The St. Pete Beach Police Department closed Sunday, quietly and without incident. Or at least it seemed that way.
On Tuesday, former St. Pete Beach police officer Todd R. Brien filed a lawsuit against his former boss, now-retired Chief David Romine. In the suit, which also names City Manager Mike Bonfield, Brien claimed that he had been fired in retaliation for advocating against closing the department and bringing in the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office to oversee law enforcement.
"Terminating any employee is never an easy decision," Bonfield said Friday. "We are confident the action taken with Mr. Brien was legal and we will defend ourselves vigorously."
Romine could not be reached for comment.
Official documents and emails attached to the case show that Romine fired Brien on July 19 for failing to "satisfactorily complete" his probationary period. Brien, who had been hired in 2011, was still a probationary officer and could be dismissed for almost any reason.
Brien's termination notice came nine days after he had emailed St. Pete Beach Mayor Steve McFarlin. In his email, Brien wrote about a traffic accident that occurred on July 4 on the Corey Avenue Bridge. He had reported to the scene of the accident, only to be told it was technically in South Pasadena, making it the sheriff's problem.
"Our dispatcher was on hold for about 10 minutes with a recorded message waiting to have the PCSO respond," he wrote, adding that his response time was markedly faster than the sheriff deputy's time.
"So the question I pose to you is: do you really know what you are going to get if the proposed change is implemented as opposed to knowing what you already have?" he wrote.
A day later, McFarlin forwarded Brien's email to a St. Pete Beach sergeant. "This type of hype in either direction is unacceptable," he wrote.
The complaint blames Bonfield and other city officials not only for supporting Brien's firing, but for urging the chief to dismiss him. Four of the police force's sergeants wrote letters defending Brien.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.