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Bay Pines VA Medical Center officer accused of assaulting fellow officer

ST. PETERSBURG — A police officer at Bay Pines VA Medical Center whom some colleagues said had such a bad temper they worried about him carrying a gun is now accused of assaulting a fellow officer.

Sgt. Ron Kempienski, 56, is accused of assaulting officer Darin Oakes on Jan. 23 at the Department of Veterans Affairs Bay Pines campus, home of the nation's fourth-busiest veterans hospital.

The VA would not release details of the incident or what the altercation may have been about. The St. Petersburg Times confirmed the incident with Pinellas prosecutors, who were called by the VA.

Oakes, 43, who declined to comment on Monday, is out on disability leave because of minor injuries he reported sustaining in the assault, which did not involve a weapon.

Kempienski has not been charged criminally, said Pinellas prosecutor Robert Bruce.

Bruce said on Monday he was told the VA first wanted to investigate allegations itself before making a decision on whether charges should be filed.

John Pickens, a regional VA spokesman, said a special Bay Pines administrative board will soon convene to take testimony and investigate "a number of allegations involving various police officers" at Bay Pines.

He declined to say whether that board was specifically investigating Kempienski nor would he detail the nature of the "number of allegations" to be examined.

Kempienski did not return calls for comment.

But Pickens said Kempienski is now on duty in the Bay Pines communication center, where he does not carry a gun and does not patrol the Bay Pines campus.

Since the summer, Kempienski has been the subject of several allegations by other officers and co-workers involving his temper.

In a July e-mail to Bay Pines police Chief Robert C. Shogren obtained by the Times, the Bay Pines officer in charge of handling the department's weapons said Kempienski had "anger management issues" with three different officers that same week.

"I feel that Sgt. Kempienski is too unstable and should not get his weapon back," wrote Bay Pines Officer Russell Houle. Neither Houle nor the chief could be reached for comment.

Bay Pines dispatcher Sara Masi, who was not among the three officers mentioned in Houle's message to the chief, sent an e-mail to her union and Bay Pines' assistant director just a few days later saying she didn't want to work with Kempienski.

"He in my opinion has an anger management issue, and I do not feel safe or comfortable by any means being alone with him," wrote Masi, who declined to comment on Monday.

Masi said in her e-mail that in November 2007, while she was seven months pregnant, Kempienski got angry and started shouting at her because Masi had interrupted him while he spoke.

Masi said she tried to walk away, but that Kempienski followed her while shouting. She said she started to cry.

"He showed complete disregard for my well-being and the safety of my unborn child," she wrote. "I have felt threatened by him in the past, and he just recently threatened one of our dispatchers."

Masi said she had heard that Kempienski's supervisors had taken his weapon away from him three previous times, including for anger management issues. The Times could not confirm this because VA officials declined to comment.

"Apparently, Sgt. Kempienski is going to be issued his weapon once he completes training … and I feel very strongly about this and at least want my concern documented," Masi wrote.

"He is creating a hostile work environment, and I do not feel safe at work," she said.

The Bay Pines police force is composed of about 21 officers who are armed and possess full police powers, including the ability to make arrests.

William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 269-5306.

Bay Pines VA Medical Center officer accused of assaulting fellow officer 03/03/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 3, 2009 9:46pm]
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