Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Second Pinellas narcotics officer resigns before testifying under oath

LARGO — Pinellas sheriff's Sgt. Christopher Taylor, who supervised the narcotics surveillance of a Largo hydroponics store, resigned Wednesday rather than face interrogation under oath about alleged misconduct.

Taylor, 40, spent hours reading evidence that internal affairs investigators had amassed, then turned in his resignation, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.

Taylor is the second narcotics officer to resign this week after months of allegations that officers trespassed and lied to judges while building cases against indoor marijuana growers.

Four other deputies did answer internal affairs questions this week, Gualtieri said. Their cases will go before an administrative review board next week, and then the sheriff will decide on any discipline.

Taylor, who could not be reached for comment, supervised a three-man unit that was primarily responsible for investigating customers of Simply Hydroponics, where a sheriff's surveillance camera recorded people coming and going.

Detective Michael Sciarrino, who worked under Taylor, resigned Monday. Another Taylor subordinate, Detective Paul Giovannoni, did answer investigators' questions, Gualtieri said.

One allegation involved a suspect who complained that deputies beat him up outside a Largo WingHouse after he had a verbal altercation with Sciarrino's wife, who worked there as a bartender. Taylor had called in the officers accused of roughing up the suspect.

Suspicions about trespassing came to a head last year after the arrest of Seminole resident Allen Underwood, who had digital surveillance cameras monitoring his yard. Underwood claimed that someone in plain clothes had vaulted his backyard fence just days before deputies came in with a search warrant and seized pot plants and his digital recorder.

Taylor told sheriff's technicians to erase the digital images, saying they showed the faces of undercover officers. When Underwood's attorney complained, Taylor was suspended for five days — not for trespassing or evidence destruction, but for mishandling electronic images that might have shown suspicious activity at Underwood's house.

After the Tampa Bay Times reported that the internal affairs investigation into the erasure was rife with leading questions and conflicting statements by officers, Gualtieri ordered that it be done over.

By then, prosecutors were dropping cases against pot growers and troubles in the narcotics unit had become campaign fodder in the current sheriff's race.

Given the two resignations this week, "the culture of corruption in the narcotics unit is beginning to collapse," said Tarpon Springs attorney Jerry Theophilopoulos, who represented Underwood. "Sheriff Gualtieri had a shot at this once already. He is now trying to save face."

Taylor, a 14-year veteran, stirred controversy in 2005 when he shot and killed Jarrell Walker, an unarmed St. Petersburg man lying face down on the floor during a drug bust. Taylor said Walker appeared to be reaching under a couch, possibly for a gun, and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney ruled the shooting justifiable homicide.

Officers retain their ability to collect a pension regardless of whether they resign or are fired, Gualtieri said. A state board will decide whether they can maintain certification as law enforcement officers.

Gualtieri would not comment on possible criminal charges against the officers.

Second Pinellas narcotics officer resigns before testifying under oath 06/20/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 10:48pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Richard Corcoran has a new committee to help him become governor

    Blogs

    Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has opened a new political committee, Watchdog PAC, that may or may not bankroll his campaign for governor in 2018. The Land O'Lakes Republica

    CBO analysis: 23 million would lose health coverage under House-passed bill

    National

    WASHINGTON — The Republican health care bill that passed the House earlier this month would nearly double the number of Americans without health insurance over the next decade, according to a new analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

    Demonstrators protests the passage of a House Republican health care bill, outside the the Capitol in Washington, on May 4. The House took the unusual step of voting on the American Health Care Act before the Congressional Budget Office could assess it. That analysis was released Thursday and it showed the bill would cause 23 million fewer people to have health insurance by 2026. Many additional consumers would see skimpier health coverage and higher deductibles, the budget office projected.
  2. Florida Specialty Insurance acquires Pinellas Park's Mount Beacon Insurance

    Banking

    Tens of thousands of homeowners who were pushed out of Citizens Property Insurance for a private carrier since 2014 are finding themselves changing insurance companies yet again.

  3. Pope Francis presents Trump with a 'politically loaded gift': His encyclical on climate change

    Global Warming

    VATICAN CITY — On Wednesday, Pope Francis appeared to make his point with a gift.

    Ivanka Trump, first lady Melania Trump and President Donald Trump meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Wednesday.  [Evan Vucci/Pool via The New York Times]
  4. Tampa police say 41-year-old man shot and killed by ex-boss, investigation ongoing

    Crime

    TAMPA — A 41-year-old man was shot and killed by his former boss Wednesday morning outside the West Tampa auto body shop where they once worked together, according to Tampa police.