Clearwater police officer could face felony charge for misuse of law enforcement database

CLEARWATER — The Clearwater Police Department is conducting a criminal investigation of one of its senior officers based on accusations that he illegally used a state database to help a Palm Harbor woman seeking information about her estranged husband, the Tampa Bay Times has learned.

A felony computer-crimes charge has been referred to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office against Lt. Richard Crean, 45, a patrol commander who has worked at the Clearwater department for 21 years.

Prosecutors have not made a decision on whether to proceed with the charge, which carries a prison sentence of up to five years.

South Pasadena resident Kim Harwell, 53, told authorities that Crean gave personal information he obtained about her — including her name, address and date of birth — to Laura McLynas, 44, of Palm Harbor. McLynas had given Crean Harwell's license plate number, which he then ran through a Florida law enforcement database, Harwell said.

Harwell has no criminal record in Florida and was not the subject of an active police investigation. She says she was targeted because she is a friend of McLynas' estranged husband, James McLynas, 54. Her car was parked outside his Clearwater home when Laura McLynas obtained the plate number, Harwell said.

"I feel very violated," she said.

Harwell said Crean's disclosure of her identity and personal data to Laura McLynas led to a pattern of harassment as she was drawn into an ongoing child custody battle between James and Laura McLynas.

Clearwater public safety spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts confirmed Tuesday that a single charge against Crean for "offense against intellectual property" has been referred to the State Attorney's Office by the Clearwater Police Department.

The third-degree felony charge "relates to improper use of a state database," she said, declining to discuss the case in more detail.

Crean remains on active duty, Watts said.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said his office is gathering facts in the case as it prepares to make a decision about a possible charge. He said Crean acknowledged to Clearwater investigators that he had transmitted information about Harwell to Laura McLynas, but maintained he did not do anything wrong.

"There's unquestionably him transmitting a document," Bartlett said. "It's my understanding that he doesn't dispute that. But the question is whether he did it for a legitimate law enforcement purpose."

Crean oversees one of three patrol divisions at the 450-employee police agency. In February 2011, he was given a Public Safety and Service Award by the Rotary Club of Clearwater. This year, he was promoted by police Chief Tony Holloway.

Crean did not respond to messages left at his office and a request through Watts for comment.

"It seems bizarre to me that someone of Lt. Crean's rank would be willing to risk his entire career to provide Laura with confidential information," James McLynas said.

Laura McLynas said the complaints against Crean are part of her husband's effort to gain the upper hand in the fight over custody of their 9-year-old daughter. Laura has had full custody of the girl since July.

Laura McLynas told the Times her husband is "jealous," "narcissistic" and "lies about everything." She declined to comment on the circumstances that led to the investigation of Crean. Questioned about their relationship, she said she was never romantically involved with Crean.

Since at least 2009, police and court records show, James and Laura McLynas have sought restraining orders against each other and have accused each other of criminal behavior and violations of family court orders.

According to police records, Crean helped respond to complaints from Laura McLynas in 2011 that James McLynas was not abiding by the terms of their court order for shared custody of their daughter.

Clearwater police investigated James McLynas for felony interference with child custody, and he was eventually arrested in December of last year. But prosecutors dropped the charge after reviewing the case.

"I said, 'This is just a waste of taxpayers' money,' " recalled Bartlett. "This should just be handled in the divorce case."

In June 2012, James McLynas obtained records of his wife's phone calls and text messages after she accidentally left her phone with their daughter during a visitation transfer.

The records, which McLynas and Harwell later submitted to Clearwater police and the State Attorney's Office, revealed dozens of text messages between Crean and Laura McLynas on their cellphones.

In April 2012, Laura McLynas sent a text to Crean containing Harwell's license plate number, the phone records show. Crean sent her back a photo of a computer screen displaying information about Harwell that appears to come from a law enforcement database.

Bartlett confirmed that exchange is the basis for the felony charge against Crean.

News researchers Carolyn Edds and Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Peter Jamison can be reached at pjamison@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4157.

Clearwater police officer could face felony charge for misuse of law enforcement database 11/28/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 10:52pm]

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