Deeper inquiry into Kenneth City police to involve Sheriff Coats, others

KENNETH CITY — Although some residents and Town Council members are suspicious about the results of his inquiry into the Police Department, Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats will be helping with a more in-depth investigation into allegations of sloppy practices and lax management of Kenneth City's cops.

But the Sheriff's Office will be only one of several police agencies that council member Troy Campbell wants help from as he tries to determine what actions should be taken. Campbell, who has been on the Town Council only since early March, is charged with daily oversight of the Police Department.

Campbell already has consulted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for guidance. He declined to identify the other agencies.

"We don't want to rush to justice," Campbell said Friday. He also said he wants to include the other four council members in the process.

Campbell's decision to accept help from Coats follows a Wednesday workshop when council members refused to allow Mayor Teresa Zemaitis to present her own findings and Coats' findings about the department to town residents. Some council members doubted the motives behind the investigation, which Zemaitis authorized.

Some wondered if she had set out to target police Chief Douglas Pasley or one particular shift of officers, as the investigation indicated that many of the problems were on the day shift. And they mistrusted Coats' motives, saying he might be biased because he wants to take over the Kenneth City department to help himself out of a budget bind.

Coats said the charge of bias is "absolutely not true." He said Zemaitis told him she was getting complaints from residents and wanted to check them. Zemaitis had tried to bring up the issues before the council but had been rebuffed.

"She was at her wits' end and called me and said, 'Sheriff, I don't know where to go,' " Coats said. "I don't think the mayor had any idea what the (computer) activity would reveal."

That call, he said, was in late November or early December. Coats first collected information from the computer logs for Sept. 1 to Nov. 30. Kenneth City officers are dispatched by the sheriff, he said, so all the information in their computers/GPS systems is stored by his office. It's information, he said, that his supervisors use daily in overseeing Pinellas deputies. Zemaitis then asked him to go back and recheck to make sure the findings were not anomalies.

Coats then looked at computer data from Dec. 1 to March 20.

The data show numerous instances when on-duty Kenneth City officers were not within the town limits. In some of those cases, they called in that they were eating a meal. In others, they were out of town on police-related work, such as court time, serving warrants or contacting witnesses. But many times officers had called in that they were available to immediately answer calls for help, but were not within the town limits. In some cases, they were as far away as an address north of Coachman Road in Clearwater or on the Howard Frankland Bridge.

Coats declined to comment on the implications of that information.

"It's up to the mayor or the police chief … to apply that data," Coats said. "I have no interest in the outcome of this other than the best interest of the citizens."

Reach Anne Lindberg at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Deeper inquiry into Kenneth City police to involve Sheriff Coats, others 04/30/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 30, 2011 5:31am]

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