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Hillsborough detention sergeant had record of excessive force with inmates

TAMPA — In the 1990s, Hills­borough County sheriff's officials suspended Michael Gonzalez twice for using excessive force on inmates, his employee records show.

In the years following, positive performance reviews praised his ability to move on and put the discipline problems behind him.

Now, officials say, Gonzalez's actions have him in trouble again.

Sheriff's deputies arrested the 40-year-old detention sergeant Sunday on charges of assault after they said he hit and kicked a handcuffed inmate in the Orient Road Jail a day earlier.

Gonzalez made bail and was released from jail and is on administrative leave without pay during an internal investigation, officials said.

Gonzalez could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

"I think the speed in which we acted in this case speaks for itself and emphasizes the seriousness with which this matter was addressed," said sheriff's Col. Jim Previtera, head of the county's jails. "Behavior such as that which was brought to our attention in this case will never be tolerated."

Gonzalez began working at the Sheriff's Office in 1990 as a trainee, and moved up from corporal to sergeant, records show.

The circumstances surrounding Saturday's incident bear a resemblance to earlier episodes in which Gonzalez was accused of striking one restrained inmate and injuring another.

In June 1992, a discipline report said Gonzalez repeatedly hit an inmate deputies already had under control. Deputies ordered Gonzalez to stop but he didn't listen, the report said. The inmate was not injured.

After investigating, officials suspended Gonzalez for four days without pay, records show.

During Saturday's incident, deputies said, Gonzalez attacked the restrained inmate, 20-year-old Mark P. Luft, without provocation after deputies entered his cell to change his clothes. Deputies said Gonzalez hit and kicked Luft while he was on the floor.

Luft, who was in jail on marijuana possession charges, suffered minor injuries to his face and lip and was treated by the medical staff at the Orient Road Jail. He was transferred Sunday to Falkenburg Road Jail for a second evaluation, and no further injuries were reported. He bonded out of jail Monday night and could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Six months after the incident in 1992, Gonzalez used enough force to cause injury to another inmate, then lied to investigators during a hearing on the events, a discipline report states.

After an internal investigation, records show officials suspended Gonzalez 15 days without pay.

After the two incidents, supervisors gave Gonzalez positive reviews in his yearly evaluations.

In a 1994 review, a supervisor noted: "Deputy Gonzalez's use of force restraint has been cited in the past, however his turnaround has been significant."

A year later, a supervisor wrote: "Deputy Gonzalez continues to show improvement from past problems and appears to have them behind him."

Satisfactory and higher ratings for Gonzalez continued as his years at the Sheriff's Office went on, but hints at a troubled past remained.

In his latest evaluation on May 2, one of his supervisors, Capt. Robert M. Stein, wrote: "His job knowledge has always been above average but he had character traits which needed further development. He has done an excellent job working to address these over the past year."

Another comment by a supervisor, James Downie, concerning Gonzalez's professional integrity stated: "He has been working on his temper and has not had any major problems since I was assigned to his shift."

Times staff writers Colleen Jenkins and Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report. Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or srossetter@sptimes.com.

Hillsborough detention sergeant had record of excessive force with inmates 06/01/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 3, 2010 8:51am]
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