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Police officer quits after admitting he slashed homeless man's bike tires

TARPON SPRINGS — On Jan. 28, Tarpon Springs police Officer Jeffrey Robinson says he encountered a barrage of racial slurs when he drove a homeless man to the Pinellas County Jail.

On Feb. 8, he retaliated.

On Wednesday, Robinson resigned from the Tarpon Springs Police Department after a three-month internal investigation, complete with video evidence, determined that he slashed the bicycle tires of John Bilawsky, the homeless man.

Acting police Chief Robert Kochen said he was shocked and planned to fire Robinson had he not resigned.

"The biggest issue for me was the retaliation," Kochen said. "You just can't retaliate against a civilian and commit a crime in our Police Department. …

"Ten days later and this is still on your mind? What happens if someone punches you or assaults you? The retaliation thing is huge, and it's a problem."

Robinson, 52, is black, and Bilawsky, 46, is white.

The St. Petersburg Times attempted Wednesday to contact Robinson at his last known address in Tampa, but he was unavailable.

A video shows Robinson going into a Police Department storage area at 10:34 p.m. Feb. 8 and rolling the bicycle out of view. Moments later, it shows him wheeling a wobbly bicycle back into the area.

Robinson, who was wearing civilian clothes and getting ready for his shift, admitted slashing the tires, the report said.

"I am deeply sorry," Robinson said in an interview that was part of the internal investigation. "I am embarrassed. You would … you wouldn't understand how embarrassed I am to be here regarding (this) incident.

"It was one of those incidences in 27 years that I lost it. I'm very ashamed of it."

Slashing the tires would have been a second-degree misdemeanor, but Bilawsky declined to pursue criminal charges against Robinson.

The series of events started Jan. 28 when Bilawsky was arrested by another officer on trespassing charges at a Tarpon Springs business. He was transported to the jail by Robinson, who says Bilawsky called him the N-word repeatedly during the trip, the report said.

Bilawsky denied the claim Wednesday night.

"I can honestly say with all my heart that I never used that word against anybody and that's the God's honest truth," Bilawsky said. "I hang with more African-American people than I do white people.

"I don't use that word at all. I am not a racist person at all, and for him to say something like that is totally wrong."

Bilawsky has been arrested for trespassing in various areas of Tarpon Springs at least 13 times, Kochen said. On Feb. 8, he was arrested again and taken to the Pinellas County Jail by another officer. His bike was taken to the storage area until it could be processed the next day.

That same night, Robinson recognized the bike and cut the tires, the report said.

On Feb. 9, Bilawsky's mother, Barbara Parent, brought her son to the police station to get his bike.

Property technician Max Sanchez brought the bike out after trying without success to inflate the flat tires, the report said.

Another officer told Bilawsky to go buy new tubes and bring back the receipt, Bilawsky said in a March 5 statement.

They bought the tubes for $28.62 and were reimbursed by the officer.

In a one-page letter dated Wednesday, Kochen apologized to Bilawsky and his mother.

Robinson retired as a 20-year veteran of the New York Police Department in 2002. He was hired in Tarpon Springs in July 2006.

Kochen said he had an unblemished career in New York and Tarpon Springs.

"It's a huge problem and we can't tolerate it," Kochen said of the situation. "It's disappointing, especially with a guy with that kind of record."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at dalee@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4174.

Police officer quits after admitting he slashed homeless man's bike tires 07/01/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 4, 2009 12:41pm]
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