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Affair costs Tarpon Springs officer his badge

TARPON SPRINGS — A city police officer on administrative leave since November while facing an accusation of an improper relationship was fired Wednesday.

After a monthlong internal investigation, police officials determined Officer John Spatz had a sexual relationship with an 18-year-old high school student who participated in the department's ride-along program. The program, designed to engage and educate the public, gives citizens a chance to ride in a patrol car with an officer.

Acting police Chief Bob Kochen fired Spatz for violating departmental policies that regulate personal and professional conduct.

"We want the public to have confidence in us and we will take appropriate action if any employee acts in a way that undermines that confidence," said spokeswoman Lt. Barb Templeton.

The investigation, initiated by a complaint filed by the officer's wife in late October, showed that Spatz, 33, met twice with the woman while he was off-duty and "had sexual contact with the student on at least one occasion at Anderson Park."

Additionally, Spatz called the woman from his cell phone while on duty on two or more occasions, according to the report.

The St. Petersburg Times is withholding the woman's name because of the nature of the incident.

Spatz could not be reached for comment Wednesday. He was hired in July 2002 and made $49,606 annually.

The local Elks Lodge named Spatz Co-Officer of the Year in 2004 for his part in apprehending and disarming a man who had just robbed a Dollar Tree store at gunpoint.

His personnel record includes a few minor infractions, but he was placed on administrative leave in February 2005 when the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office referred misdemeanor battery charges to the State Attorney's Office against Spatz and his ex-girlfriend, fellow Tarpon Springs police Officer Michelle R. Hayward.

Spatz was reactivated two weeks later when the State Attorney's Office decided not to file charges against either party. Hayward committed suicide in March 2005.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4162.

Affair costs Tarpon Springs officer his badge 12/17/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 11:12am]
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