TARPON SPRINGS — Fired city police Officer John Spatz is adamant he did not violate city policy when he had a brief sexual encounter with an 18-year-old high school student who was a part of a police ride-along program.
"I felt I had done nothing wrong," Spatz said Wednesday during an arbitration hearing in which he is seeking reinstatement and back pay. "I've seen other officers dating people from work. I have two children. I would have never put my career in jeopardy or this Police Department in disrepute by meeting up with this girl."
Spatz, 34, was fired in December for violating departmental policies regulating professional and personal conduct. He appealed the dismissal.
Wednesday's hearing was before Stanley Sergent, an independent arbitrator from Sarasota. It could take up to two months before he renders a decision.
The city maintains it had the authority to terminate Spatz, a corporal who had been with the department for seven years.
"He needs to uphold the standards of this department," testified acting Police Chief Robert Kochen. "As head of the agency, I have to look at integrity and trust. Our officers have to set the example. … I could not move on with him being here. I just couldn't trust him."
Spatz admitted to meeting the woman twice at Anderson Park, a county owned park in Tarpon Springs. On the first occasion, the two kissed. At the second meeting, there was "sexual contact" with the Tarpon Springs High student, he said.
In both instances, Spatz was off duty and not in his police uniform or vehicle. He made five short phone calls to the then 18-year-old from his personal cell phone while on duty, an investigation showed.
Spatz' attorney, Michael Krohn, characterized the encounters as a "friendly relationship between two consenting adults."
The woman, whose name is being withheld because of the nature of the incident, was 17 and a student at Tarpon Springs High when she was given permission to participate in the Police Department's ride-along-program. Because she was underage, her mother had to sign off as well.
City policy says participants in the program can ride for one eight-hour shift in a six-month period. Spatz said that the woman was riding with different officer three to four times a week. She rode with him twice. Spatz said he was contacted by another Tarpon Springs officer informing him that the woman wanted his phone number.
Police documentation noted the woman was given permission to ride with officers once. There is no documentation to account for the number of times she actually rode with officers. Only the chief of police could have authorized more than one trip in six months.
"She was only approved to ride once but we know she rode with multiple officers," Krohn said, questioning why the Police Department didn't keep accurate records.
Spatz relationship with the woman came to light after his wife, Kimberly Spatz, a Tampa police officer, notified the Police Department. She also supplied his cell phone records.
John Spatz said the encounters occurred when he and his wife were separated and he was living with friends in Tarpon Springs. The two decided to give their marriage another try in October. That's when she discovered the other woman's phone number.
The woman later confirmed the relationship was consensual, police said.
"Morally, having an affair on my wife was wrong," Spatz said. "But I did not violate any policies."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at email@example.com or 445-4174.