneration after a state investigation into allegations that his department shredded officer discipline records concluded with no criminal charges filed.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement in December turned over the results of its six-month investigation to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office. The agency told prosecutors it found no grounds for a criminal prosecution.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett wrote in a letter to FDLE that he agreed with the finding. It is the second time in three years FDLE has investigated department practices with similar findings.

In this latest case, Port Richey City Manager Vince Lupo asked the FDLE in June 2017 to investigate a television news report about problems with Port Richey police personnel records. FDLE reports show an officer admitted to shredding documents and that a transition between police chiefs prohibited a full accounting of what is missing.

FDLE reports show record handling became erratic during the transition between former chief Rob Lovering and Chief Gerard DeCanio. Lovering came in two years earlier amid another FDLE investigation that revealed officers were buying discounted vehicles at auction from the Port Richey impound lot.

No criminal charges were filed in that case, but Lovering disciplined several officers and the department began keeping disciplinary records at the police department, separate from files in the city’s Human Resources office. Lovering resigned in October 2016 amid a dispute with Port Richey’s mayor, Dale Massad, over budget cuts.

DeCanio changed the policy, so all records stayed in Human Resources, preventing FDLE from auditing police records "due to the procedural maintenance changes by the two chiefs," the report said.

FDLE concluded that "information is now missing," and believed some was shredded by Port Richey Officer Jeffrey Cox under the supervision of his former boss, Captain Eric Barcelo. Barcelo resigned from the department in October, telling the Tampa Bay Times at the time he left due to family concerns.

Cox told agents that Barcelo gave him a "few papers" and said Cox could discard them. Cox said the papers concerned "a recent disciplinary issue he was involved with." Another document held a screenshot of a swastika from a Facebook page, which Cox told agents was part of an internal investigation involving another officer — Erin McGuire.

Cox shredded the documents, FDLE reports said. Barcelo later chastised Cox for shredding the swastika document, but said he would not be reprimanded because it was a copy of an original in Human Resources, Cox told agents.

McGuire told agents that Cox called her after the shredding, saying "he did her a solid." McGuire did not approve and reported the shredding to her superior, the FDLE report said.

In a later meeting McGuire had with Barcelo, the captain referenced files from the Lovering administration and said "he was going to allow all of the officers who were disciplined in this file to shred their records," McGuire told agents.

McGuire later resigned.

In interviews with investigators, DeCanio denied knowledge of document shredding other than a document copy he shredded because an original existed in the Human Resources office.

The matter is now closed, with record keeping practices changed and no internal investigation needed, DeCanio told the Tampa Bay Times last month.

"For us, it’s over and done with," he said.