Sunday, June 24, 2018
News Roundup

Plant City police chief fired for having affair on public's time

PLANT CITY — Plant City's police chief has been fired after revelations he carried on an affair with a married woman at taxpayer expense and abused his authority as an officer, the city manager announced Tuesday.

Chief Steven S. Singletary, 45, who is married, improperly used sick days to meet the woman for sex, a city investigation concluded, and sometimes met her while he reported being at work. Some of the meetings happened at a city-owned firing range, the woman told investigators, and a recent meeting happened while Singletary attended a conference in Orlando at the city's expense.

Singletary admitted the affair, city officials said, but denied misusing sick time or having sexual rendezvous with her while on the clock. The woman — Melissa Hardwick, 35, a public school teacher — provided investigators a list of dates in 2013 when she and Singletary met, and city officials concluded some of the days Singletary called in sick or reported working.

"The public trust in this case was violated," City Manager Greg Horwedel said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference in City Hall. "He was not fit for continuing to serve as police chief."

Singletary's termination is effective today. An attempt to reach him was unsuccessful.

A second officer, Sgt. Mark Mathis, was fired Tuesday, Horwedel said, for falsifying dispatch records related to a meeting between Singletary and Hardwick that he witnessed. The incident was detailed in a 13-page investigative report Plant City released Tuesday. The investigation was conducted by Assistant City Manager Bill McDaniel — Singletary's predecessor as police chief — and retired Sarasota police Chief John Lewis.

The affair dates at least to February 2011, the report states, and the incident that led to Sgt. Mathis' firing. Mathis responded to a call from a business owner reporting suspicious vehicles on his property. Then a captain, Singletary was meeting Hardwick at a property where they routinely met for sex, she told investigators.

Singletary approached the business owner, flashed his police badge and told him, "It would be in your best interest to let us leave," the owner later told investigators. Then Sgt. Mathis arrived, and he talked to Singletary.

In his report of the incident, Mathis wrote the suspicious vehicles were gone by the time he arrived, city documents show, and made no mention of Singletary. Mathis could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Singletary had a salary of $85,000, and oversaw 68 sworn officers, 22 civilian employees and a $9 million budget. He has been on the force since 1996. He took over for McDaniel, the current assistant city manager, as interim chief in December 2012, and was permanently appointed chief last March. Singletary has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Saint Leo University and is married with three sons.

The investigation started when Jason Hardwick, Melissa's husband, went to City Hall on Jan. 17. He told Singletary's bosses about the affair, and that Singletary and his wife, Courtney, had told Jason Hardwick to not go public with details of the affair.

The previous week, Jason Hardwick, 38, had confronted his wife and Singletary at a Bahama Breeze restaurant in Orlando and took photographs of them. Singletary was there, his expenses covered by the city, to attend the Florida Police Chiefs Association conference. Melissa Hardwick had planned to spend the night with him, she told investigators.

Both Jason and Melissa Hardwick gave sworn statements to city investigators.

In his interview, Jason Hardwick said Plant City Commissioner William J. Keel, a friend of Chief Singletary's, had also tried to prevent Melissa Hardwick from talking to city officials about the affair. Keel sent text messages to a friend of Melissa Hardwick's, Jason Hardwick said, and asked the friend to urge his wife to keep quiet.

Keel could not be reached Tuesday. City Manager Horwedel, when asked about the allegations involving Keel, said investigators determined no crimes had occurred.

Hardwick is the daughter of former Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Ron Alderman, and she and her husband live on a Plant City property next door to Alderman. Ron Alderman and his wife ordered a reporter off the property Tuesday before he could knock on Hardwick's door.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Will Hobson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3400.

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