Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas sheriff fires 4, suspends 2 for loafing on the job

LARGO — Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri fired a sergeant and three deputies and suspended two other deputies Monday for "extreme loafing and idling,'' saying their laziness cheated taxpayers and endangered the public.

The men, all members of a north county patrol squad, sometimes would park their cruisers for hours at a time without working, the sheriff said. Sometimes they would hide behind a school or church. Sometimes they would visit relatives or go home.

All while they were supposed to be protecting the streets on their midnight shift, said the sheriff.

Some intentionally disconnected their GPS trackers, he said. They responded to calls if dispatched — there was no indication that any specific crimes went unaddressed — but didn't patrol or initiate law enforcement work for hours at a time.

"These deputies by their intentional actions essentially cheated the taxpayers out of well over $24,600" during the last six months of 2011, said Gualtieri.

The dollar figure was calculated by multiplying the hours spent idle by the officers' rate of pay. All told, the three fired deputies were slacking for the equivalent of 105 eight-hour workdays, according to the sheriff.

"We believe our findings are a snapshot of what was going on for a longer period of time."

Those fired were Deputy Kenneth L. Burroughs, 42; Deputy Robert G. Harmer, 42; Deputy Samuel Mitchem, 42; and Sgt. Christopher W. Metro, 43. A one-day suspension went to Deputy Brian T. Clark, 40; and a 2-day suspension went to Deputy Robert J. Wojciechowski, 46.

Collectively, the four fired officers had 77 years of experience.

Lt. Kevin Bennett retired rather than face inquiry about his failure to supervise others, Gualtieri said.

Burroughs declined to comment, but his attorney, Tarpon Springs lawyer Jerry Theophilopoulos, said the terminations were improper and he planned an appeal. He said the Sheriff's Office didn't examine computer records that would have shown his client was working properly.

"The truth will come out in the end," said Theophilopoulos. "This is politically motivated, and it's nothing more than a ploy to divert attention and present the public with a facade that the administration is cleaning up a scandal-ridden department."

Other officers who were disciplined and Bennett could not be reached.

Tuesday's announcement comes as Gualtieri faces mounting pressure over the conduct of his narcotics unit, and the ability of his internal affairs department to police its own. Numerous drug charges have been dropped since deputies' questionable evidence-gathering tactics came to light.

Gualtieri also is in a battle to keep his job, with former Sheriff Everett Rice challenging him in the upcoming election.

Gualtieri said he heard allegations about loafing last fall and had his staff cross-check officer locations, as determined by the GPS systems in their cruisers. Some were found to be sitting idle for as long as six hours, often in locations where the public could not easily spot them.

Harmer, Burroughs and Mitchem sometimes met behind All Saints Catholic Church on Curlew Road, Dick Norris Chevrolet on U.S. 19, and Palm Harbor Middle School, Gualtieri said.

On one occasion, Harmer was on contract to patrol the city of Dunedin but disconnected his GPS and met two colleagues in an Oldsmar park.

Reports that deputies were watching movies on laptops could not be substantiated, the sheriff said.

The three fired deputies each piled up 100 to 300 hours of inactivity over six months, Gualtieri said. And that counts only time where they remained in one location for at least an hour with no satisfactory explanation.

Metro was cited for some idling of his own but also for failure to supervise deputies on his watch, Gualtieri said.

Among other things, Gualtieri said, statistical reports of low performance should have been a warning flag. For example, in one five-week period, Harmer wrote 11 reports, issued six traffic tickets and six warnings, and stopped two citizens for questioning — while idling a total of 58 hours.

Metro and Lt. Bennett should have noticed the low numbers and paid closer attention to live GPS mobile maps that pinpoint deputy locations, Gualtieri said.

The north county district is supervised by Capt. Bill Hagans, who also had access to statistical reports and mobile maps. He, too, should have spotted the problem "and I will talk to him,'' Gualtieri said.

Hagans was not disciplined because he relied on other officers under him for hands-on supervision, Gualtieri said.

The sergeant and deputies who were fired had satisfactory evaluations with no mention of loafing or idling, Gualtieri said.

Metro, for example, "is a veteran who has developed sound judgment,'' wrote his supervisor in 2010, during Metro's last evaluation.

Contact Stephen Nohlgren at snohlgren@tampabay.com

Pinellas sheriff fires 4, suspends 2 for loafing on the job 05/01/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 8:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect

    Bucs

    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  2. Hopes fade after landslide destroys Chinese village (w/video)

    World

    Crews searching through the night in the rubble left by a landslide that buried a mountain village under tons of soil and rocks in southwestern China found 15 bodies, but more than 110 more people remained missing.

    Vehicles and people line a road leading to the site of a landslide in Xinmo village in Mao County on Saturday in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province. More than 100 people remained missing after the village was buried under tons of rocks and soil.
  3. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  4. Thousands converge in two St. Pete locations celebrating LGBT rights

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom Rockhill didn't know what to expect Saturday, but by noon people were knocking on the door of his bar Right Around the Corner in Grand Central.

    (From left to right) Emma Chalut 18, gets a rainbow sticker on her cheek from her sister Ellie, 15 both of Jacksonville before the annual St. Pete Pride parade in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday. This year the route was changed from the Grand Central and Kenwood area to Bayshore Drive.
[EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  5. Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald dies

    TALLAHASSEE — A former Florida Supreme Court justice, who wrote a decision that prevented lawyers from excluding jurors because of their race, has died.

    Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald died Saturday, the court said in a statement. He was 93.