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Two Tampa officers suspended after inquiry finds horseplay led to gun going off

TAMPA — It was fun and games until the gun went off.

Neither of the Tampa police officers involved in a January horseplay incident inside the District III office was injured, but both received a one-week suspension without pay Tuesday. A third officer received a disciplinary letter.

It could have turned out much worse: The bullet struck one of the officers in his service belt, only bruising him.

Assistant Chief Marc Hamlin said the department had never seen anything quite like this.

"Nobody is more disappointed in their actions than the two officers themselves," he said. "They were very upset and felt it was distracting to the mission of the police department."

According to a internal investigation, Officer Sean Stuart was preparing to transfer from night shift patrol in District III to a day shift job when he decided to make turning over his desk key into a competition.

Stuart, 44, a 12-year-veteran of the department, dropped the key and walked away.

Officers Nick Wilson and Matt Simons raced in rolling chairs across a cubicle space in the Field Training and Evaluation area of District III, the headquarters at 3808 N 22nd St. that last week honored fallen Officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis.

A letter of disposition says that Wilson pulled his Taser and Simons pulled his service pistol

"Their only intention being to playfully one-up each other in their goal for the key," the letter said.

Police are unclear how Simons' gun went off, Hamlin said, striking Wilson in the gunbelt.

Both officers were cleared of criminal wrongdoing by the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office.

However, the internal affairs investigation found both men violated a number of departmental regulations, including improper exhibition of dangerous weapons, safety and attention to duty.

"These are two very good officers, both high performers," Hamlin said. "The two officers are friends. They get along fine."

Stuart received a letter of counseling, which will remain in his employee file for one year and will be taken into consideration if he is disciplined again within that time.

Police said he violated the standards of conduct for not turning in his key to his supervisor and launching the competition, but acknowledged that he did not expect the escalation.

Simons, 35, has worked for Tampa police for 11 years and has no previous disciplinary history. Wilson, 32, is a five-year veteran who has been disciplined twice for traffic crashes in which his driving should have been more prudent, Hamlin said.

As they awaited the outcome of the internal investigation, Wilson and Simons returned to their regular patrol jobs after the state's attorney cleared them of any criminal infractions.

Two Tampa officers suspended after inquiry finds horseplay led to gun going off 07/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 12:30am]
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