TAMPA — Ronnie Covington, father of the suspect in a gruesome triple murder in Lutz, resigned his job as a Hillsborough detention deputy after he encouraged his son to fight his jailers, the jail commander said Wednesday.
Covington, who worked at the Falkenburg Road Jail for 12 years, was suspended without pay about a week after he was caught on a recorded telephone conversation Jan. 1 making the comments, said Col. Jim Previtera, head of the county's jails.
Covington resigned Jan. 21 before he could be terminated, Previtera said.
His son, Edward Covington, has been held at the Orient Road Jail since deputies said he confessed to "choking, beating, stabbing, dismembering and mutilating" his girlfriend and her two children and killing their family dog in May 2008.
The jail phone call referenced an Oct. 14 incident when the younger Covington became violent toward detention deputies as they tried to move him from one cell to another, Previtera said.
While deputies were trying to remove his handcuffs after placing him in the new cell, Previtera said, Covington began fighting, grabbing hold of one of the deputy's arms and not letting go.
The deputies shot Covington with a Taser to break his grip and were able to remove the cuffs before locking the door, Previtera said. An internal investigation deemed the use of force appropriate, he said.
But Covington's mother wasn't happy and complained to the jail, Previtera said.
Previtera met with Ronnie Covington to talk about the incident and make sure the father "was drawing a clear line between being a deputy and being a dad." The elder Covington assured him that he was.
"On Jan. 1, he crossed that line," Previtera said.
According to excerpts from transcripts of the call, Covington told his son, "Well, Eddie, you need to start exercising in your cell. Just like the program inmates do. Exercise, get the fat off you, get the muscle on, and sooner or later they probably going to try it because they're that g--d--- dumb. They're that g--d--- dumb and revengeful so … "
The younger Covington interrupted with "okay" before the father continued:
"Stop eating all that fat s--- and put some muscle on and you put a hurting on their a-- when they come through the door. I mean, put a hurting on them because I know you know how to do it. But you've got to have the muscle to do it, so start exercising."
The son answered, "Yes sir," according to the transcripts.
Previtera learned about the conversation after jail employees caught it during a random phone call audit Jan. 8.
When questioned about his comments, Previtera said Ronnie Covington admitted to making them and other derogatory statements about jail employees to his son.
Previtera placed Covington on leave without pay that afternoon, and Covington submitted his resignation on Jan. 20, effective Jan. 21.
"The situation he was in, it's a tough situation to be in," Previtera said. "But there's nothing that could justify a deputy intentionally placing other deputies in danger."
Times staff writer Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3386.