Thursday, May 24, 2018
Public safety

Three St. Petersburg police employees lose their jobs after internal investigations

ST. PETERSBURG — Two police officers and another employee lost their jobs Thursday after a St. Petersburg police administrative board found they violated various department policies in separate incidents.

The board, chaired by St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon, fired Officer Mehmedin Karic, who struck and killed a man in a wheelchair with his police cruiser, and information technology employee Anthony Neese, who admitted to damaging a department laptop during a fight with his wife.

Another officer, Alex Falcon-Molina, resigned rather than face sanctions after the board found him responsible for a series of violations, including missing court-related matters.

Harmon said there are people in every organization who don't follow the rules.

"That's the reason we have these things," Harmon said. "To hold people accountable."

• • •

Karic, 26, was speeding in his police cruiser about 4:20 a.m. Feb. 19 when he hit and killed Harold Fleming, 45, who was crossing 38th Avenue N at 66th Street in a wheelchair. Karic's cruiser was moving at 61 mph when the accident happened, police said. The speed limit there is 40 mph.

In the 20 minutes before the accident, Karic was driving more than 80 to 90 mph while en route to a call in the same area, police said. He also wasn't wearing a seat belt.

Karic pleaded guilty to a careless driving citation in June, and was fined $1,000, ordered to serve 100 hours of community service and had his driver's license suspended for six months.

He was fired for violating traffic laws and for driving carelessly.

• • •

Neese, 46, an application support specialist in the department's information and technology division, was found responsible for damaging a Police Department laptop at his home during an argument with his wife. A subsequent investigation found that Neese had used the laptop to view pornography, police said.

He reported the damaged laptop to his supervisor May 17, the day after he threw the computer down a flight of stairs onto a concrete floor at his home during a fight with his wife, police said. No criminal charges were filed as a result of the argument, police said.

• • •

Falcon-Molina, 27, was accused of failing to appear for a state attorney's office investigation related to a criminal case with which he was involved. He had previously received warnings and suspensions for failing to show up for other court- and noncourt-related matters, police said.

He was also accused of violations related to two incidents from March 17 — one in which he was "unnecessarily aggressive and discourteous" to a man, and another in which he failed to report seeing another officer throw a child's cellphone underneath a vacant house.

During an investigation of the latter incident, Falcon-Molina claimed he was testing Officer Gabriele Ritzheimer to see if she would "do the right thing" and tell the child where to find the phone, police said. Ritzheimer was the subject of a separate misconduct investigation.

Falcon-Molina later admitted that his answers to the board's questions were not completely forthright and resigned before the board could decide whether to suspend or fire him.

• • •

The board also cleared two vice and narcotics detectives who had been accused of kicking a drug suspect who died a few days after his arrest.

The detectives, whose names were redacted from a department memo because they work undercover, arrested Anthony "Tony" Welch Sr. while serving a search warrant Jan. 6.

Welch, 42, later complained that the detectives had kicked him during his arrest. On Jan. 10, after Welch's release from jail, he was taken to St. Anthony's Hospital and complained of chest pains and shortness of breath. He phoned the Police Department's internal affairs division from the hospital and reasserted his claims that the officers had kicked him. He died a few hours later.

An autopsy found that Welch died from natural causes resulting from a pre-existing condition, police said.

Times staff writer Kameel Stanley contributed to this report. Dan Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8321.

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