Friday, January 19, 2018
Public safety

Hernando Sheriff's Office offers new details of captain's resignation

SPRING HILL — One summer day in 2011, a secretary came to Hernando sheriff's Lt. Tom Garcia with a problem.

A sergeant who worked under Garcia in the vice and narcotics unit owed $2,011.89 to the cash fund used for drug buys and other investigative work, the secretary said. The sergeant wasn't in the office and Garcia couldn't reach him, so he drove home, got $1,500 of his own money, placed the cash in the unit's safe and told the secretary to make the changes to the sergeant's ledger.

Garcia, 53, later told investigators that the sergeant involved, Joe Reid, never explained what happened to the cash. Garcia gave Reid a verbal warning but didn't notify anyone else.

It was a decision that cost Garcia, promoted to captain last year, his job.

The findings that led to the 18-year veteran's resignation last week are included in an internal affairs investigation summary released by the Sheriff's Office on Wednesday.

Garcia, who could not be reached for comment, was warned Feb. 12 that he faced possible demotion or termination for unsatisfactory performance and conduct unbecoming an officer, Sheriff Al Nienhuis said.

According to the report, Garcia acknowledged that he should have alerted his captain when Reid couldn't account for the missing money.

"I can't even begin to think what was in his head," Nienhuis said. "Maybe it was misguided loyalty to his people, but obviously it was a very serious issue."

Detectives in the unit told investigators that Reid's personal financial problems were common knowledge. They said he borrowed money from them but didn't pay back the debts.

One detective said Reid took $200 from the detective's assigned investigative fund, promising to return the money in a few days. Weeks later, the detective mentioned the loan to Garcia, who admitted during the inquiry to using his own money to cover that debt, too.

According to Garcia's account, Reid told him he was losing sleep over the missing $2,000 and didn't know how he was going to replace it, but never said what happened to the cash. Garcia called Reid a good sergeant and described his relationship with him as professional. They didn't socialize outside of work.

On Nov. 18 of last year, Nienhuis announced that he was promoting Garcia to captain. In that role, he would oversee both the vice and major case units. His salary was bumped to $88,456.81.

One week later, a lieutenant in the Sheriff's Office told a supervisor that he had heard Reid had misappropriated money and that Garcia might have been aware of it. The Sheriff's Office launched a criminal investigation.

On Dec. 27, Nienhuis announced that Reid had resigned and been arrested on a charge of grand theft, and that Garcia would face an internal investigation but likely not criminal prosecution.

Though Garcia acknowledged to investigators that Reid's actions constituted theft, Chief Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway said prosecutors lacked evidence to charge Garcia as an accessory after the fact.

"We just didn't think we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew that it was a crime he was covering up," Ridgway said.

Garcia had accrued 605 hours of vacation time and 777 hours of sick time. As part of a resignation agreement, he will be paid for 129.75 hours of vacation time and 194.25 hours of sick time, and he forfeited his right to pursue legal action against the agency, Nienhuis said.

The internal investigation report will be sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Criminal Justice Standards & Training Commission, which could levy sanctions against Garcia's law enforcement certificate.

"He either knew or should have known something was going on, but that doesn't negate the fact that he has many years of service here and a great reputation," Nienhuis said. "It's heartbreaking."

Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.

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