Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Public safety

WingHouse arrest now part of Sheriff's Office investigations

LARGO — The WingHouse was hopping Sept. 2 when Carissa Michelle Weaver watched her boyfriend go out to the parking lot to make a phone call.

When she checked on him a few minutes later, she saw two men grab him and push him to the ground. Weaver screamed.

The commotion that followed is now part of an internal affairs investigation by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and a civil rights complaint to the U.S. Justice Department.

Weaver's boyfriend, Sergio "Junior'' Valdivieso, 34, was suspected to be a marijuana dealer. Narcotics detectives had raided his house earlier that day, found pot, then left after he agreed to become a confidential informer.

But over beers that night at the WingHouse, Valdivieso announced he had changed his mind. Among those listening was the bartender, the wife of a narcotics detective.

The parking lot takedown was actually an arrest: Valdivieso was going to jail on drug charges.

Arrests of accused pot dealers, even those complaining of police brutality, usually are routine matters. But these are troubled times for the sheriff's narcotics unit, and officer conduct is under intense scrutiny.

Weaver, 24, told the Tampa Bay Times this week that the detectives did not just arrest Valdivieso; they beat him while screaming, "Who do you think you are messing with?''

She also said detectives took money from the couple earlier in the day when they raided the house.

The sergeant who ordered the arrest is one of four officers recently relieved of duty amid allegations of misconduct. Prosecutors are dropping charges in other narcotics cases because of officers' actions.

• • •

On the advice of his attorneys — Charles Britt and Jordan Tawil — Valdivieso declined to comment for this story. He sat in an adjacent room in Tawil's office as Weaver was interviewed with the lawyer at her side.

According to police records, officers obtained a search warrant for Valdivieso's home saying they had tips that people were coming and going from the house. Police said they found traces of marijuana in his trash.

Valdivieso has a history of arrests for drug offenses, burglary and grand theft, and had served prison time.

At 5:10 p.m., Sept. 2, police searched the house and found less than a quarter-pound of marijuana. According to a report by Detective John Shields, Valdivieso admitted selling pot to friends. Detectives found money on his dresser. Valdivieso said about $3,000 came from drug sales, Shields wrote, so detectives confiscated it and had Valdivieso sign a receipt for $3,000.

But the officers left without arresting Valdivieso, because he agreed to become an informer, according to Weaver and Shields.

After the officers left, Weaver said, the couple returned to the bedroom and found that "thousands more'' than $3,000 was missing. Weaver said she could not pinpoint the amount.

Weaver declined to say what she knew about her boyfriend's dealings. She said she works at a retail store and Valdivieso, who does odd jobs, had recently sold a motorcycle.

• • •

The WingHouse at 7369 Ulmerton Road is a regular haunt for the couple, who are acquainted with bartender Ashley Sciarrino. Her husband is former narcotics Detective Michael Sciarrino, one of the officers removed from duty.

Weaver said the couple went to the restaurant a few hours after detectives left their home. Valdivieso complained about detectives taking his money and said he wouldn't be an informer.

Ashley Sciarrino tried to change his mind, Weaver said.

"She says, 'Why wouldn't you cooperate? Don't you love Carissa? Don't you want to be with Carissa?' " Weaver said.

Michael Sciarrino was sitting at the bar and spoke to his wife, Weaver said. After a while, the Sciarrinos left.

Sometime later, Valdivieso left to make a phone call.

According to an arrest report by Detective M. McLane, here's what happened at 9:10 p.m.:

Sgt. Chris Taylor arrived at the WingHouse and called for other officers to arrest Valdivieso.

Valdivieso "started to become irate'' when detectives Christopher Brady and M. Wroe asked him to put his arms behind his back, McLane wrote. Valdivieso, who is 6 feet tall and weighs 250 pounds, braced his arms "to stop their attempts to place him into custody," the report says.

Detectives put Valdivieso on the ground to gain control, got him up, walked him toward a van, then he fell to the ground again. Another deputy provided handcuffs, and they took him away, according to the report.

Here's what Weaver said she saw from the WingHouse porch, about 10 to 15 feet away:

A group of men, not in uniform, approached her boyfriend. She looked back at a friend inside for a moment. "And by the time I look back at Junior, he is nose to the concrete and these men are almost like beating him up, jumping him."

As she walked toward the men, Weaver said, Detective Shields, who had been at her home earlier in the day, pushed her away and told her not to look back.

The detectives "are screaming, 'Who do you think you are?' . . . as they are punching him . . . jabbing him in his side,' " Weaver said.

"They are saying, 'Quit resisting, quit resisting,' and he is very helpless."

Valdivieso was not fighting back, Weaver said, just yelling that his shoulder hurt.

The officers suggested that Valdivieso had threatened Ashley Sciarrino, Weaver said.

"They said, 'You are going to threaten a police officer's wife?' "

• • •

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said he first heard a vague rumor about excessive force outside the WingHouse about three weeks ago.

Internal affairs officers are investigating the case, he said, but are hampered because Valdivieso's lawyers will not let him talk unless prosecutors grant him immunity.

"How can I get to the bottom of it if people won't cooperate, but just want to make an abstract complaint to the media?" Gualtieri said.

He questioned Weaver's account. If officers beat Valdivieso, he asked, why didn't he file a complaint immediately?

Also, Gualtieri said, Michael Sciarrino was on duty that night and couldn't have spent much time at the WingHouse. Sciarrino's movements can be tracked by computer log-ons and card key swipes at Sheriff's Office buildings. Those records indicate he could not have been at the WingHouse for more than a few minutes, Gualtieri said.

Officers Sciarrino and Taylor declined to comment. Ashley Sciarrino and Officers Brady and Wroe could not be reached.

Gualtieri said he is still piecing things together.

"But as I understand it . . . the guy was boasting (at the WingHouse) that he had duped law enforcement by telling them he wanted to cooperate . . . when it was never his intention."

Someone from the WingHouse alerted Michael Sciarrino of the situation there, Gualtieri said. Then Sciarrino called Taylor, who had supervised the search of the house, the sheriff said.

Valdivieso's change of heart "was like a betrayal,'' Gualtieri said. Once he made it clear he wouldn't inform, officers arrested him on the drug charges.

Gualtieri's account conflicts with a March 16 deposition by the lead detective at the search of Valdivieso's home. Detective Shields said officers — not Valdivieso — ended the police/informer relationship.

Why?

Because, Shields said, Valdivieso threatened a civilian at the WingHouse.

Was it Ashley Sciarrino?

Shields would not name the person.

That refusal, Valdivieso's lawyers said, is what prompted them to go public with their claims, months after Valdivieso told them his story about the arrest and the missing cash.

"That deposition is what changed it,'' Tawil said. "We knew cops were not going to answer our questions and tell the truth."

Stephen Nohlgren can be reached at (727) 893-8442 or [email protected]

 
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