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Tampa police say employee's suspension a matter of integrity

TAMPA — As authorities scoured the city for a man accused of killing two officers, his aunt showed up for work at police headquarters every day.

If she had simply gone to her supervisor and said her daughter was a close friend of the suspect and his brother, she might not be in trouble today.

Instead, she's off the job without pay and has a hearing next week to discuss her fate.

"We had an exhaustive manhunt going on for four days," said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. "We would expect that (police employees) would cooperate."

As investigators still tried to determine Thursday whether the daughter of police employee Carolyn Riggins had contact with suspect Dontae Morris while he was on the run, authorities framed her suspension as a matter of integrity.

Riggins, who is Morris' aunt, was hired in February 2000 as an office support specialist and most recently worked in the division that coordinates police officers for extra duty.

Under a union contract that covers Riggins, she can be suspended without a hearing.

"Of course we don't agree with it," said union president Martha Stevens. "But it's covered by the contract."

The city's contract with the Amalgamated Transit Union states that an employee can be suspended without pay "in the event that a department director concludes that immediate removal of the employee from the work site is necessary for public interest or safety."

And though a hearing must be set up "as soon as practicable," there is no limit to how long Riggins can remain suspended.

Sworn police officers are protected under state law, which limits their suspensions to 180 days. There's no such rule for civilian employees.

Riggins' hearing will be sometime next week, McElroy said.

Before civilian employees are hired at the department, they must clear a variety of hurdles — including a drug screening, a background check and a lie detector test. The steps are taken to ensure the department hires those with impeccable integrity, McElroy said.

While there's no departmental policy that states police employees must report possible conflicts concerning their children, there is policy about maintaining integrity, McElroy said.

She pointed to several cases where investigations involved relatives of law enforcement employees.

In February, Tampa police Officer Audrey Peterson immediately identified as her son a robbery suspect in a video she was asked to watch. The 18-year-old was charged with two counts of armed attempted robbery.

On the other hand, relatives who conspire with their children have faced consequences.

Hillsborough County detention Deputy Ronnie Covington, the father of the suspect in a gruesome triple murder in Lutz, resigned in January before he could be fired. A Sheriff's Office investigator determined Covington had encouraged his son to fight his jailers.

In this case, there's no question that the police employee's daughter, Alaina Riggins, 25, was in touch with Dwayne Callaway — Morris' 21-year-old brother — whom police were also searching for last week. The two were arrested together early Saturday at the Motel 6 at 333 E Fowler Ave. on drug and firearm charges.

What's still under investigation is whether Alaina Riggins was in touch with Morris — and, if so, if her mother knew about it.

In her 10 years with the department, Carolyn Riggins appeared to be a model employee. She was routinely praised in annual evaluations for a positive attitude and enthusiasm. A supervisor even commended her on her good hygiene.

Police Chief Jane Castor has said Riggins would face termination "if she was aware that her daughter was in contact with Dontae Morris." Otherwise, she could be reinstated.

Times staff writer Janet Zink contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Tampa police say employee's suspension a matter of integrity 07/08/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 8, 2010 10:47pm]
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