Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Public safety

Pinellas sheriff's lieutenant fired over sexual relationship with subordinate

LARGO — A Pinellas County Sheriff's Office lieutenant was fired after an internal investigation found he had a sexual relationship with his subordinate.

Lt. Robert Ross was terminated this month after a 20-year career with the agency, according to the Sheriff's Office, for engaging in a relationship with inmate records manager Stephannie Watson and then repeatedly lying about it during an internal investigation.

Watson, who was hired in 2001, was suspended for eight hours.

"The conduct itself was reprehensible, but he (Ross) made it worse by not accepting responsibility for it," Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said in an interview Tuesday. "That's certainly not what we expect from a deputy sheriff."

Ross, 54, was working in the custody management division as a direct supervisor to Watson, 38, when the relationship began in August 2015, according to the Sheriff's Office. They were both married to people outside the agency during the course of the relationship, the investigation said. Ross could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Watson declined to comment.

The pair repeatedly engaged in relations outside work, the investigation said. Ross also tried to engage her while working at the Pinellas County Jail, including once sending her a text message that said: "Wouldn't it be cool to do something in the Captain's office?" On another occasion, they spoke about areas in the jail with the fewest surveillance cameras.

Their relationship came to a halt earlier this year while Watson attempted to repair her relationship with her husband, according to the investigation. During that time, Ross wrote her a text saying "you cut me off" and sent several derogatory messages about her husband.

Gualtieri said he received an anonymous letter from an employee about the relationship, stating that the two would spend up to two hours in an office together and that the sheriff's employees who work under both supervisors felt they couldn't ask for guidance.

Ross was moved to a different division when the investigation started on Oct. 14, working the night shift in the south division of the jail. Over the course of the investigation, he denied the allegations and gave false information to investigators, a factor Gualtieri said weighed heavily in his decision to fire Ross on Dec. 19.

It was only when Ross was provided evidence to the contrary that he would admit to offenses, the sheriff said. Watson admitted to the violation, according to the investigation.

"I have no sympathy for people who don't tell the truth," Gualtieri said. "There's nothing more important to me than being candid and accepting responsibility."

Their personnel files were unavailable Tuesday. Gualtieri said Ross has faced disciplinary actions in the past, including a suspension, but the sheriff described the former lieutenant as a productive, contributing member of the Sheriff's Office. He said he promoted Ross a few years ago based on positive feedback from supervisors.

"But all of that goes out the window when you do things like this," the sheriff said.

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 445-4157 or [email protected] Follow @kathrynvarn.

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