The police department sex scandal that landed Lakeland in national headlines has now claimed the jobs of four veteran officers implicated in the case, with two getting fired and two resigning this week.
Lakeland police Sgts. Rusty Longaberger and David Woolverton were sacked Monday, and Lt. Albert Wilson and Officer George Vidal quit Tuesday. All the men were named in a state report revealing that up to 10 officers had sexual contact with a female crime analyst — some of which may not have been consensual — over the past seven years.
Meanwhile, a separate department crisis could mean 40 drunken-driving cases can't be prosecuted. State Attorney Jerry Hill — who issued the report in the sex scandal — on Tuesday informed police Chief Lisa Womack that the head of her internal affairs investigations, Lt. Hans Lehman, is no longer a trustworthy witness.
That's because, Hill said, Lehman revealed confidential information to an officer whose own conduct was being investigated in connection with a DUI case.
"Is it the goal of the (internal affairs) unit to help us seek truth," Hill wrote, "or tip off officers under investigation before we are able to conclude our inquiry?"
Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields called the terminations appropriate. "I expect the chief to thoroughly move through the investigation so we fully uncover everything and the appropriate disciplinary action can be taken,'' he said Tuesday in an interview.
The married crime analyst at the center of the sex scandal, 37-year-old Sue Eberle, who went public with a story of prolonged abuse, is on paid leave.
She told investigators that Longaberger, who ran the police department's school resource and juvenile division, met her for sex "on several different occasions" since 2009 and raped her once. She also said she gave Longaberger oral sex in an unmarked car while he was driving around Lakeland on-duty.
Longaberger admitted to "two, possibly three" encounters with her in an Orlando hotel, but denied raping her or having sex with her on-duty.
Woolverton, a member of the SWAT team and traffic homicide unit, raped Eberle on a desk in her office, she told investigators. He said they had consensual sex twice and he sent her pictures of his genitals.
Eberle told investigators that she and Vidal had sex in a police department closet, though he claims he "blacked out" from low blood sugar and does not remember what happened well.
Eberle told investigators that Wilson demanded nude photos and tried to arrange a meeting for sex; he admitted only to looking at intimate photos of her.
Danielle Paquette can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8321.