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Three St. Petersburg officers suspended, one resigns after pursuit complaint

ST. PETERSBURG — Three police officers have been suspended and a fourth has resigned after an internal affairs investigation into a complaint of an unauthorized police pursuit in the city's southern neighborhoods.

The investigation did not conclude that the officers violated the department's pursuit policy, but did find that officers broke other rules, including making "inappropriate and unprofessional comments over the radio."

"These statements involved conversations regarding a homeless individual, references about citizens' complaints and opinions regarding the department's use of force policy relating to discharging firearms at vehicles," states a memo from Luke Williams, assistant police chief, that was released to the media Thursday evening. "Each officer admitted their comments were inappropriate and should not have been spoken."

Williams' memo did not include more information about what the officers said, but more detailed reports from the investigation are expected to be released today.

The officers' comments were made on July 11, the day after an officer was fired and several others were disciplined for their roles in two incidents in which officers shot at suspects fleeing in cars. In one of those cases, an officer fired 13 times at a car with a 19-year-old at the wheel and a 15-year-old passenger; another officer shot at the car from 90 feet away and was later fired.

The department has had a long-standing section in its use of force policy that says officers should not fire at a moving car unless someone inside is armed and all other "reasonable means" to avoid the danger have failed. The policy also cautions officers to avoid stepping in front of cars.

Black community leaders lashed out at the Police Department after the incidents. They complained about the shootings, but also said officers did not respect — and in some cases harassed — black residents. They also were concerned about dangerous police pursuits, especially after Mayor Bill Foster loosened the chase policy in 2010.

On July 12, police Chief Chuck Harmon received an email from Lillian Baker, who questioned who had authorized a police chase the night before. Baker said the chase occurred at the intersection of 18th Avenue S and 37th Street as she was in her car with her brother and teen son.

Baker said she saw a police car run a red light as it chased a silver sedan. The police car did not have its flashing lights or headlights on, she said. She said a second police car also gave chase.

Baker said she could have crashed with the first police car had her brother not seen the chase and told her to stop.

Police officials determined three officers were in that area at the time and a fourth was talking with them on the radio.

Investigators determined that the officers were doing "proactive self-initiated activity within their area of responsibility … (that) gave the appearance they were pursuing a civilian vehicle," Williams' memo states.

But the investigation "did not provide conclusive evidence that a pursuit had been conducted. However, improper procedures were utilized. The actions and lack of actions taken by these officers on the night of the incident created a safety concern for themselves and other officers and civilians in the area. Further, their actions that night were not documented in any way," the memo states.

Officials also said the officers also did not tell dispatch what they were doing.

Officer Eric B. Galloway, 31, resigned in August. He would have received a five-day suspension. He had been an officer since 2011.

Officer David M. Kimes, 38, was suspended without pay for three days. He was hired in 2006.

Officer Robert J. Leoce, 38, was suspended without pay for two days. He was hired in 2003.

Officer Michael W. Carter, 41, was suspended without pay for two days. He was hired in 2003.

Chris Tisch can be reached at tisch@tampabay.com.

Three St. Petersburg officers suspended, one resigns after pursuit complaint 11/07/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 8, 2013 12:31am]
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