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Officer's arrest difficult for peers

(ran PC edition of Pasco Times)

The Crystal River officers assigned to investigate a former fellow officer for possession of child pornography found it a stressful task.

For the Crystal River Police Department, the child pornography investigation involving former patrol officer Charles "Spig" Veal has been an emotional and stressful time.

Officers were quick to draw a connection between Veal's sudden absence and the confiscation of all patrol car laptops, Sgt. Michael Klyap and Det. Corey Sharpe said Wednesday.

But very few police officials, those two included, knew the true nature of Veal's problems.

The department suspended Veal on Jan. 14 and fired him five days later. The gravity of the situation became clear Tuesday when the State Attorney's Office filed felony charges.

Klyap and Sharpe, both veteran Crystal River officers, had been assigned the uncomfortable task of conducting two parallel investigations of a fellow officer. During an interview Wednesday at the department, both men described the difficulties with a combination of regret, sadness, worry and professional pride.

Police officers shouldn't have to delve into accusations of misconduct against other officers, they said. Not only are sworn officers supposed to be above the actions that get other people arrested, they are also members of a close-knit group united by ties of duty and friendship.

"It wasn't really tough to investigate because it was a crime but because it was a police officer," said Klyap, who performed the criminal investigation. "You don't expect that to be done by police.

"It's like putting one of your family down," he said. Tuesday "was probably the hardest part of the whole thing. When I called the probable cause in, I was sick."

Sharpe was with Veal, 35, and Veal's father as Veal was booked at the Citrus County jail on four counts of possession or representation of sexual conduct by a child. Sharpe was responsible for the internal investigation.

Sharpe said he was struck by the irony of the scene.

"One minute you're booking people, the next minute you're being booked," Sharpe said.

The investigations presented challenges for Klyap, who started work with Crystal River in 1987, and Sharpe, who began the year after.

For one thing, the small-town department has rarely been asked to oversee an analysis of computer hardware. As it turned out, the only pornography found was on the laptop Veal shared with others. One who shared with him was patrol Officer Mary Webb, who was suspended and demoted from corporal for not handing in the floppy disk Veal used on Jan. 12 to view the obscene pictures. Instead, she put it in her locker until Jan. 14, when she was confronted by superiors.

But just as important was the long-term preservation of the department's reputation. Under police Chief James Farley's supervision, Sharpe and Klyap tried to be and treat Veal as they would any other person.

And Veal _ most concerned about the embarrassment to his family, especially his father _ cooperated.

Instead of trying to quietly obtain the computer Veal is accused of using to download child pornography from the Internet, the men obtained a search warrant. However, that didn't necessarily make that part of the investigation smoother, they said.

Initially, Veal apparently gave his father a brief and unspecific version of events, Sharpe said. When the officers arrived to confiscate the computer, the father challenged them to explain the difference between the material they were seeking and what could be found in a Playboy or Penthouse magazine.

At that point, Sharpe and Klyap said, Veal took his father aside to lay out the truth.

"His dad's a real proud person," Sharpe said. "He knows everybody, everybody knows him. He's upset at Spig for doing what he's done, but he's still his son."

The father accompanied Veal to the jail. Veal held up well, though the stress and lack of sleep were obvious, Sharpe said.

For Sharpe and Klyap, the tough part is the shame of having such dirty laundry exhibited before a public that relies on police every day.

"I think the public should realize it's just one individual," Klyap said. "We're going to continue to give people professional service and it's not going to stop. The chief basically said that we're going to march on as we have. That's what keeps us going."