A Clearwater police officer whose dashboard camera appeared to contradict the department's assertion that he wasn't chasing a motorcyclist who died in a February crash on the Courtney Campbell Parkway received a written reprimand for the incident, Clearwater police said Monday.
A letter of discipline given to Nicholas Giordano said the officer did not use "due caution and judgment" in trying to stop several motorcyclists speeding in excess of 120 mph on Feb. 20. Giordano's unmarked police car hit 145 mph during the attempted traffic stop, the department said.
But the letter said the incident did "not meet the strictest definition of a pursuit."
Still, a memo by Maj. Daniel Slaughter, Clearwater's patrol division commander, to police Chief Anthony Holloway, in explaining the decision to reprimand Giordano, appeared to hedge on whether the incident constituted a chase.
"I find that the actions of Officer Giordano are arguably a pursuit due to the speeds involved and perceived actions of the motorcycle group," Slaughter told the chief. "However, the actions are also arguably not a pursuit due to the facts that the event was short in duration and attempts to stop were on two different violators."
Motorcyclist Keith Williamson, 27, died on the Tampa side of the Courtney Campbell after crashing into the back of a Florida Highway Patrol cruiser working in a construction zone.
The crash came at the end of what appears in the dashboard-camera video to be an off-and-on high-speed chase that started on the Clearwater side of the road. The officer first put his lights and siren on while driving eastbound in Clearwater.
But as several motorcyclists sped up as if they are fleeing the traffic stop, Giordano disengaged his lights and siren and then accelerated to catch up to them. On the Tampa side of the road, the officer again put on his emergency lights and siren.
It violates Clearwater police policy to engage in a high-speed pursuit except in cases involving a violent felony such as a homicide. Clearwater police officials told the news media in the days after the crash that its officer was not chasing the motorcyclists.
Giordano's video does not show Williamson's crash because the officer said he shut the camera off 500 feet before the accident. The last frame of the video shows Giordano still had on his emergency lights and siren. But the officer said he shut them off because he decided to end the chase.
Giordano told his supervisors that "operators of motorcycles perform this reckless activity on (a) regular occasion" and that "the dangers to the driving public of the motorcycles racing regularly on the (road) warranted at least an attempt to enforce the speed and stop the racing."
Clearwater police officials and the highway patrol declined to comment because a patrol investigation is ongoing.
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected]