ST. PETERSBURG — One police officer was fired and two others were disciplined Thursday after an internal investigation revealed they routinely accepted items from a local convenience store without paying for them.
According to a memo from police Chief Chuck Harmon, the officers — Bayluss J. Earle, Bobby L. Johnson Jr. and Latoya R. Mathis — got groceries and other merchandise from the Obama Express, 1400 18th Ave. S.
Earle, 41, was fired. He had been with the department since March 2007. Johnson, 35, who became an officer in November 2008, got an employee notice, equivalent to a written warning. Mathis, 28, who has been an officer since October 2007, got both an employee notice and a 40-hour suspension.
A fourth officer, Nayo M. Sadiki, 28, was disciplined because she learned of another officer receiving free items, but failed to report it to a supervisor, the memo states. Sadiki, who has been with the department since June 2008, received a memorandum of counseling, a permanent written reprimand.
The officers told investigators it was routine for employees at the store not to accept payment from police officers.
"I think it's an embarrassment to the agency, and I'm extremely disappointed in those individuals," Harmon said. "I don't think it sends a good message to the community about our trust and integrity and how we police."
Mike Mahmoud, owner of the store, declined to comment to the St. Petersburg Times. He told investigators he authorizes his employees to treat officers with small items, and that he was disturbed by the investigation.
The investigation began in October when Sadiki overheard employees referring to Earle as "Sticky Fingers" and saying he was taking large amounts of free groceries. The employees said the manager was angry, but when Sadiki subsequently spoke with Mahmoud, he said he didn't want to report Earle, who he said only took what was given to him.
Though Sadiki told another officer about Earle, she failed to notify a supervisor. That other officer did, however, and the internal investigation began.
Earle admitted to accepting free drinks, candy, chips and deli food. Video footage confirmed this, the report states, and several employees also identified Earle as a frequent visitor to the store, sometimes as much as five days a week. At one point, an employee gave Earle a winning lottery ticket worth $200.
In her interviews with investigators, Sadiki said she also got things from the store, but would leave money on the counter when employees wouldn't accept payment. She denied knowing that other officers were getting free things.
The investigation revealed Mathis and Johnson also received complimentary items on multiple occasions from store employees who wouldn't take payment.
"Officer Johnson apologized," Harmon said. "He was the most candid and accepted responsibility for what happened."
Mathis, however, didn't view the gratuities as a policy violation and tried to minimize her actions, the memo states.
It goes against the officers' code of ethics to accept gratuities, Harmon said. Recruits recite the code of ethics daily in the police academy.