Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Public safety

Pinellas sheriff: Two deputies accused of falsifying records

Two Pinellas County sheriff's deputies resigned Thursday amid allegations that they had falsified records related to two separate arrests, internal affairs records show.

If Deputies Chad Earl and Jesse Munoz-Calene had not resigned, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Monday, he would have fired them.

"My feelings about this with people who lie and engage in that kind of conduct is that they're done," he said. "They won't be working here — period."

Earl, 37, was among several deputies who responded to a house in an unincorporated area near Largo on April 11 to arrest a juvenile wanted for violating probation. When deputies arrived, a man, later identified as Nathan Smith, ran from the front yard and was Tasered by a deputy when he resisted arrest.

Deputies discovered several bags of cocaine and marijuana near Smith, 27, who was arrested on drug charges.

In his report, Earl wrote that Deputy Bryan Mitchell had seen Smith toss the bags out of his pocket. When Mitchell saw the report, he confronted Earl and said that statement was not true. Earl told him he needed to lie so that prosecutors would not drop the charges, according to records. The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office declined to pursue the case anyway.

In an interview with investigators, Earl admitted that his report "misrepresented the material facts," according to records.

In a separate incident also on April 11, Deputy Munoz-Calene arrested Mark Souder, 56, on a DUI charge after Souder was involved in a three-vehicle crash in Seminole.

Munoz-Calene, 26, later realized that he had not asked Souder the health-related questions on a field sobriety test form and falsified the answers, according to records.

Munoz-Calene, hired in May 2013, did not return a call from a reporter Monday. Earl, who spent 11 years at the Sheriff's Office, declined to comment.

After their resignations, Gualtieri sent an agency-wide email about the two cases.

"The ends never justify the means, and our job is to uphold the law," he wrote. "We do not fabricate evidence, make up suspect statements, or lie to cover for our missteps, errors or wrongdoing."

Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727)445-4157. On Twitter: @lauracmorel.

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