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Flashing badge at bar? Unbecoming for Clearwater officer

The bar at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino was empty except for Officer James Phelps and his date, Crystal Libersat.

The couple had been drinking together since 3 a.m. that morning, Oct. 2. When the bartender confronted them at 6 a.m., Phelps, 34, wasn't ready to stop.

That's when the Clearwater police officer flashed his badge; first to his date, then to the bartender and then to a security guard, according to an internal affairs investigation by Clearwater police.

A little later, Phelps flashed his middle finger at the bartender, threw down the receipt for his $76 bar tab and stormed out to his car.

The Seminole Tribal Police called a taxi for Phelps, but he insisted on taking his own car. The Clearwater police were called, and Sgt. Chris Squitieri and Cpl. Steve Wannos drove to the casino in a patrol car to secure Phelps' AR-15 rifle and take him home.

The entire encounter was recorded by the casino's surveillance cameras.

Libersat, 25, was arrested by Seminole officers on charges of trespassing, providing false identification and possession of oxycodone.

The internal affairs investigation sustained allegations that Phelps violated department rules by smoking, carrying an AR-15 rifle unsecured in his car and behaving in an unbecoming manner.

The department has had a ban on hiring smokers since 1988.

According to the report, "Officer Phelps is alleged to have challenged the Seminole Indian Officer's authority to tell them to leave or to arrest them."

Phelps, who joined the department in December 2001 and is a member of the Emergency Response Team, told internal affairs investigators he was going through a difficult period after a divorce and couldn't remember most of what happened that night because he was intoxicated. He said he now has his life back on track.

He received a five-day suspension, which was completed at the beginning of this month.

In a separate case, Clearwater police Officer George Phillips, 25, who joined the department in November 2004, received a written reprimand for dragging an arrested man by the leg into the jail.

According to internal affairs, Phillips arrested Ralph Mundy on Nov. 15 on charges of domestic battery, witness tampering and grand theft. The charges were later dropped.

Mundy, 48, was taunting Phillips, trying to irritate him all the way to the jail, according to what Mundy and Phillips told internal affairs. When they arrived at the jail, Mundy wouldn't get out of the patrol car, so Phillips pulled him out by his shirt.

Next, Mundy refused to walk, and Phillips grabbed his left leg and dragged him about 15 feet into the jail booking area. After he got through one locked door and waited for another one to open, Phillips gave Mundy an opportunity to walk. Mundy just lifted up his leg again as if to offer it to Phillips.

Mundy suffered minor injuries including scrapes and bruises to his right shoulder and right elbow, according to the report.

Detention deputies at the jail contacted Clearwater police to complain about the treatment Mundy received.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Flashing badge at bar? Unbecoming for Clearwater officer 04/09/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 11, 2008 4:08pm]
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