As claims of racism swirled in the Police Department over the last two months, Police Chief Ernest "Curt" Curtsinger and his top-ranking black officer, Goliath Davis, stood shoulder to shoulder, denying there were problems between them.
But on Wednesday, Curtsinger confirmed that in recent months he had ordered internal investigations of Davis and two other high-ranking black officers, and he and Davis acknowledged that their relationship is strained, possibly beyond repair.
"It obviously changes the climate," Curtsinger said. "I have an assistant chief who thinks there's a witch hunt."
Police internal affairs records show that Curtsinger ordered two unrelated investigations last year, both involving Davis, one of two assistant chiefs in the Police Department. Davis was the main focus of only one of the investigations.
Investigators looked into an allegation that Davis knew but did not mention that an applicant for a job with the Pinellas Applicant Screening Service (PASS) had been accused of sexual battery. The agency screens applicants for law enforcement jobs.
They also investigated accusations that Maj. Cedric Frank Gordon harassed his ex-wife and conspired with Davis and Sgt. Al White to paint the chief as a racist after Gordon was not promoted from sergeant to lieutenant in 1990.
Curtsinger, who makes the final ruling on internal affairs investigations, found the allegations in both cases to be unfounded, records show, and closed the cases. Had he found the allegations true, he could have fired Davis for insubordination, Curtsinger said.
He said he plans no action against Davis now.
Curtsinger said the allegations were serious and he did what was proper by ordering the investigations. He said he couldn't ignore the allegations just because Davis, Gordon and White are black.
Davis called the investigation focusing on him a "political witch hunt," records show. When contacted Wednesday, Davis would say only that all his comments were in the records of the investigations.
Internal affairs records show that Curtsinger ordered an investigation of Davis after St. Petersburg Beach Police Chief Terry Hensley wrote Curtsinger a letter saying that Davis may have known that the applicant for the job with PASS had been accused of sexual battery.
Davis, who sat on the panel that screened the applicant, said he did not remember the allegation at the time, the records show. If he had remembered, Davis said, he would have said nothing because it was just a rumor as far as he knew.
In the other investigation, Brenda Joyce Gordon complained to police that her ex-husband, Cedric Gordon, had been harassing her. She also told police that Gordon had met with Davis and White to come up with a plan to get him promoted.
Davis, Gordon and White all denied they met and made such a plan. Gordon eventually was promoted to lieutenant and Curtsinger even promoted him to major during the investigation.
"I'm not the one that's creating the issue here," Curtsinger said. He said the investigations would not have been publicized had not someone leaked them.
"Someone decided that they didn't want it to be over," he said. "It would be hard for me to believe someone isn't passing on information to the community because it's getting out there rather quickly."
The internal investigations were under way when Curtsinger postponed a cultural diversity training program in December after some white officers complained that instructors seemed to assume they were racists. That set off a whirl of controversy. Black employees met with Curtsinger to complain about racism in the Police Department and what they saw as a lack of support by Curtsinger of affirmative action. Some civil rights groups called for Curtsinger's firing, saying he had not accelerated the promotions of black officers, was insensitive to the concerns of black residents and had reduced police power in the Jordan Park public housing development.
Acting City Manager Don McRae said the chasm between Curtsinger and Davis does not signal a new wave of problems for the Police Department. But, he said, he needs to talk to both of them before he can decide what to do, if anything.
"My hope is that there were investigations out there, that that's all behind us now and now we can settle down and move forward," McRae said. "My hope is that irreparable damage has not been done because, I guess, I have a lot of confidence in both of them professionally."
Ernest Fillyau, one of two black City Council members, said he would fire Curtsinger if he could. Only McRae has that authority.
"Every time you look, he's blaming somebody for what's going on in his department," Fillyau said. "I just wonder what would happen if we gave him all the authority he wants. If he continues to do things like this, we will never heal the issue."
Black residents in St. Petersburg "are just up in arms," said Fillyau.
"I don't know about the white people, but the black people are upset," he said. "I just hope that nothing breaks out there in the community. Then people will come back here and say, "I told you you should have fired him.'
_ Staff writer Stephen Koff contributed to this report.