Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Public safety

St. Pete police employee fired after personal rifle ‘accidentally’ fired inside HQ

ST. PETERSBURG — Scott Hughes, a St. Petersburg police forensic technician, wasn’t allowed to bring his personal Colt AR-15 semiautomatic rifle into headquarters. Nevertheless, the civilian employee did so for years, according to the department.

Then on June 17, while Hughes cleared the gun of ammunition inside the forensic services office, police said a round was "accidentally" fired. The bullet flew out of the building at 1300 First Ave N, shattering a window and crossing the street.

No one was injured, and no vehicles were damaged. Still, a disciplinary review board met Monday and decided Hughes violated two department general orders, two city rules and a state law.

St. Petersburg police Chief Tony Holloway then fired Hughes, ending his 10-year career with the department.

"Everyone needs a reminder once in a while, but it should be self-explanatory that you should not be bringing a weapon to a workplace," Holloway said. "Especially a weapon like that."

At the meeting, the chief said Hughes told them that he had been discretely storing the rifle in his locker for years, since his previous supervisor gave him permission. That supervisor retired about two years ago, spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez said, and the new one didn’t know Hughes was storing his personal weapon inside the building. Still, a supervisor cannot give an employee permission to violate city regulations.

The command review board determined that Hughes violated a city rule forbidding all civilian employees from bringing firearms onto city property. A second city rule came into play because it was a serious infraction.

The board also decided Hughes broke two Police Department general orders. The first requires employees to be "competent in their assigned duties," and the second mirrors a state law that prohibits civilians from bringing firearms into police stations, sheriff’s offices and highway patrol stations. Hughes will not face criminal charges, however.

"In this particular situation, because of the investigation, (police commanders) felt it was most appropriately handled as an administrative internal issue rather than a criminal issue," Fernandez said. She said the board took into consideration that Hughes’ former boss had once given him permission.

The chief said Hughes would bring the weapon into the building in a gun case and remove it from the case before placing it in his locker. There are no security screenings for employees entering the police station. It also would not have been uncommon for Hughes to be seen with firearms. He regularly brought in guns confiscated from crime scenes into the building for analysis.

Fernandez, though, could not say why Hughes felt the need to bring his rifle into police headquarters, or how often he did so.

The incident marked the first time in 27 years — since the department began keeping electronic records — a civilian accidentally discharged a weapon on police property, the agency said. Sworn officers have occasionally discharged their weapons by accident. They are usually reprimanded for that, Fernandez said, and not fired.

Hughes was represented in the meeting by an attorney from the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association. He will be allowed to appeal Holloway’s decision, and Hughes can take the case to arbitration if he doesn’t like the outcome.

Holloway said the incident left him "pretty upset." But the incident has provided the opportunity to remind civilian employees and sworn officers about department rules and gun safety:

"They’re being made aware of general orders to make sure they’re storing their guns correctly, loading their guns correctly and also taking their guns apart correctly."

Contact Josh Solomon at [email protected] or (813) 909-4613. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.

Comments

Hernando sheriff: Shooter injures three; in standoff with SWAT

BROOKSVILLE — A shooter was on the loose Tuesday night after injuring three victims, according to Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis.The sheriff would not say if there were any fatalities.The Sheriff’s Office received a report about the at about 9 p.m. Dep...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Sheriff: Pasco man planned, then carried out neighbor’s execution

Sheriff: Pasco man planned, then carried out neighbor’s execution

HOLIDAY — A neighborhood dispute ended in gunfire when one neighbor executed another on Tuesday, deputies said, as the victim kneeled in his own front yard begging for his life.The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said the execution, which took place ju...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Deputies identify 11-month-old who drowned, no other details released

Deputies identify 11-month-old who drowned, no other details released

BRANDON — The 11-month-old girl who drowned in an apartment complex pond on Monday was identified as Deleah Morgan by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday.Deputies released no other details about the incident or the ongoing investigation....
Updated: 9 hours ago
Map: Where to park for Gasparilla and the NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa

Map: Where to park for Gasparilla and the NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa

The Gasparilla Parade of Pirates and NHL All-Star Weekend overlap Saturday in downtown Tampa. Here are highlights of what to know before you go.GETTING THEREThe parade route runs generally along Bayshore Boulevard north to Ashley Street (In blue on t...
Published: 01/23/18
Troopers: U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. now open except for inside lane

Troopers: U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. now open except for inside lane

CLEARWATER — Officials have reopened U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. except for the inside lane.  The entire highway was closed for a brief period Tuesday while workers cleaned up a chemical spill after a Terminix truck flipped over. According t...
Published: 01/23/18
Man sentenced for smuggling king cobras in potato chip cans

Man sentenced for smuggling king cobras in potato chip cans

LOS ANGELES — A Southern California man has been sentenced to five months in federal prison for smuggling three highly venomous king cobras hidden in potato chip canisters through the mail.In a plea agreement, Rodrigo Franco admitted smuggling anothe...
Published: 01/23/18
He drove into Tampa Bay and walked away uninjured, troopers say

He drove into Tampa Bay and walked away uninjured, troopers say

A Miami resident lost control of his truck and tumbled into Tampa Bay Tuesday morning — and walked away unscathed.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Osvaldo Jares, 25, fell asleep at the wheel of his 2002 Ford F150 before losing control and dri...
Published: 01/23/18
Parents of 12-year-old Florida girl say she was bullied into suicide

Parents of 12-year-old Florida girl say she was bullied into suicide

Gabriella "Gabbie" Green went to her mother, Tanya Green, for advice on some "girl drama" and harsh text and social media messages she was receiving from classmates at Surfside Middle School in Panama City Beach.Less than an hour after that conversat...
Published: 01/23/18

Truck carrying frozen chickens catches fire on I-75 in Brandon

Southbound lanes on Interstate 75 were closed in Brandon early Tuesday morning after a semi-trailer carrying frozen chickens caught fire.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 52-year-old Brian Keith Jester, of Venice, was driving southbound near S...
Published: 01/23/18

Alaska hit by 7.9 earthquake; tsunami warning canceled

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck off Alaska’s Kodiak Island early Tuesday, prompting a tsunami warning for a large swath of the state’s coast.Officials at the National Tsunami Center canceled the warning after a few tense hours a...
Published: 01/23/18