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Inquiry to decide fate of Pinellas Park officer

PINELLAS PARK — A police officer who was arrested after a drunken bar brawl is on paid administrative leave while department officials decide whether he should be punished.

Sean Christopher Letona, 30, a seven-year veteran of the Pinellas Park Police Department, was arrested early Sunday in St. Petersburg and charged with simple battery, a misdemeanor. Letona earns about $44,900 a year.

An internal affairs investigation is under way, said Capt. Sandy Forseth, Pinellas Park police spokesman. Letona could be exonerated and receive no punishment or he could face firing.

Details of the incident are still a bit sketchy. Police reports are unavailable until after the internal affairs investigation is complete.

But some details have been released: The incident began about 11:48 p.m. in Corrigan's bar at Beach Drive SE and First Avenue S when a brawl broke out. Bouncers cleared the club. An off-duty St. Petersburg police officer heard the commotion and came to see what was going on. He was later joined by another St. Petersburg officer, according to an arrest affidavit and a Pinellas Park police memo.

As the police cleared the parking lot, a man — later identified as Letona — came out of nowhere, grabbed one of the men who was leaving and began punching him. The two fell to the ground, where Letona kept punching the man who "did not fight back," according to the arrest affidavit. Letona ignored officers' orders to stop until one of them fired his Taser and hit Letona, the affidavit said.

A St. Petersburg police sergeant called the Pinellas Park department to report what had happened. He told Sgt. William Lowe that Letona was "extremely intoxicated" and asked whether Lowe wanted to send someone to pick up Letona, according to a memo from Lowe.

Lowe called his superiors, and Capt. Mike Haworth, second in command in the Pinellas Park Department, told him to let St. Petersburg decide what to do with Letona, the memo says.

Letona was taken to jail as was his sister, Alma Charice Letona, 25. Alma Letona was accused of trying to pull one of the officers away when they were trying to handcuff her brother, the memo says. She was charged with disorderly intoxication, according to arrest records.

Both Letonas were released on their own recognizance Sunday.

St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon has denied that his officers were trying to give Letona a break by offering to let Pinellas Park send someone to pick him up. State law requires that police departments be notified when their officers are arrested, he said.

Inquiry to decide fate of Pinellas Park officer 01/20/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 4:04pm]
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