TAMPA — A Tampa police school resource officer who had sex at least eight times over nearly two months with a teenage student was arrested and fired Thursday, the agency announced.
The officer, Brian M. Morales, who turns 37 today, was assigned to Blake High School and had worked for Tampa police for seven years.
On Thursday afternoon, a visibly weary police chief stood in front of news cameras and said Morales does not deserve to wear the Tampa police uniform.
"And the fact that he was a school resource officer," Chief Jane Castor said, "is just disgraceful."
Police said that on Oct. 24, the 17-year-old female student checked out of the school and went to the officer's home, where they had sex. Over about the next nearly two months, police said, he and the girl had sex several times at his house, his personal car and the victim's house — all while he was off duty. The last instance was Dec. 12.
The victim's mother learned of it late Tuesday and called a teacher that night. The teacher called the principal, who notified the district, which called police.
Police began investigating early Wednesday. According to police, Morales threatened to hurt himself if any of this became public, so authorities held him under the Baker Act, which allows for the brief involuntary detainment of someone who is considered a danger to themselves.
He was transferred Thursday afternoon to police headquarters, where he refused to make a statement. He was booked into jail and fired.
Morales faces eight counts of having sex with a minor, all second-degree felonies. He was released after posting a bond for his $60,000 bail. According to jail records, the 5-foot-4 officer has the nickname "Shorty." He is married and has children.
Morales is the third Tampa police officer publicly fired this year and the second charged with a crime. Former DUI supervisor Sgt. Ray Fernandez and Detective Jeanette Hevel were both fired in September.
Police say Fernandez lied about the extent of his involvement in what now appears to have been a DUI setup in January. Hevel is accused of stealing $1,900 in IRS money orders from the police evidence room. She was arrested.
"Those are all isolated cases," Castor said Thursday. "We are an outstanding agency."
Tampa has 24 school resource officers and three supervisors. They are tasked with protecting the school and being a positive influence, Castor said.
Officers must apply to work as a school resource officer, and they are vetted in the process. Castor said the department looks at the officers' background, experience, maturity, interest and aptitude. There was nothing in Morales' past that indicated he would not be suited to the job, she said.
He has no major disciplinary history. He received a letter of counseling for dropping and breaking a police radio, and he had a minor accident in his car, according to the agency.
Morales did not offer a reason for his recent behavior, Castor said, but she added that there really is no excuse.
The girl had "strong feelings" for the officer, the chief said, but as a minor she cannot legally consent to sex with an adult.
One of the school resource supervisors has been filling in at Blake since Wednesday.
Blake principal Jackie Haynes called parents of Blake students Thursday afternoon.
"I want you to know how we handled the allegation," she stated in the prerecorded message. "As soon as the girl's mother told us of her suspicions, we contacted Tampa police early Wednesday. They conducted a quick and thorough investigation, which resulted in his arrest today.
"We are appreciative of the way Tampa police have handled this sensitive matter. And we are saddened, shocked and disappointed in the behavior of the SRO, as we do everything we can to protect our students and staff."
Tampa police say they are continuing to investigate.
Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.