LARGO — The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is launching internal affairs investigations into the deaths of two men who were killed this year while in custody, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced Thursday.
Investigators will review policies and the actions of several employees, who could receive "serious discipline," the sheriff said.
"Based upon what I have learned as a result of the initial fact-gathering," Gualtieri said, "I have great concerns that policies that should have been followed weren't followed."
The cases started July 6, when Thomas Morrow, 59, was put in protective custody under the state Marchman Act and put inside a transport van driven by a security officer en route to the jail. That same night, Leonard David Lanni, 37, was picked up on a charge of disorderly conduct.
A few miles from the jail, the driver glanced at a live monitor that showed the van's passenger compartment. He noticed that Lanni was kicking Morrow, who had fallen from the bench.
The driver, later identified as Andrey Izrailov, pulled into a parking lot and asked two deputies to restrain Lanni.
Morrow remained bedridden and unable to walk or talk until his death Sept. 12. Lanni now faces a second-degree murder charge and remains at the Pinellas County Jail.
About two weeks later, Kelly Damon Harding, 48, was choked to death by inmate Scott Alexander Greenberg, who shoved toilet paper down Harding's throat, the Sheriff's Office said. Gualtieri later learned Harding, a misdemeanor inmate, had been mistakenly housed with inmates charged with felonies.
Harding had been arrested last October on a burglary charge, a felony. But in January, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of trespassing, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to serve one year at the jail. After the sentencing, Harding's case number was not updated to reflect his change in status, Gualtieri said in July.
Days later when the inmate records section received Harding's sentencing documents, his new status still was overlooked.
Harding's interaction with felons at the jail had been limited since he spent most of his time in a single cell due to behavioral issues. That was until July 20, when he was relocated to a cell with Greenberg, accused of killing his girlfriend. Greenberg was charged with first-degree murder in Harding's death.
After each incident, Gualtieri ordered preliminary reviews to look for any policy violations. After reading each review, the sheriff said launching internal affairs investigations was "the right thing to do."
Because both cases remain active, Gualtieri is limited in what details he can disclose, but he said roughly four to six employees in "supervisory and management positions" were being investigated.
The investigations could lead to changes in Sheriff's Office policies, he added. In the Morrow case, investigators will look at whether policies regarding inmate restraint and separation in the transport van were followed. In the Harding case, classification procedures will be reviewed.
In Morrow's death, Gualtieri said the van driver, an officer with the private security company G4S Secure Solutions, under contract with the Sheriff's Office, was not at fault.
Both investigations are expected to be completed by the end of the year.
"I had no idea when we launched the preliminary reviews," he said, "as to what we were going to find."