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Lying led to French fry officer's resignation

CLEARWATER — The Clearwater police officer who arrested a 75-year-old woman at a McDonald's drive-through resigned after lying to supervisors, according to an internal affairs report released Thursday.

The investigation had nothing to do with Jean Merola, whom Officer Matthew Parco arrested on Jan. 17 after her car blocked his as she waited for an order of unsalted french fries.

Instead, it concerned allegations that Parco, 30, behaved inappropriately on March 29 when responding to a child custody call. Witnesses told investigators that he:

• Offered a 15-year-old girl chewing tobacco.

• Demonstrated his Taser for the teen, firing it into the windshield of his cruiser.

• Showed her a computer video of a cow being Tasered.

After the teen's father complained, Parco, an officer since December 2006, denied firing the Taser or misusing the computer, according to the report.

But investigators said usage logs for the computer and Taser corroborated witness statements. Confronted with those findings, Parco quit on May 20 rather than face a range of discipline that included termination.

Now Merola's lawyer said he plans to question Parco about the internal affairs case during her July 10 trial on a charge of obstructing a right of way.

But Assistant State Attorney Rick Ripplinger said he doesn't see how the incident affects the Merola case. Other witnesses corroborate that Merola was rude and profane while Parco acted professionally, he said.

On Thursday, Merola said it was sad Parco lost his job, but maintained he lied and acted improperly with her, too.

Attempts to reach Parco were unsuccessful.

In February, internal affairs investigators cleared Parco of allegations that he acted inappropriately in Merola's arrest.

But he landed in trouble after being sent to Masters Drive on March 29. Rick King, 40, of St. Petersburg, had called police around 10 p.m. after his daughter said his ex-wife pushed her.

In a sworn statement, Morgan King, 15, said Parco used and offered her chewing tobacco, pulled up information about a prior arrest on her father and accessed driver's license photographs of his wife and the teen. Investigators found Parco searched the photos at 11:24 and 11:26 p.m.

Parco also talked about being Tasered as part of his training and fired his Taser into the windshield, according to the report.

Parco then used his computer to show the teen and her mother a video of a cow being Tasered, the teen said. A later search showed that Windows Media Player was used to play "wildbull.wmv" that night.

Sgt. Wilton Lee said he spoke to Parco about the allegations, which Parco denied. After Lee told him the information could be checked, Parco seemed to take "the incident lightly," according to the report.

When Lee later told Parco he would have the Taser checked, Parco said he was not asked if he had dry-fired the Taser and didn't feel like he had to tell Lee if he had.

Lying led to French fry officer's resignation 06/05/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 9, 2008 4:19pm]
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