Pasco sheriff cancels Wackenhut contract after worker hits boy

LAND O'LAKES — A small bag of marijuana landed a 13-year-old boy in trouble and wound up costing an international firm a $220,000 contract with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

Russell Cummings, 55, a security specialist for private security contractor Wackenhut, was booking the boy into the county's Juvenile Assessment Center early Friday morning when he hit the boy on the back of the head — right in front of a deputy, Sheriff Bob White said.

The Wackenhut worker's whack landed him in the Land O'Lakes jail on a charge of felony child abuse.

When White heard of the incident, he placed Cummings on administrative leave, sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin said. White announced Friday morning that he would immediately cancel the Sheriff's Office's contract with Wackenhut.

Officials at Wackenhut's nearest office in Tampa were not immediately available for comment Friday.

"This is a child, so there are no second chances," White said.

White said the security firm first sent civilian contractors to staff the Juvenile Assessment Center and the Pasco jail hospital in December, when budget constraints forced him to plug a staffing hole with private specialists.

And that, White said, is why his office needs more money.

White's announcement doubled as a call for county commissioners to approve his latest budget request, which includes a $3.9 million increase and 28 new road patrol deputies. For now, detention deputies will replace Wackenhut employees at the Juvenile Assessment Center, he said.

"This is not an indictment of Wackenhut," White said. "It's evidence of the fact that we can't retreat. This redoubles my resolve to make sure my office is funded properly.

"I won't take no for an answer," he added.

But county officials are saying no. They point out that White hired 24 new deputies last year using a federal grant. Everyone will face cutbacks next year to erase the county's severe budget deficit, commissioners say — including the sheriff, who has received instructions to limit his spending to the same amount he received this year.

Contracting with Wackenhut has saved White's office $98,000, Tobin said. White says the incident proves only law enforcement officers, not civilians, can be trusted with maintaining public safety.

The office has been unable to perform full background checks on every Wackenhut employee, he said.

The whole story began at 10:07 p.m. Thursday, when a deputy pulled over two teenage boys — one 13, one 15 — who were riding a motorized scooter at the intersection of Collridge Drive and Collier Parkway in Land O'Lakes. The deputy glimpsed a clear plastic bag full of green leaves stashed under the scooter seat.

Soon after arresting the boys for possession of marijuana, the deputy turned them over to Cummings for booking. Video surveillance released by the Sheriff's Office shows the two boys bracing against a counter at the juvenile center while Cummings frisked the 13-year-old, patting down his T-shirt and searching his pockets.

As he was searched, the boy laughed, according to a Sheriff's Office report. Cummings felt the boy was being disrespectful, the report said.

The video shows Cummings raised his left hand and slapped the boy across the back of the head.

He was being held at the jail Friday on $5,000 bail.

Vivian Yee can be reached at vyee@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

Pasco sheriff cancels Wackenhut contract after worker hits boy 07/30/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 30, 2010 9:50pm]

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