Friday, June 22, 2018
Public safety

Third Pinellas County narcotics deputy resigns in grow house investigation

LARGO — The three narcotics deputies who pursued marijuana growers by monitoring a Largo hydroponics store have now all left the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, snared by allegations of trespassing and other misconduct.

Paul Giovannoni, 31, resigned Friday after reading evidence against him collected by the Internal Affairs Division, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.

Detective Michael Sciarrino and Sgt. Christopher Taylor, the other members of the grow house team, resigned earlier this week.

Gualtieri declined to provide details of the allegations, because one narcotics deputy and two patrol deputies still face possible disciplinary action in related cases. Those deputies are due to go before an administrative review board Tuesday, then Gualtieri will decide on any punishments.

Sciarrino, Taylor and Giovannoni arrested dozens of customers of the store, where indoor pot growers sometimes bought supplies. A surveillance camera captured customers' auto tag numbers, then deputies secured search warrants and raided houses.

In almost all the warrants, detectives said they could smell growing marijuana from public sidewalks or neighbors' yards. Defense lawyers suspected the detectives were actually trespassing to get up close to houses.

A fourth narcotics detective, Kyle Alston, sometimes accompanied the other three on evidence-gathering expeditions. In February, Tarpon Springs attorney Newt Hudson asked Alston under oath whether he ever saw his colleagues "jump fences,'' short-hand for trespassing.

Alston refused to answer.

When the Tampa Bay Times reported that refusal, Gualtieri put all four deputies on indefinite leave and began investigating. Prosecutors dropped 18 pending cases against defendants accused of growing pot in which the deputies' testimony was crucial.

Any discipline against Alston will be decided next week.

Giovannoni, a 7-year veteran, could not be reached for comment. He made news earlier this year when the Times revealed he had worn a Progress Energy shirt and hat to gain access to property.

That technique did not break the law, Gualtieri reiterated Friday, but could jeopardize any resulting criminal cases. Courts have thrown out evidence when police go incognito to entice people to open their doors.

Largo attorney John Trevena got wind of the uniform scheme before it became public and questioned Giovannoni about it under oath in February.

Giovannoni repeatedly denied wearing the uniform, then changed his testimony at the end of the questioning.

Under the Florida Retirement System, deputies can lose pensions only if convicted of felonies related to their jobs. Whether they resign or are fired does not affect that determination.

Gualtieri declined to comment on whether he will seek criminal charges in the current cases.

Comments
Tampa boy, 14, shot on bike, police asking for help

Tampa boy, 14, shot on bike, police asking for help

TAMPA — De’Nico Thomas, 14, isn’t a bad kid, police say, but he was the victim of a terrible shooting.Thomas had played video games with a friend Wednesday night and was likely bicycling home when someone fired a gun, critically wounding him in the a...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Clearwater police search for ‘Bic Bandit’ accused of stealing lighters

Clearwater police search for ‘Bic Bandit’ accused of stealing lighters

CLEARWATER — Police detectives are searching for a man coined the "Bic Bandit" based on reports that he’s stolen dozens of lighters from the same 7-Eleven.According to Clearwater police, the man has swiped the lighters four times in the last month, t...
Updated: 4 hours ago
FHP: One dead, three seriously injured in head-on Pasco crash

FHP: One dead, three seriously injured in head-on Pasco crash

DADE CITY — A Dade City man was killed and three others were seriously injured after a pickup truck and motorcycle crashed head-on Friday morning, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.Floyd Williamson, 72, of Lakeland, was driving northbound on U....
Updated: 4 hours ago
Body of missing Hernando park ranger found in Georgia; boyfriend being questioned

Body of missing Hernando park ranger found in Georgia; boyfriend being questioned

Georgia detectives on Friday recovered the body of Mitzi Marie Babb, a 43-year-old Hernando park ranger who had been missing since Tuesday.Her boyfriend, arrested Thursday on unrelated charges, has been called a person of interest in her disappearanc...
Updated: 5 hours ago
A Pasco driver was annoyed another driver was texting. So he pointed a firearm at her.

A Pasco driver was annoyed another driver was texting. So he pointed a firearm at her.

PORT RICHEY — A 41-year-old Uber driver was arrested Friday after police said he pointed a firearm at another driver because he was annoyed that she was texting and driving.Philip Macchio was driving near State Road 52 and U.S. 19 around 12:30 a.m. F...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Deputies: Cheerleading coach sent explicit images to 16-year-old

Deputies: Cheerleading coach sent explicit images to 16-year-old

A 28-year-old cheerleading coach faces charges for engaging in "inappropriate behavior" with a 16-year-old girl, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Victor Martin Valenty faces 10 counts of traveling to meet a minor, distributing ob...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Suspect arrested in rapper XXXTentacion’s shooting death

Suspect arrested in rapper XXXTentacion’s shooting death

FORT LAUDERDALE — Authorities in Florida have arrested a suspect in the killing of rising rap star XXXTentacion, who was fatally shot in his luxury BMW electric car as he left an upscale motorcycle dealership. Dedrick Devonshay Williams, 22, o...
Published: 06/21/18
St. Pete police: Three lieutenants lied about their work hours

St. Pete police: Three lieutenants lied about their work hours

ST. PETERSBURG — Three lieutenants responsible for supervising the police officers who patrol the city were found to have been faking their work hours instead of showing up for duty on time.In some cases, the watch commanders submitted time sheets st...
Published: 06/21/18
Deputies: Zephyrhills bank robbed, suspect flees on bicycle

Deputies: Zephyrhills bank robbed, suspect flees on bicycle

A Suntrust Bank in Zephyr-hills was robbed early Thursday afternoon, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.At 12:50 p.m., deputies said, the man walked into the bank at 34511 State Road 54 and presented a note demanding money, though he did ...
Published: 06/21/18
Man found dead in Hillsborough Bay had a big fan in the cat world

Man found dead in Hillsborough Bay had a big fan in the cat world

TAMPA — To his friends and neighbors at Tampa Baptist Manor, Norman Lester Porterfield was the man who fed and spoiled Lucky, the scruffy stray calico cat in the back yard. To his friends and coworkers at the Salvation Army, he was a great athlete, a...
Published: 06/21/18